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In search of the “true” spirit of Christmas

Pre-christian solstice tree

We wish you a traditional Xmas (and a Christ-free New Year)


 VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – One of the cool things about Christmas here in the west is that, except for a rather artificial Christian veneer over the celebrations, it is still essentially a pagan rite.

Although it’s become a modern Christmas tradition to accuse everyone but fellow evangelicals of trying to “take the Christ out of Christmas”, it is worthwhile reminding ourselves that Christ is a relatively new interloper into the ancient traditions. In fact, most of the more venerable traditions associated with the midwinter and new year celebrations are still pagan, and whether they like it or not, the most religious among us celebrate the holiday by performing neolithic pre-Christian pagan ceremonies. The ancient pagan traditions are so pervasive that for most people, if Christ was indeed taken out of Christmas, the holiday would scarcely change.

White Christmas, Chestnuts Roasting, Jingle Bells, Let it Snow, Silver Bells, The Twelve Days of Christmas, Deck the Halls,  all these and more would be sung by children and adults alike, with nary a mention of the bible or god. Some are modern, some are very old indeed; all celebrate the mid-winter or the winter solstice, the festive time of year to which early Christians attached their own developing mythology.

For the Christians to have tied their allegorical tales to the solstice celebrations makes sociological and anthropological sense. In the northern hemisphere, the solstice has been celebrated since prehistory as the time of the year which sees the longest, darkest night of the winter and, on the next day, the rebirth of the sun; from the moment of the solstice forward, the sun is seen to return, with spring soon to follow. A new cult that believed their leader to be the son of god who would return and usher in a halcyon period following the long winter of discontent couldn’t have asked for a better ready-made metaphor.

The return of the sun meant to the new cult: “The Resurrection of the Son”, for he was “The Light”. It slid right in there but didn’t replace the ancient traditions. has this to say about the ancient Wiccan traditions and Christianity:

Christmas is also referred to as Yule, which may have derived from the Norse word jól, referring to the pre-Christian winter solstice festival. Yule is also known as Alban Arthan and was one of the “Lesser Sabbats” of the Wiccan year in a time when ancient believers celebrated the rebirth of the Sun God and days with more light. This took place annually around the time of the December solstice and lasted for 12 days. The Lesser Sabbats fall on the solstices and equinoxes. 

So today’s Christians celebrate a Wiccan “Lesser Sabbat” – the one at the winter solstice that commemorates the rebirth of the “sun god” – by throwing a birthday party for the “son of god”. They even commemorate the 12 days of the festival in songs like “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and by burning a Yule log. I wonder how many of the Christians who bleat about the modern generation and their failure to appreciate the “true spirit of Christmas” realise that they are performing ritual witchcraft rites when they hang mistletoe or put lights on their Christmas tree.

Even the ancient Egyptians had a tradition of hanging evergreen boughs at the solstice in recognition of the annual rebirth of Ra, the sun god, as far back as the Middle Kingdom and possibly even the Early Kingdom….before the pyramids were built; the late December birthday of the sun (or son) is a pagan rite that predates the birth of Christ by several thousand years.

Now THAT’S an office xmas party!

Considerably more recently, the citizens of ancient Rome started a seven-day debauch on December 17. This festival in honour of the god Saturn was called the Saturnalia. It was an empire wide party during which rules of decorum and behaviour were suspended and the good citizens of Rome exchanged gifts, elected a mock “king” (who usually ended up dead by the end of the uninhibited solstice celebration), drank, partied and usually ended the week in a city-wide orgy on December 25.

Now there’s the real “spirit of Christmas” and something genuine traditionalists ought to be taking the Christians to task for forgetting. As a public service for those who are looking for some ideas to celebrate a traditional Christmas I can offer no better advice than to look up “Saturnalia” in any reliable reference book or site and scour the entry for tips. The Saturnalia was, after all, the traditional Christmas, which the emerging and rapidly growing Christian cult adopted and adapted. They stole the “true” spirit of the holiday and turned it into a Christian observation. Nevertheless, the spirit of the season remains dormant but still viable; it still exists in the Christmas tree, the Yule log, the boughs of holly, even the exchange of gifts. So the next time you kiss someone under the mistletoe, remember that you’re paying respects to an ancient Wiccan fertility rite, a Druid rite of worship of the gods of the forest, as well as registering your vestigial connection to the ritual Roman orgy that was the original Christmas.

Perhaps we should listen to the Christians; maybe they have it right. Maybe we should call for taking the “Christ out of Christmas” and get back to the real spirit of the season and party like it’s 20AD!

Happy Saturnalia, everyone!

Joy to the world indeed!



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