Well. Here we are at another holiday season. If you are not part of the secular crowd, you might be wondering how agnostics and atheists celebrate the “religious” holiday of Christmas or if they even do celebrate at all. Some do and some don’t. Some of us celebrate because it is tradition, both family and country. Some of us celebrate to ‘fit in’. Some of us do it because we understand the history of where these holidays spring from and it therefore, fits in with our ‘beliefs’. However, some refuse to celebrate it at all because of the religious connotation associated with these holidays and a religious background they feel was forced on them when they were children. To them, Christmas brings back these feelings they would not experience again. Whatever the reason, they may be missing out on a lot of fun.
For those of you who don’t know the history of Christmas, here is a very brief overview. Over the centuries, Christmas has become a blend of pagan and Christian traditions. Different countries celebrated the winter solstice in different ways and for different reasons. For example, in Rome, they honored Saturn, the Agriculture God. This time was celebrated with a lot of partying and it is also where caroling originated. In Northern Europe, they would light a candle for Mithras, the Sun God, to appear again the following year. They also burned Yule logs and kissed under the mistletoe for fertility. In ancient Babylon, it was to honor the Son of Isis by exchanging gifts, eating, and drinking to excess. The one tradition they all seem to share is the Christmas tree, although this took several forms depending on the country, religion and tradition. With some traditions, the celebrants only brought the boughs into their homes while some decorated live trees outside.
So how did this blend of paganism and Christianity come to be? Most historians agree that Jesus was not born anywhere near December 25 and that he was most likely born in September. But it appears that Jesus’ actually birth date was irrelevant to Pope Julius I, who in 350, wanted to convert many of the Roman pagans to Christianity. By celebrating Jesus’ birth with the winter solace, he was able to keep the Romans happy and make their conversion easier for them to accept since they were still able to “eat, drink and be merry”.
Happy Winter Solstice!