Beliefs about the diversity of celebrations.
Ancient and recent celebrations from
Ancient Brazil to Christian countries.
For the first time, thanks to a clear sky and the efforts of many
individuals, the 2007 Winter Solstice illumination at the passage tomb at Newgrange in
Ireland was broadcast live on the Internet. The 60 minute broadcast has been
archived and is available at:
http://www.heritageireland.ie/ The passage and chamber at Newgrange was illuminated by the rising sun on
2007-DEC-21 between 08:57 and 09:15 GMT.
Peoples' beliefs about the diversity of celebrations in December:
People view other religions in various ways, and
thus treat the celebrations of faiths other than their own differently:
Some people value the range of December celebrations, because
it is evidence of diversity of belief within our common humanity. They respect
both their own religious traditions and those of other faiths for their
ability to inspire people to lead more ethical lives. Religious diversity is
to them a positive influence.
Others, including some conservative Christians and para-church groups, reject the importance of all celebrations other than the holy day
recognized by their own religion. Some even reject their religion's holy
days which are seen to have Pagan origins (e.g. Easter and Christmas among a few Christian groups).
Some view other religions as being inspired by Satan. Thus the solstice
celebrations of other religions are rejected because they are seen to be Satanic in origin.
The United States is often considered to be the most religious diverse country in the world. Southern Ontario in Canada has been described as the most religiously diverse region within any country of the world. Meanwhile, about 75% of North American adults identify with Christianity; about 18% have no religious affiliation, and the rest identify with a non-Christian religion. With some people in North America attributing value to religious diversity and others wanting to recognize only Christmas during December, conflicts are bound to happen. Should store clerks say "Merry Christmas" and thus exclude other holy days and days of celebration? Or should they say "Happy Holidays" or "Seasons' Greetings" and acknowlege religious and cultural diversity?
In recent years, significant conflict has ocurred during this season. This seems to have reached a peak during 2004, and included economic boycotts of some companies that wanted to acknowledge the cultural and religious diversity of their customers. The intensty of the "December Dilemma" (a.k.a. Christmas Wars) has diminished significantly by 2011.
Origins of solstice celebration
The seasons of the year are caused by the 23.45º tilt of the earth's axis. Because the
earth is rotating like a top or gyroscope, it points in in the same direction
continuously. At this time, it towards a point in space near Polaris, which is the current North Star.
However, like a top that is slowing down, there is a very slow wobble of the earth's axis. The pole star (a.k.a. north star) changes over time: the star Thuban in the constellation Draco was the northern pole star circa 3000 BCE. Polaris is the current pole star, being only about a half degree offset from the north celestial pole. 1,2If we wait for about 21,000 years, Thuban will again be the pole star.
Meanwhile, the earth is
also revolving around the sun. During half of the year, the southern hemisphere
is more exposed to the sun than is the northern hemisphere. During the rest of
the year, the reverse is true. At noontime in the Northern Hemisphere the sun
appears high in the sky during summertime and low in the sky during winter. The
time of the year when the sun reaches its maximum elevation occurs on the day
with the greatest number of minutes of daylight. This is called the summer solstice, and is typically
on JUN-21 in the Northern Hemisphere. It is the first day of summer.
"Solstice" is derived
from two Latin words: "sol" meaning sun, and "sistere,"
to cause to stand still. The lowest elevation occurs about DEC-21
and is the winter solstice -- the first day of winter, when the night time hours
In pre-historic times, winter was a very difficult time for Aboriginal people
in the northern latitudes. The growing season had ended and the tribe had to live
off of stored food and whatever animals they could catch. The people would become
troubled as the life-giving sun sank lower in the sky each noon. They feared
that it would eventually disappear and leave them in permanent darkness and extreme cold.
After the passage of the winter solstice, they would have reason to celebrate and regain hope in the future as they saw the
sun rising and strengthening once more. Although many months of cold weather remained before
spring, they took heart that the return of the warm season was inevitable.
concept of birth and or death/rebirth became associated with the winter
solstice. The Aboriginal people had no elaborate instruments to detect the
solstice. But they were able to notice a slight elevation of the sun's path
within a few days after the solstice -- perhaps by DEC-25. Celebrations were
often timed for about the 25th.
