Today is the real day of Christmas, so Merry Christmas everyone! Actually, today is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. After today, our days will grow longer and longer.
This was the favorite holiday of pagans. They loved the sun. Worshiped it, in fact. And they got pie-eyed drunk every year, to celebrate its return from its southern retreat.
The early Catholics had a hell of a time converting pagans to Christianity. They tried torture, drowning, and mass murder. But apparently, many pagans would rather attend a mass murder than a Catholic mass. This had a lot to do with the bacchanal celebrations of the winter solstice. They were such a blast, nobody wanted to give them up.
Finally the Catholics compromised and moved the celebration of Christ’s birthday to the winter solstice date. Nobody could agree on when Jesus was born anyway, so this was an easy move to make.
Imperfections in the calendar caused Christmas to eventually slide a few days past the solstice. But it’s still close enough, and besides, there aren’t many fundamentalist pagans around anymore to complain.
The Christmas compromise makes sense in some ways. The birth of Christ symbolizes new life for those who die, just like the returning sun melts away winter and brings new life to the land. And Christ is supposedly the “light” of this world, just like the sun.
I’m an atheist, but I like the sun as much as any drunken pagan. So I like what the winter solstice symbolizes. And after the winter of my life is over, I like to assume that there’s new life on the other side.
I also like that we don’t have to be pagans to enjoy the benefits of our returning sun. And on the same token I doubt we have to be Christians to have eternal life. If there is such a thing as eternal life, then we’re living it right now. And we will always live it. There’s no getting out of something as enduring as eternal life. Just as there’s no keeping the sun from shining on earth.
The promise of a nice, warm sun, and eternal life. For me, that’s the true meaning of Christmas.