December 21, 2012
By: Clayton L. Luce
It’s only a few days before Christmas and many of us are out running around like fiends trying to get last minute Christmas shopping done, or trying not to be killed on the way to the grocery store by the Christmas shoppers who tend to drive like savages, crazed on nutmeg and driven mad by sleep deprivation and screaming children.
Most of us have already selected our trees and decorated them with lights and ornaments and crowned them with a star.
The pile of presents underneath them continue to grow and stockings are hung on the chimneys with care in hopes that St. Nicholas will soon sneak down while we sleep, prowl into our living rooms, eat our food and deposit gifts made by elves.
We will be burning our Yule logs and hanging a wreath on our doors in what we consider to be a celebration of the birth of the Son of God. We will eat feasts, sing Jingle Bells and songs about flying reindeer and magical sleighs. But why? Why all of this weirdness and strange ritual?
Let me explain.
The origins of the Winter Solstice holy days and festivals have been heavily debated by historians and scholars for thousands of years, although most contemporary and classical scholars tend to agree that most of its traditions and rituals originate in Sumeria, also known as ancient Babylon.
In Babylonian tradition, the Winter Solstice was used to represent the death and rebirth of the sun-god Nimrod, the great hunter, whose death and rebirth were symbolized through the astronomical event of Winter Solstice.
The Winter Solstice currently begins on the eve of December 21st or 22nd of the year at which point the sun reaches its southernmost point in the sky. Traditionally this reversal of the angle of the axis of the earth completes on the eve of the 24th or 25th of the year when the sun again begins its ascent towards its highest point, which will occur six months later during the Summer Solstice at the end of June. The Winter Solstice is the shortest day and longest night of the year.
This symbolic reference and theme of the death of the sun, our source of life, during which time darkness is greatest, and its subsequent rebirth, or rising from the dead, has become central to all of the major and minor cultures and their traditions from ancient times until now.
Although the Babylonians are generally credited with most Winter Solstice traditions and rituals, other theorists have pointed out monolithic structure such as the hinges (stone circles) and other monolithic structures including Stonehenge and Newgrange date back 10,000 years and more, predating Babylon, and which accurately measured and marked the Winter Solstice, stating that even earlier civilizations acknowledged it at the very least.
Due to a lack of scientific evidence and understanding of those cultures and civilizations and their traditions these theories are still considered pseudo-historical claims by most.
In Babylon and other early civilizations the festivals and sacrifices that took place were based out of a primal fear that the sun might never return without human intervention or pleading to the god of the sun. Human as well as animal sacrifice became an early tradition of these cultures during Winter Solstice, tying this time of the year to blood sacrifice at the death of the sun in order to bring about its resurrection and the beginning of new life.
These traditions also included huge national feasts and celebrations, thanking the sun for its light and provision the previous year and pleading for it to rise again to bring new life to the land and people.
In more modern times, human sacrifice has generally been phased out and replaced with the Yule ham or Yule boar instead of a child, and the consumption of a great feast.
Ancient Germanic peoples adopted the festival of Yule (our modern Christmas) as its adaptation of earlier solstice holy days. Yule represented the time of greatest darkness and the longest night of the year and was also connected to the sun god Thor, who was drawn through the sky on a chariot drawn by goats, partly giving rise to the tradition of the Yule goat as well as modern reindeer.
In preparation of this long and cold night, the cities would burn massive tree to provide long lasting warmth for the large crowds. This tree called a Yule log is also reflected in other traditions and symbolized as candles, chestnuts, night long burning fires, and in modern times strings of lights. The Christian church adopted the Yule tree tradition by placing candles in trees to symbolize the burning of the Yule log.
In addition to the Yule log, the Christian church adopted the entire tradition of Yule into its own observance 1,600 years ago called the Mass of Christ which also included the Yule ham, the Yule Wassailing (caroling) and other symbols.
The Yule tree, or modern day Christmas tree, derives from a ritual to Thor in which humans, especially children, were sacrificed before the mighty tree of Thor. A Christian missionary by the name of Saint Boniface came upon a human sacrifice in front of the tree and in a righteous fervor promptly chopped it down. A small triangular fir tree which grew from its trunk was hailed as a symbol of the Trinity and was promptly adopted by Christianity into the Christmas tradition where it once again became a tree symbolizing god and was merged with the Yule log tradition by adding candles.
The Germans also used the burning of fir trees in their winter solstice traditions in a ritual to the goddess Hertha whose spirit would descend in the smoke and divine the future.
The star on top of the tree, which in modern times is said to signify the star of Bethlehem, was traditionally an eight pointed star which in ancient symbolism is generally attributed to the sun-god Nimrod, as well as later sun-god adaptations such as Horus, Osiris and Mithra. In cases where a five pointed variety is used, it is simply a feminization of the deity as the pentagram is the ancient symbol of the feminine divine beginning with Tammuz in Babylon, and later as Isis and Venus, etc.
