December 25, Paganism, Christmas ... again


I want to be compassionate here. But I believe you have fallen into the “mental trap” of equating Roman practices with the general notion of “pagan practices”. Jonathan Burke does a nice job of pointing out the lacunae and ambiguities in the Roman calendar of holidays and references made to them. So Roman influence seems to be too messy to diagnose very well.

But you use the very broad brush when you say that the church did not co-opt December 25 from Pagan rituals in general!

There are specific reasons for why your original sentence is flawed, but a revision the specifically only excluded the Roman celebrations would enjoy special reasons for why “excluding” Pagan Rites generally from your “exclusion” would be warranted:

1] The primary evidence for the exact dates of Solus-centered festivities is ambiguous (the Roman holiday may not have been celebrated in that part of December, or in December at all).

2] Early Christian interest in the Winter Solstice (by convention, sometimes just referred to as December 25), began long before Imperial Rome began to upgrade its interest in Solus-centered festivities.

3] Convergent evidence suggests that the “chicken-and-egg” problem of who first started making the Winter Solstice important can be resolved in favor of Pagan practices. One strand of that evidence is that the cultural context of the Winter Solstice is a credible source of inspiration for wanting Jesus to be conceived at a time in the calendar that would tie his birth to the time of the Winter Solstice - - despite the ample Biblical evidence that Jesus would not have been born in the Winter (shepherds do not sleep out in the open in December).

We even find the interest in this December interlude demonstrated in the architecture
of prehistoric Newgrange:

“Newgrange (Irish: Sí an Bhrú[1] or Brú na Bóinne) is a prehistoric monument in County Meath, Ireland, located 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) west of Drogheda on the north side of the River Boyne. It was built during the Neolithic period, around 3200 BC, making it older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids.”


So, long before the Egyptian pyramids, this massive and appealing structure, was built with the most singular of purposes, to capture the days of the Winter Solstice (not just a single day)!

“Once a year, at the Winter Solstice, the rising sun shines directly along the long passage, illuminating the inner chamber and revealing the carvings inside, notably the triple spiral on the front wall of the chamber. This illumination lasts for approximately 17 minutes.”

“… The sunlight enters the passage through a specially contrived opening, known as a roofbox, directly above the main entrance. Although solar alignments are not uncommon among passage graves, Newgrange is one of few to contain the additional roofbox feature. (Cairn G at Carrowkeel Megalithic Cemetery is another, and it has been suggested that one can be found at Bryn Celli Ddu.”

“The alignment is such that although the roofbox is above the passage entrance, the light hits the floor of the inner chamber. Today the first light enters about four minutes after sunrise, but calculations based on the precession of the Earth show that 5,000 years ago, first light would have entered exactly at sunrise.[citation needed] The solar alignment at Newgrange is very precise compared to similar phenomena at other passage graves such as Dowth or Maes Howe in the Orkney Islands, off the coast of Scotland.”

The solstice was economically important, like any calendar-driven event would be. But there were religious ideas attached to the Sun’s movement in December as well (from the Wiki article on the Winter Solstice):

EARLY BRITISH CONTEXT: “Because the event was seen as the reversal of the Sun’s ebbing presence in the sky, concepts of the birth or rebirth of sun gods have been common and, in cultures which used cyclic calendars based on the winter solstice, the “year as reborn” was celebrated with reference to life-death-rebirth deities or “new beginnings” such as Hogmanay’s redding, a New Year cleaning tradition. Also “reversal” is yet another frequent theme, as in Saturnalia’s slave and master reversals.”

SHABA (PRE-YALDA): “In Zoroastrian tradition the longest and darkest night of the year was a particularly inauspicious day, and the practices of what is now known as “Shab-e Chelleh/Yalda” were originally customs intended to protect people from evil (see dews) during that long night,[rs 7] at which time the evil forces of Ahriman were imagined to be at their peak. People were advised to stay awake most of the night, lest misfortune should befall them, and people would then gather in the safety of groups of friends and relatives, share the last remaining fruits from the summer, and find ways to pass the long night together in good company.”

