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The Reason for the Season

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Hello. And merry Christmas.

I’m a fair atheist. (I used to identify as a "friendly atheist." But my last interaction here concerned the moral — as opposed to political — outrage of the Trump administration throwing children into concentration camps, and I have to say it left rather a bad taste in my mouth.)

But I do have an academic interest in any of your opinions and thoughts on what I find to be an interesting topic.

First, I love Christmas. Maybe I’m not “supposed“ to, having been raised in a Jewish family. But my wife’s background is Christian and we “do“ Christmas at our house every year. It is the pinnacle of the calendar for my children. They are both old enough, should they care to do so, to figure out there is no Santa Claus. But they insist upon claiming and behaving as if he’s real. When the first of them was old enough to ask I agonized over how I would answer the question of Kris Kringle’s actual existence, proud as I am of my policy never to deliberately lie to them. The bit of legalese I struck upon, however, served me well and I have stuck with it ever since. The kids go along with it, and we maintain a happy household. (Though I think they know there is more than a bit of kabuki theater in the whole thing. I gotta’ hand it to them. They are going to make fine poker players one day.)

I’m happy to explain how I handled that. But, again, that’s not what prompts my visit here today; and I suspect a lot of you would find my position nakedly disingenuous.

To cut to the chase, I’m curious for some Christian opinions about the relationship between Christmas and the winter solstice.

There is no denying Christmas is a celebration at (though perhaps not “OF“) the winter solstice.

Christmas is, obviously, a celebration of the birth of Jesus. But it isn’t a celebration of his birthDAY, as no one knows the actual date of the nativity. In my opinion, Christmas is ALSO a celebration of the winter solstice. To me this makes perfect sense. Winter solstice has been celebrated ever since cavemen noticed that it’s cold in the winter and hot in the summer. As Christianity began and spread, it was adopted by people who had been celebrating the solstice all their lives. Now, if you are a garden variety pagan who recently converted to Christianity, and the essential point of that creed is the notion of salvation and redemption through rebirth, sacrifice and resurrection, AND nobody knows the date of the birth of the messiah, AND the date of his REbirth IS known for certain (being at Passover, which, no coincidence, occurs at the vernal equinox) a most logical occasion to celebrate the nativity would be at the winter solstice, when the death and decay of autumn transitions to the gradual returning of life to the earth as the nights start getting shorter, and days start getting longer.

And, while many disagree, or would like to, a lot of the festive trappings of American-style Christmas are hand-me-downs from earlier pagan winter solstice traditions. (Yule log, mistletoe, Christmas trees, etc.)

(Stay with me here. I am coming to my question. I promise.)

I’ll also point out that holidays marking milestones in the seasons of nature are not inherently pagan. A major holiday in the Jewish tradition is Sukkoth, a ritual observance of the harvest at the autumnal equinox. Every year religious Jews build ersatz bivouac housing for agricultural laborers in their backyards and spend between one and seven nights camping out there. And, believe me, these celebrants are venerating the biblical God Almighty as they do it.

Finally, my question.

How does any suggested association between Christmas, the ritual commemoration of the birth of Jesus, with the winter solstice, the ritual celebration of surviving another year and its lean months and the approach of the abundances of spring and summer, strike you? Do you find it a pretty cool association (as I do)? Or do you reflexively (or intellectually) reject it as smacking too much of the pagan infidel? Or do you have other reactions I'm not considering?

Thank you in advance for any of your thoughts.
 
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