The celebration of both the male and female divine was the result of the overarching theme of the sun-god being reborn to the mother-goddess. Therefore, both sun and moon traditions are merged during the winter solstice
Around 4,000 BC the ancient Egyptians adopted the tradition of the Winter Solstice as a celebration of the rebirth of Horus, daughter of Isis, and set the length of their festival at 12 days reflecting the 12 divisions of the Egyptian calendar of the sun. In celebration they decorated their homes and buildings with greenery and used palm fronds with 12 shoots as a symbol of the completed year, based on the belief that a healthy frond grows one shoot per month.
The Mesopotamians also celebrated the Winter Solstice during a 12 day festival dedicated to the ancient god Marduk. Christianity later adopted these traditions in 567AD as a festival lasting from December 25th, the rebirth of the sun, until Epiphany. We now know this as the 12 days of Christmas.
In the 4th century Nikolaus of Myra, Bishop of Myra was attributed as being a miracle worker and humanitarian. An early legend stated that Nikolaos, in an effort to prevent young girls from being forced into prostitution, threw three sacks of gold through the window of their father while other legends stated that he dropped them down the chimney. He was also rumored to secretly leave gold coins in the shoes of the poor and was later made a Christian Saint.
Christian religion seems to have used Saint Nikolaus to translate the festivals and traditions of the Norse god Odin into its melting pot, as St. Nicholas over time was depicted as Odin and given his attributes as a large being with a great white beard who, like Thor, was drawn through the sky in a magical chariot. The Dutch translated his name as SinterKlaus which was Anglicized into Santa Claus.
Martin Luther, in an attempt to distinguish Protestantism from the Roman church, named him Kristkindle where he was changed into a tall angelic like being with long blonde hair. Catholic tradition won out in the end, although the name Kris Kringle is still sometimes used and some cultures still celebrate him in his Nordic form.
The 19th Century saw a return to the ancient symbolism of and interest in the hallucinogenic amanita muscaria mushroom, a red mushroom with white spots called a liberty cap. It was during this time that the Catholic, Protestant and Nordic traditions were all combined into our modern image of Saint Nick in his red and white Nordic robes and white beard, red and white liberty cap and magic sleigh drawn by deer and bringing presents down the chimney.
The elves were also associated with the amanita muscaria mushroom, and most postcards and early holiday greetings of the 19th century depicted the liberty cap mushroom with an elf living in it or sitting on top of it or hiding somewhere nearby.
Although the origin of the modern name mistletoe is not universally agreed upon, the most likely explanation is the Germanic “misttang” translated as “dung-stick.” The Norse used mistletoe as a symbol of fertility, which marked the beginning of its use as a symbol of romance. The Norse and other pagan cultures believed that the fluid within the berries was literally the semen of the gods.
Mistletoe also became a Norse symbol of peace during war, as tradition stated that if enemy soldiers were to meet under a mistletoe they would declare peace for a day. However, the mistletoe was not used as a symbol of Christmas per say until the English instituted it during the same time of year where it was hung from a branch or rafter in the home to ward off evil spirits. The modern tradition of kissing under the mistletoe, much like Santa Claus, came about in modern times as a merger of all of these traditions.
The use of the Winter Solstice to symbolize the birth of Christ was merely a modern Roman adaptation of the ancient Babylonian and Egyptian tradition of the birth of the Son (sun) of God who after death was raised back to life to bring the promise of new life to the world in the tradition of Nimrod and Horus.
It is generally accepted by Biblical scholars and confirmed in the Biblical timeline that Christ was actually born on the Feast of Tabernacles in 4AD which fell on September 28th or 29th. Although a lot of numbers and calendar translations have to be made to fully explain this date I will try to summarize it loosely.
Due to the record of Zechariah we can determine the conception of Elizabeth as the 23rd or 24th of June in 5BC placing his birthday at the 7th Day of Ni-san, or March 28th or 29th in 4BC. The angel Gabriel was dispatched to Mary six months after conception of John due to translation of Luke 24-27, meaning that Jesus was born six months after John. Based on this point in time, we can now calculate the birth of Jesus at September 28th or 29th.
However, to grant some credibility to the winter solstice as an important date in the birth of Christ we count back the period of gestation (280 days) and arrive precisely on December 25, in the year 5BC.
Therefore it is logical to assume that both the early church and later Christians may have in fact held some sort of celebration on observance on December 25th, although certainly not as his birthday, but his conception.
So, when you go enjoy your feast Christmas Eve, deliver all those presents under the tree in the name of Santa after the kids fall asleep, and wake up on the rebirth of the sun, you will do so with a whole new understanding of the symbols in your living room.
However, for those Christians who read this and are disheartened or mortified to find that your beloved traditions are rooted in ancient mysticism paganism, witchcraft and astrology, take heart, for on this night of darkness and fear 2,016 years ago, a child was conceived who would bring a new hope of life everlasting and eternal light, and who would be born before the cold winds of Winter returned.
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