YULE: “Scandinavians still call Yule “Jul”. In English, the word “Yule” is often used in combination with the season “yuletide” [6] a usage first recorded in 900. It is believed that the celebration of this day was a worship of these peculiar days, interpreted as the reawakening of nature. The Yule (Jul) particular god was Jólner, which is one of Odin’s many names.”

JULBLOT: “The concept of Yule occurs in a tribute poem to Harold Hårfager from about AD 900, where someone said “drinking Jul”. Julblot is the most solemn sacrifice feast. At the “julblotet”, sacrifices were given to the gods to earn blessing on the forthcoming germinating crops. Julblotet was eventually integrated into the Christian Christmas. As a remainder from this Viking era, the Midsummer is still important in Scandinavia, and hence vividly celebrated.”


Some of this post comes right out of the big thread on the topic:

Below is some background on the terminology:
December 25 may be only one day, but the Winter Solstice embraced several days.
What is being described is not so much the Sun’s movement, but the progression of the Sunrise, emerging from southernmost point of the Eastern horizon, during the last 364 sunrises (or, more properly, during the last half of the year) when the Sunrise (not the Sun) was incrementally heading south from its most northerly point of the horizon, attained at the time of the Summer Solstice.

[[Technically speaking, the literal “moment” the sunrise appears at its most northerly point changes every year, because this moment is tied to the coincidental position of the Earth’s continents beneath the gaze of the sun. Year to year, over centuries, this exact moment falls on a city that is sometimes closer than average to any of the other likely cities waiting for the Solstice – and sometimes more distant than average. I do not know how long it would take for the exact moment of the Solstice for any given city to return, again, to that specific city.]]

By modern astronomers’ reckoning (with all the appropriate leap year calculations and so forth) this day is usually December 22. December 23 the sun actually rises just a little bit north of where it rose the day before - - on its new northern leg of its sunrises - - until it reaches the northernmost point at the Summer Solstice.

But because this initial northward movement of the Sunrise’s location on the horizon is very tiny, many ancient schools of astronomy treat it as essentially the same as the day before, and the same as the next day. Some ancient astronomers characterized the Winter Solstice as a “three day” rather than as a “one day” event.

As the literal meaning of “solstice” implies [Sun-Standing], this behavior represents 3 days of the sun “standing” at the same spot on the horizon (or the appearance of it), working its way northward again after its 6 month effort to reach the southern-most point on the horizon at sunrise. It is likely that this so-called “3 day pause” is the source of the ANE cultural expectation that a person’s soul or spirit lingers at or near the corpse for 3 days before heading to sheol or the afterlife.

A typical globe map of the Earth (and the better sundials) include a drawing called the Analemma which is a graphical representation of the sun’s daily/weekly/monthly/annual shift… regardless of what starting point in its traverse you have selected beginning your observations.

[Edited] - analemmas for any given spot remain the same year after year, using solar time, rather than humanly contrived time. If you are taking daily pictures of the sun, you wouldn’t follow the “fall back/spring forward” rule of daylight savings… you would use the same time, exactly 24 hours after the first photo/point, and so on, for 365 days.

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What happened is this: the Church first established the Feast of the Annunciation/Conception of Jesus as March 25. When the Church became interested in setting a date for the birth of Jesus, they counted forward 9 months.
(Learned about this in our theology of Christmas class.)

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I think you will find that the date of the “Conception of Jesus” was specifically chosen so that the birth of Jesus would fall in the week of the Winter Solstice:

“From the earliest recorded history, the feast has been celebrated on March 25, commemorating both the belief that the spring equinox was not only the day of God’s act of Creation but also the beginning of Christ’s redemption of that same Creation.”

Footnote: " McNamara, Edward. “Advent Prayer and the Incarnation”, Zenit, December 6, 2005"

You can continue to celebrate Christmas. Many things around the world have used December 25 for many things. I celebrate December 25 as Christ’s birthday and so do you. It is fine to do so. The Episcopal Church is right.

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What I said was, “There is no textual evidence that the church co-opted December 25 from a pagan holiday.”
Write that down. So show me some textual evidence. Real textual evidence. Not some web site.



And so you think people as far flung as the Celts in Ireland would build a giant facility for the Winter Solstice, but you think the ANE and Anatolia and the surrounding context of Christianity would not also reflect a religious context for the Winter Solstice?

