Many traditions and mythologies
tell of the birth of a special divine child. Christmas celebrates the birth of
Jesus Christ as told of in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The
birth of the sun-god is an ancient event; male gods such as Shamash, Ra, Horus,
Tonatiuh, Taiyang Shen, Mithras, Krishna, Surya, and Abraxas
all tell the story of the mighty sun that gives us life. In prehistory until
about 3000 BC, the sun was represented by a beautiful female named Helen. Like
the sun, females bring forth life. The Magdalenian culture of 12,500 BC
symbolized the sun with their precious blonde daughters. As millennia passed
she grew to become a maiden, a queen, then a goddess.
This is a Paleolithic calendric for human
reproduction from c. 12,500 BC. This calendric record instructs that babies be
conceived in spring, to be born around winter solstice. Winter babies had the
best chance of survival: Families stayed inside, and newborns got a maximum of
attention. Babies who were born in spring were exposed to pollen in the air and
in mother’s milk, producing more people with allergies. Summer produced a high
percentage of colic babies who had to compete for parental care with hunting
and building activities; the preparations for the approaching glacial weather
were paramount. Fall babies risked animal worms, viruses, and bacteria, which
in winter would be uncommon. For them, winter solstice was a time to celebrate
the birth of babies – all babies, not just one. The birth of the babies became
associated with the return of the sun, the light of life.
celebrating the return of the light have been traditional for millennia. Even thousands of years ago our ancestors knew what
we know today: that on December 21st the sun reaches its lowest point on the
horizon at the Tropic of Capricorn. The golden ball of light lingers at the
bottom of the analemma for three days, then rises again toward the Tropic of
Cancer. Many symbols have grown from this event. One is the Celtic cross; a
symbol for winter solstice. Its predecessor, the equal-armed (+) cross, appeared tens of thousands of
years ago as a symbol for direction: north, south, east, and west. Over time
one arm of the cross was lengthened to designate which arms were which; the
extended arm of the cross denoting south. The circle of the Celtic Cross (more
accurately an ellipse) where it intersects the southern arm
symbolizes the position of the sun at the winter solstice. This beautiful image is a
popular decoration in homes during the Festival of Lights which is celebrated around the world. Hindu Diwali,
Buddhist Tazaungdaing, Jewish Hanukkah, and Christian Christmas are all holy
days associated with this time of year; some according to the lunar calendar.
Sacred candles and lights on trees, bushes, houses, and in windows reflect the
anticipation of the return of the sunlight.
Another tradition of Christmas
time is Santa Claus. Most commonly associated with Saint Nicholas, an historic
fourth-century saint. Many miracles were attributed to his intercession, and
because of that he became known as “Nikolaos the Wonderworker.” He also had a
reputation for secret gift-giving, which many conclude made him the model for
Santa Claus. (Shown: St. Nicholas icon)
Further back in history, as far
back as 45,000 years, we find another root for Santa Claus: a Paleolithic
Siberian reindeer herder. Duncan-Enzmann tells of this character in Ice Age
Language. The reindeer herder traded in reindeer hides, which are both warm and
Whatever your tradition is this
season, remember that a smile, a kind word, and a warm hug are gifts that money
cannot buy. Whether you are young or old, warm or cold, winter solstice is the
longest night of the year. It signals longer days, more light, and warmer
weather, all encouraging new life. That is a reason to celebrate.
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