Christmas is getting closer and I want to take the chance to tell you about the archetypical origins of this festivity.
I’m going to do so by translating an article I wrote a few years ago, during my last year in high school, for “Il resto del Calvino”, my high school’s periodical.
There are a few small imprecisions in the article, but going beyond them you will find plenty of information, judgment-free:
“A day we are all waiting for, a day we wait for all year long and which is finally near: December 25th, Christmas Day!
It’s probably the most loved festivity. Its magical atmosphere make us all happier and it’s probably true that at Christmas we are all kinder!
Yet, how many of you know Christmas’ true origins? How many know that beyond the Christian festivity there is much much more? How many have ever thought about the Pagan world hidden behind Christmas? I guess the answer is not many, thus I’m going to share some info in this article.
It’s important to remember that Jesus’ date of birth is not known, Gospels don’t talk about it. December 25th was chosen as the date only around the 4th century A.D., and before that time Christmas wasn’t even celebrated. During the years many different days were celebrated as the day of Christ’s birth, from January 6th to March 25th, from April 10th to May 29th, but in the end the Eastern Church chose January 6th as the date (it was the day of Dionysus’ epiphany, that is appearance, according to the Greeks), whereas the Western Church chose December 25th. In both cases, these dates correspond to prior popular or pagan festivities, that the Church tried to incorporate.
For January 6th the ‘mistery’ has been cleared out and now I’m going to tell you what’s behind December 25th.
This date has been a day to celebrate in many different cultures and religions, even very far ones both in time and space. They seem to be very close though if we take into account the several similarities we can find among them.
Like Christ, the Egyptian god Horus too was born on December 25th, around the year 3000 b.C.. He was often pictured as a child sitting on goddess Isis’ lap. When he was born, he was accompanied by the Star in the East, which was followed by the great pharaohs who brought gifts.
The Indo-Persian god Mitra follows: he was born in a cave from a Virgin, a few shepherds were present at his birth and they brought gifts. He also had twelve apostles and was called ‘the Saviour’.
Like him, the Babylonian god Tammuz, personification of the Sun, son of goddess Ishtar, was born on that day too. His birth was celebrated because he would have had to liberate the world from the darkness. He was often pictured with a twelve-stared halo around his head, on his mother’s lap. He died and resuscitated after three days.
Another important god is the Greek Dionysus who was celebrated because he was believed to be reborn in that period after being torn to pieces. He made miracles.
And even Bacab, Sun god of Yucatan, born from virgin Chiribirias, and Attis, god of Phrygia, born from a virgin, like Indian god Krishna. And Inca Sun god Wiracocha, and Buddha, Zoroaster, Odin, Osiris, Hercules, Quetzalcoatl, Prometheus and many more, all born on December 25th.
The question that (probably) arises spontaneously is: why this date? And why did many different cultures celebrate it?
‘Primitive’ communities were tied to the natural cycles their own existence depended on. The Sun was of central importance, because it marked the different moments of the day and had influence on all aspects of human life. The fear that the Sun could not rise again, that arose when the strenght of our star diminished approaching Winter, was every year a tragic experience because human life was threatened. Through rituals and worships people tried to give back to the sun its strenght, and through fires people tried to restore its warmth.
On December 22nd, day of the Winter Solstice, the Sun is at its lowest on the arch it goes through in the sky, and it shines for the shortest hours in the year. Solstice literally means “still Sun”, and it’s actually true: from the 22nd to the 24th, the Sun is apparently stationary in the sky. After the Solstice, daylight increases again and it’s on December 25th that the Sun seems to be reborn.
There is also another interpretation: on December 24th, the Start in the East, AKA Syrius, aligns with the three stars of Orion’s Belt, called “the three kings”. If we draw a line from the three kings, passing through Syrius and ending on the horizon, we will find the point where the Sun will rise on December 25th: the Three Kings, by following the Star, can reach God’s place of birt. God can be recognized in the Sun not only in Paganism, but also in Christianity for Jesus came to this Earth to bring Light and destroy Darkness.
Some say the the Church ‘stole’ some traditions and that above all it tried to hide ‘dangerous’, heretical and deceptive celebrations. Some others say that these similarities are expression of universal archetypes, shared by different cultures around the world.
Anyway, Christmas never loses its charm and never ceases to conquer people’s hearts. People gather to celebrate Winter Solstice, to celebrate life, year after year, no matter the reasons that lead them.”
Time passing by, I’ve come up with the idea that there is Beauty in this communion of celebrations and sharing of universal archetypes. Everyone follows their vision of Life, but we all celebrate the same cycles.
Wouldn’t it be beautiful if we celebrated together, shared visions, hugged each other, in every moment of our lives? For a world full of Peace and Love.
Eleonora, your #earthandsoulwanderer