I had a thought. In Ireland, which has real winter weather, the winter solstice would be a big deal. In Israel, where the average low temperature never dips below 50F, the winter solstice wouldn’t be that much of a thing. No evidence just wondering aloud.

What I said was, “There is no textual evidence that the church co-opted December 25 from a pagan holiday.”
And that is what I said. I meant what I said and I said what I meant.


Oh ye of little faith… give me a day…

… such immovable thought patterns are usually found elsewhere…


Part of the difficulty in finding straightforward discussion on the relevance of Tammuz and the Winter Solstice, is a campaign by fundamental biblicists to revise Tammuz by using modern viewpoints regarding what is meant by resurrection.

Below is a fairly comprehensive discussion of how many ways the Tammuz legends have influenced Judaism traditions and legends. These influences are not suddenly felt in the modern era; they are about as ancient as you can get, since Tammuz is ultimately a Sumerian god.

What gets emphasized most frequently is the sadness associated with Tammuz being sentenced to the Underworld. This is the time if the Summer Solstice. It has a drama akin to the sadness associated with the day that Jesus is crucified.

However, there are at least two versions for how Tammuz gets “sprung” from the Underworld. And the usual critique offered is that there is no commensurate celebration for this return of Tammuz to the mortal sphere (which is the Winter (!) Solstice).

Some even point out that Tammuz does not “resurrect” any of his followers from the Underworld. But this is rather beside the point.

Tammuz’s annual return to the realm of the living is awaited and marked by the astrologers who confirm that the Winter Solstice has arrived… and “life” for the crops (as indicated by the now increasingly longer days) is the result.

One of Tammuz’s Sumerian names is “Son of Life”. His return marks the return of agricultural life…which brings “life” to all the world. The importance of this is REVEALED by (not hidden) by the anquish publicly displayed by those who mark the comings and goings of Tammuz.

The Winter Solstice is the primary ancient indicator of “life” in the ANE. And it can only be because of this widespread meaning of the Winter Solstice that the church fathers would go out of their way to “engineer” the story of the conception of Jesus so that the Springtime (the new life of the Spring Equinox) and the Winter Solstice (9 months later) can both be invoked in connection with the life of Jesus. He, Jesus, commands “life” in all its forms and expressions.

It was the pervasive nature of ANE symbolism and astronomical reckoning, not a particular Roman holiday, that created this desire to link Jesus to the major ANE themes and interpretations of renewed life !

The modern flavor of resurrection of humanity as well as of a God, is part of the genius that is incipient to Christianity. This is the new wisdom of the this new religion from the East. The Church Fathers took old ideas and leveraged them into a brand new way of looking at the staleness of the Old Gods.

Discussions Below:
“Tammuz, the tenth month of the Hebrew calendar, is named for the Sumerian god Tammuz, a beautiful young god who married Inanna, guaranteeing fertility to the world.” [FN 4: ]

“In some versions, he dies, and Inanna descends to the underworld to rescue him.”

"In other versions, Tammuz revels with other women while his bride Inanna goes on a personal journey to the underworld and becomes caught there by her sister Ereshkigal. When Inanna returns, she is so angry that she kills her husband. Only through the kindness of Tammuz’ sister Geshtinanna, who offers half her life-force to her brother, can Tammuz be free, for half a year, from the realm of death. "

“Many Mesopotamian poems of the time tell the elaborate story of Tammuz’s life, love, demise, and rebirth. He represents the standing grain that is cut down in service to human life, and grows again the following year.”

“Like many cultures, ancient Israel knew the story of the god who died on the summer solstice as the light of the sun began to diminish. Israelite women once mourned the god Tammuz’ tragic death on the first of the month Tammuz by wailing at the gate of the Temple. We know about this because the prophet Ezekiel complains of Israelite women mourning the death of Tammuz at the gates of the Temple” [FN 5: ]

“Although it was against monotheistic Israelite practice to engage in this weeping, the mourning for Tammuz allowed women to express the sadness of the diminishing of light and the mortality of human beings. In later times, Jews expressed that sadness as they mourned the Temple’s destruction and the exile of the Shekhinah. They wrote elaborate poems longing for return to Jerusalem and for the Shekhinah to once again be a joyful mother of the Jewish people.”[FN 6: see bottom]

“Jews today still find the metaphor of exile, and of the wandering Divine presence, to be powerful. Also, in recent times, some modern Israeli poets have revived the tradition of writing laments for Tammuz as an expression of the brokenness of the world.”

