The Xmas Story Part 3

This is from "Heathen Holidays" by Denise Snodgrass - part3

The Winter Solstice

Recall the prophecy of Jeremiah." and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them."

Before Man learned to measure time in twelve month cycles time was measured by seasons. They celebrated the seasons with feasts and festivals to make the gods happy. But then Man began to gear the beginning of seasons and cycles to fixed astronomical phenomenon--that is, to the position and movement of the sun, moon, and starts. The heathen did worship the entire solar system.

December 25 is the winter solstice. It is the time when the sun after having been at the lowest point in the heavens, beings to rise over the world with renewed vigor and power. It was the time of heathen festivities in worship of the sun. The vernal equinox is the point where the sun crosses the celetial equator, about March 20, making day and night of equal length everywhere. This was the time of pagan spring festivals.

The day of December 25 acquired a new significance under the rule of Emperor Aurelian. He proclaimed this day as "Dies Natalis Invicti Solis," or the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun. This was because of a strange Eastern religion, Mithraism, whose god Mithras was identified with the Unconquered Sun. During the Saturnalia work of every kind ceased. Schools were closed.

Saturn, in whose honor this feast was held, was the oldest and most benign deity in ancient Italy and was fabled to have reigned during the Golden Age. This was conceived by the Romans as an era in which plenty abounded and nothing had appeared to corrupt and mar the peace and happiness of mankind. But since that time the world had gone from bad to worse. The lust of gold and the lust of blood had brought disastrous evils. The dream of an Age of Gold was widespread in the pre-Christian world. The Greeks taught men to think of it as followed by the Silver, Bronze, and Iron Ages. These ages marked the steady declension and degeneration of mankind. But they looked for the eventual return of a Gold Era. This spirit of Gentile expectancy was that of a millennial, and King Saturn would reign.

As the Saturnalia returned each year it brought with it thoughts of the peaceful reign of Saturn long, long ago, when all men were happy and all men were good.

The Roman Saturnalia was boisterous. But whatever the behavior of some Romans, others were simply merry. They ate big dinners, visited their friends, etc. The halls of the Romans were decked with boughs of laurel and of green trees, with lighted candles and with lamps--for the hovering spirits of darkness were afraid of light. Bonfires were lit in high places to strengthen the reviving sun in his course. Candles and green wreaths were given as presents, the streets were crowded with noisy processions of men and women carrying lighted tapers, and public places were decked with flowers and shrubs. The practice of giving and receiving presents was almost as common then as it is now at Christmas. Our present day "Christmas spirit" is actually the spirit of this old Roman festival.

During the Kalends of January, which lasted for three days, Roman houses were adorned with lights and greenery, and presents were given to friends and children and to the poor.

We can see how that the exchanging of gifts was an important feature of this Roman festival from the writings of Libanius, an ancient Sophist. He might be writing about Christmas in the modern world from the way it reads: The festival of the Kalends is celebrated everywhere as far as the limits of the Roman Empire extend.. The impulse to spend seizes everyone... People are not only generous towards themselves, but also towards their fellow-men. A stream of presents pours itself out on all sides... The Kalends festival banishes all that is connected with toil, and allows men to give themselves up to undisturbed enjoyment. From the minds of young people it removes two kinds of dread: the dread of the schoolmaster and the dread of the stern pedagogue... Another great quality of the festival is that it teaches men not to hold too fast to their money, but to part with it and let it pass into other hands.

Now I have described the ancient Babylonian festival, the "Zagmuk," where Christmas had its beginning and the Roman "Saturnalia," which was the merging of the Zagmuk and "Sacaea." The Greek festival in honor of Kronos was the ancient Babylonian and Persian "Sacaea."

Emperor Aurelian had proclaimed Mithraism as the official state religion of the Roman Empire, but "Christianity" becomes the new religion under Constantine, and the Catholic Church becomes faced with the struggle to convert the pagans. We will answer these two important questions: (1) Why did the idea of celebrating the birth of Christ arise and how? (2)

Why was the date of December 25 chosen for this celebration?

The earliest "Christians" were not interested in Jesus' birthday, but by the fourth century they had become very much interested. While interested in the Man Christ Jesus, their thought and affection did not as yet include the Child Jesus. But they came to focus their eyes upon Jesus the infant and Mary His mother. Many people were coming to the notion that his birthday should be observed. This idea came about as the "Church" began to regard Mary, the mother of Jesus, in a new light. She had long been revered along with the saints and Apostles, but only along with them. But now in this same fourth century she emerges as the QUEEN OF HEAVEN. There never would have been a Christmas except the worship of Mary had emerged. They now put her in Heaven, not merely as an intercessor, but a Queen.

- to be continued -

Return to Xmas Menu