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The Christ Myth and Solstice

William Edelen

We are buried this time of year in mythology, legend and folklore. How many hundreds of times have we been told that Christmas celebrates the origin of Christianity? This of course is false. Christmas was around for eons before Jesus was ever born.

For thousands of years the Winter Solstice (Dec. 22-25) has been the most special time of the year and the most important date in human celebration. The sun has started its long journey home bringing Springtime. Celebrating this event in this month of Solstice I am part of the line of descent that has been uninterrupted almost from the birth of humankind. There has been no time when someone, somewhere, was not celebrating this date.

Long before the mythological birth date of Jesus in the solstice period, our bloodstream ran in the veins of sun gods and sun worshippers...Greeks and Romans...Barbarians in the Germanic forests...Northern worshippers of Thor...and Egyptians...Jews...Gauls...Persians and Indians. No wonder that human beings have celebrated the date of the Winter Solstice for thousands of years considering that our very survival depends upon the return of the sun.

No wonder that the birth of the gods in almost all religious traditions were said to have taken place during the solstice period.

Solstice comes from two ancient words..."sol" the name of a sun god, and "stice" meaning still, or the day that the sun stands still, the shortest day of the year.

Since all cultures have been so dependent upon the seasons, the four major festivals centered on the summer and winter solstice and the spring and autumn equinoxes. An equinox..."equi" meaning equal, and "nox" meaning nights or equal nights occurs midway between the winter and summer solstice, when days and nights are equal in length.

Those are the four corners of the celestial year. But with the return of the sun to once again warm the earth and bring forth a resurrection of life, the winter solstice became the greatest of all the festivals.

The ancient festival in Rome was known as the Saturnalia. The emperor Aurelian established an official holiday called "Sol Invicti", meaning "unconquered sun" in honor of the sun god. It was held Dec. 24 and 25 and established Dec. 25 as the official solstice. All the other religions that worshipped sun gods also took Dec 25 as their fixed date for their festivals.

A major one was in honor of the Egyptian divine mother, Isis. Early Christians used to worship in front of statues of Isis suckling her divine child, Horus, the babe that she had conceived miraculously.

In 350, Pope Julius 1 decreed that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on the same date as all of the other solstice sun gods, Dec 25.

Other major birthdays celebrated Dec. 25 included those of the gods Marduk...Osiris...Horus..Isis...Mithra.. Saturn...Sol...Apollo...Serapis...and Huitzilopochli.

One of the more interesting myths...obviously related to the Christian that of Mithra. Mithra went to heaven until he returned a savior for all of mankind. A star fell from the sky when Mithra was born. Shepherds witnessed the birth and Zoroastrian priests, called "Magi" followed the star to worship him. They brought golden crowns to their newborn "King of Kings". His birth was celebrated on Dec. 25 and was called the "Mithrakana."

Now..when someone tells you that we just have to get back to the "true" meaning of Christmas, please do remember that the "true" meaning of Christmas is a celebration of nature...the sun...and a return of the sun to warm the earth for resurrection and new growth. This has been the major festival in the life of human beings for thousands of years...and our bloodstream still runs in the veins of sun gods and sun worshippers. It is no wonder that in the mythology of the gods they were all born in this magical time of the Winter Solstice...including Jesus.

I like knowing where our celebrations fit into the large picture of our human family. I like knowing that the quest for religious literacy is finally finding its way into our high school classrooms. I like knowing that the traditional Christmas stories are today being taught as mythology in my grandsons class in Northern California.

Christmas started at the formation of our solar system with our little planet...the third one out from a minor star named Sol...spinning on an axis that is tilted at a slight angle to its orbital path around the sun.