[4] Adelman, Penina. Miriam’s Well: Rituals for Jewish Women Around the Year (Biblio Press, 1986); Wolkstein, Diane and Kramer, Samuel Noah. Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer (Harper and Row, 1983).

[5] Ezekiel 8:14.

[6] See poems by the mystic Yehudah haLevi.

Other Footnotes
[7] Midrash Yalkut Shemot, 1.
[8] Genesis 37-50.
[9] Babylonian Talmud, Taanit 28b.
[10] Babylonian Tamud, Taanit 26a-b.
[11] Babylonian Talmud, Taanit 29a-30b.
[12] Telesco, Patricia. 365 Goddesses (HarperCollins, 1998).
[13] Arthur Waskow, Seasons of Our Joy (Harcourt, 1987).


She is a woman of great faith.

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Ever heard of an ant mill? It’s quite fascinating.

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I first encountered the sad business of an ant mill from a book when I was in 6th grade. I almost broke into tears. [ True story. I was incredibly depressed by the image. :frowning: ]

Certainly the specter of revisionism suggests the very same tragedy. But humanity has known about Equinoxes and Solstices at least since 3200 BCE (the construction of Newgrange in Ireland, followed by Maeshowe in Scotland circa 2800 BCE).

The Zoroastrians celebrated Shab-e Yalda (which translates to “Night of Birth”), to “celebrate the triumph of the sun god Mithra over darkness.”

The Goseck Circle, in Germany, is a series of concentric rings dug into the ground — the largest of which measures about 246 feet (75 m) in diameter — located in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. It dates back to about 4900 B.C., but was not discovered until aerial surveys in the early 1990s. Archaeological remains suggest Goseck circle was the site of religious rituals, such as sacrifices; eventually researchers realized that two gates cut into the outermost circle aligned with the sunrise and sunset of the winter solstice.

Minute 2:48 to 4:26 (out of 7:44 minute total) of this YouTube video:

“Winter Solstice Meaning, Karnak Temple & Newgrange”

How else are we to ignore the fact no student of the natural world in the 1st century CE would have
willingly portrayed Jesus as being born in December?

Or, that all of the Greek world had used their own approach to decide on the Birth of Jesus:

The Western “logic” for calculating the birth of Jesus completely evaded the more populous (and prosperous) Greek speaking side of the Empire! January 6 became the birth day, because that was when the weekly readings of Mark would be discussing his birth in the church calendar. Yet another incorrect date was
reached if you misunderstood Luke to say Jesus celebrated his 30th year on the day he was baptized.

“Around 200 [C.E.], Clement of Alexandria wrote that, “But the followers of Basilides celebrate the day of His Baptism too, spending the previous night in readings. And they say that it was the 15th of the month Tybi of the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar. And some say that it was observed the 11th of the same month.” The Egyptian dates given correspond to January 6 and 10. The Basilides were a Gnostic sect.”

“The reference to “readings” suggests that the Basilides were reading the Gospels. In ancient gospel manuscripts, the text is arranged to indicate passages for liturgical readings. If a congregation began reading Mark at the beginning of the year, it might arrive at the story of the Baptism on January 6, thus explaining the date of the feast. If Christians read Mark in the same format the Basilides did, the two groups could have arrived at the January 6 date independently.”

“The earliest reference to Epiphany as a Christian feast was in A.D. 361, by Ammianus Marcellinus. The holiday is listed twice, which suggests a double feast of baptism and birth. The Nativity was assigned to the same date as the birth because Luke 3:23 was misread to mean that Jesus was exactly 30 when he was baptized.”

“Saint John Cassian says that even in his time (beginning of the 400’s CE), Egyptian monasteries celebrated the Nativity and the Baptism together on January 6. The Armenian Apostolic Church continues to celebrate January 6 as the only commemoration of the Nativity.”

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