December celebrations in many faiths and locations - ancient and modern
ANCIENT BRAZIL: Brazilian archeologists have found an assembly of
127 granite blocks arranged equidistant from each other. They apparently
form an ancient astronomical observatory. One of the stones marked the
position of the sun at the time of the winter solstice and were probably
used in religious rituals. 1
ANCIENT EGYPT: The god-man/savior Osiris
died and was entombed on DEC-21. "At midnight, the priests emerged
from an inner shrine crying 'The Virgin has brought forth! The light is
waxing" and showing the image of a baby to the worshipers." 2
ANCIENT GREECE: The winter solstice ritual was called Lenaea, the Festival
of the Wild Women. In very ancient times, a man representing the harvest
god Dionysos was torn to pieces and eaten by a gang of women on this day. Later in the
ritual, Dionysos would be reborn as a baby. By classical times, the human
sacrifice had been replaced by the killing of a goat. The women's role
had changed to that of funeral mourners and observers of the birth.
ANCIENT ROME:Saturnalia began as a feast day for Saturn
on DEC-17 and of Ops (DEC-19). About 50 BCE, both were
later converted into two day celebrations. During the Empire, the festivals
were combined to cover a full week: DEC-17 to 23.
By the third century CE, there were many religions
and spiritual mysteries being followed within the Roman Empire. Many, if not
most, celebrated the birth of their god-man near the time of the solstice. Emperor Aurelian (270 to 275 CE)
blended a number of Pagan solstice celebrations of the nativity of
such god-men/saviors as Appolo, Attis, Baal, Dionysus, Helios, Hercules,
Horus, Mithra, Osiris, Perseus, and Theseus into a
single festival called the "Birthday of the Unconquered Sun"
on DEC-25. At the time, Mithraism and Christianity were fierce competitors. Aurelian
had even declared Mithraism the official religion of the Roman Empire in 274
CE. Christianity eventually won out when it became the new official religion in
the 4th century CE.
ATHEISTS: There has been a recent increase in solstice observances
by Atheists in the U.S. For example, The American Atheists and
local Atheist groups have organized celebrations for 2000-DEC,
including the Great North Texas Infidel Bash in Weatherford TX;
Winter Solstice bash in Roselle NJ; Winter
Solstice Parties in York PA, Boise ID, North Bethesda MD, and Des
Moines IA; Winter Solstice Gatherings in Phoenix AZ and Denver
CO: a Year End Awards and Review Dinner (YEAR) in San
BUDDHISM: On DEC-8, or on the Sunday immediately preceding,
Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day (a.k.a. Rohatsu). It
recalls the day in 596 BCE, when the Buddha
achieved enlightenment. He had left his family and possessions behind at the
age of 29, and sought the meaning of life -- particularly the reasons for
its hardships. He studied under many spiritual teachers without success.
Finally, he sat under a pipal tree and vowed that he would stay there until
he found what he was seeking. On the morning of the eighth day, he realized
that everyone suffers due to ignorance. But ignorance can be overcome
through the Eightfold Path that he advocated. This day is generally regarded as the birth day
of Buddhism. Being an Eastern tradition, Bodhi Day has none of the
associations with the solstice and seasonal changes found in other religious
observances at this time of year. However, it does signify the point in
time when the Buddha achieved enlightenment and escaped the endless
cycle of birth, death and rebirth through reincarnation -- themes that
are observed in other religions in December.
CHRISTIANITY: Any record of the date of birth of Yeshua
of Nazareth (later known as Jesus Christ) has been lost. There is
sufficient evidence in the Gospels to indicate that Yeshua was born
in the fall, but this seems to have been unknown to early Christians. By the beginning of the 4th century CE, there was intense
interest in selecting a day to celebrate Yeshua's birthday. The
western church leaders selected DEC-25 because this was already the date
recognized throughout the Roman Empire as the birthday of various Pagan
gods. 2,3 Since there was no central Christian authority
at the time, it took centuries before the tradition was universally
Eastern churches began to celebrate Christmas after 375 CE.
The church in Jerusalem started in the 7th century.
Ireland started in the 5th century.
Austria, England and Switzerland in the 8th century.
Slavic lands in the 9th and 10th centuries.
Many symbols and practices associated with Christmas are of Pagan origin:
holly, ivy, mistletoe, yule log, the giving of gifts, decorated evergreen
tree, magical reindeer, etc. Polydor Virgil, a 15th century British Christian, said
masques, mummeries, stageplays, and other such Christmas disorders now in
use with Christians, were derived from these Roman Saturnalian and
Bacchanalian festivals; which should cause all pious Christians eternally to
Puritans unsuccessfully tried to ban Christmas entirely during the 17th century, because of its
heathenism. The English Parliament abolished Christmas in 1647. Some
contemporary Christian faith groups have refused to celebrate Christmas. Included
among these was the Worldwide Church of God
(before its recent conversion to Evangelical Christianity) and the Jehovah's