In times long gone—before the story-telling of Near Eastern desert tribes who succeeded in devising an unlikely monotheistic faith for their own patriarchal purposes—country peoples worldwide from the Neolithic onwards had celebrated the winter and summer solstices as the prime celestial events of significance to agriculturists in need of a simple calendar.

21st December is the year’s shortest day. For some days at about this time in the northern-hemisphere winter, the day length between sunrise and sunset hardly changes. Only a few people (like, let us say, a tribe’s official sun-watcher, and inquisitive archaeologists like me) who watch the point of sunrise daily at the horizon would notice the tiny difference between any of the days from 19th to 25th December.

There are many web sites discussing the detail of “the origin of christmas”, among them this christian one:

Quoting Barbara Walker (1983. Encyclopedia, p.166, Harper Row) regarding the Christian search for a day to celebrate, “some favored the popular date of the Koreion, when (she was citing Joseph Campbell, Mythic Image p.34) the [supposedly] divine virgin gave birth to the new Aeon in Alexandria.” This different date came to be called Twelfth Night or Epiphany, and is a date celebrated by Armenian churches of the Greek Orthodox. On the other hand the fourth-century Roman church “favored the Mithraic winter-solstice festival called Dies Natalis Solis Invictus, Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun. Blended with the Greek sun-festival of the Helia by the emperor Aurelian, this December 25 nativity also honored such gods as Attis, Dionysus, Osiris, Syrian Baal, and other versions of the solar Son of Man.”

Thus it came to pass that christian bishops at one of their 4th century pan-European frolics—seeing that no-one knew when their hero was born—deliberately picked the cross-cultural day that everybody already loved because of its importance to pagan farming communities and widely loved as a god’s festive occasion.

That is how celebration of the prehistoric winter solstice came to be usurped via the Mithraic cult by a desperate church, and the day of choice got shifted from the shortest day to 25 December.

As non-believers in religious trumpery, there is a good case for atheists being logically better off in recognising 25 December as “Newtonmass” or “Newtonday”, for which please refer to the Nexus discussion note that follows this one.

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Replies to This Discussion

When I was a teenager, attempts to correlate the Xmas story with the calendar date of Xmas was one of the aspects that made me lose christian faith. Based on the biblical chronology, the christian's own celebration of Xmas in late December does not match their own holy book. Imagine that - christmas leading to loss of religion!

Recently I listened to podcasts stating that there was no contemporary evidence (archeological or written) that Jesus even existed, let alone was a prophet or wise man, and that Nazareth was not populated during the time that he was "Jesus of Nazareth". This last based on a lack of acheological evidence corresponding to the relevant dates. I don't have the ability to delve deeply into these assertions, but they do add nuance to the idea of a myth growing and evolving into a major world religion. Celebrating the birth date of someone who didn't exist, and on the wrong date at that, and who grew up in a town that wasnt there... it boggles the mind!

I do like the idea of marking the solstice, and equinox as well. They connect us to our astronomy, and our history. And I would just as well forget about Dec 25th, since it is false on so many levels.
I like the way you put it
(although Jesus probably did exist as a normal type who came late into preaching).

So I wish you a Merry Solsticeday and a Merry Solsticeweek.
I agree, there is nothing wrong with an atheist celebrating xmas because we already won the 'war on christmas' years ago. Now it's a secular holiday filled with a fat man in a red suit, elves, reindeer (one with a glowing red nose?), and said fat man going to every house on the planet earth in one night. Nothing about religion at all. Being a lifelong nonbeliever, and a cultural christian, I take great joy in being around those I love this time of year (not that I don't at other times).

However, I have never really, really thought about why we celebrate on this day before; and now that I have I regret having waited until now to recognize it. I will attempt to spread the love of the natural world to all of those who will listen.
Hi everyone.

I thought that I would re-awaken this topic seeing that 12 months have lapsed since it was aired.

I can add one further note: that by the time the Euro bishops were feasting in Nice on the French Riviera around 400 AD the date of the shortest day---as registered by the imperfect Roman Julian calendar---had shifted from 21 to 25 December.




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