As the dreary days of December draw ever closer to the winter solstice, I’m always happy to see people adding lights to homes and landscapes, decorating with holly and ivy and bringing in the tree. Those and other traditions tend to lift our spirits and make the Christmas season a special time of year for all of us, believer and non-believer alike. However,at this time of year, I hear a lot of bleating and braying about Jesus being the “reason for the season.” I’d just like to point out that the aforementioned traditions and many others predate the birth of Christ, some by centuries. The Roman festival of Saturnalia, which culminated on December 25th, was celebrated around the winter solstice and included feasting and gift-giving. Other pagan cultures in northern Europe celebrated the solstice by decorating evergreen trees and hanging mistletoe which symbolized peace and love. Even Christian scholars agree that Dec. 25th was most likely not Christ’s birthday. There is no biblical mention of Christ being born on Dec. 25th and the earliest historical record of celebrating his birthday at the winter solstice is from the 4th century AD.
Certainly, Christianity has added to the whole solstice festival in tradition, story and song, and Christians gave it a new name but they don’t own it. We all get to enjoy the trimming of trees, the giving of gifts and the other reasons for the season. In closing, I’d like to wish one and all a very merry Christmas, in a secular kind of way.