Winter Solstice: From Pagan Spirituality to Christian Consumerism

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Solstice: the sun stands still. In temperate countries of the northern and southern hemispheres, every year there are two: summer and winter. The northern hemisphere’s summer solstice, which occurs on a day in the middle of the year (June 20 to 22, depending on the year), is the southern hemisphere’s winter solstice. Conversely, the southern hemisphere’s summer solstice, which occurs on a day in the third week of December (December 20 to 23, depending on the year), just prior to the New Year, is the northern hemisphere’s winter solstice. In the tropics, these astronomical events are not physically felt, except for the holiday celebration called Christmas that is associated with the northern’s hemisphere winter solstice and was brought by European Christian religions to countries like the Philippines, where I was born.

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Dies natalis Solis invicti: Birthday of the unconquered Sun

Though we are more familiar now with the so-called Christmas season, connected with the winter solstice, there has always been something religious or spiritual about this time of year that antedates the Christian era. The traditions of caroling and midnight service, and common symbols in the celebration of Christmas, like mistletoes, decorated trees, candles and lights, wreaths and hollies, among others, were present in European paganism long before the advent of Christianity. Christmas is therefore the “Christianization” of the winter solstice celebration, whose institutionalization over time has led to the theft of most, if not all, of the major highlights from the pagan world.

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In the Hebrew scriptures of the Jewish religion, known as the Old Testament in the Christian Bible, there occurs a single instance of the word “solstice” that is not in any way associated with the annual summer and winter astronomical events. In the book of Joshua, chapter 10 and verses 12 to 14, it is reported that the tribal deity of ancient Israel, called YHWH, caused the sun to stand still in Gibeon to give the Israelites, known to be the people of the said tribal deity, the best opportunity to slaughter and annihilate, in broad daylight, an enemy tribe called the Amorites.

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“Then Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, ‘O sun, stand still at Gibeon, And O moon in the valley of Aijalon.’ So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, Until the nation avenged themselves of their enemies. Is it not written in the book of Jashar? And the sun stopped in the middle of the sky and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day. There was no day like that before it or after it, when the Lord listened to the voice of a man; for the Lord fought for Israel.…”

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This Lord, the sadistic tribal deity of ancient Israel, is a far cry from the god of love whose son, Jesus, is mythically believed by Christians to have been born sometime during the winter solstice and in whose honor Christians celebrate Christmas. By contrast to the murderous solstice of the Jewish story, the pagan winter solstice has always symbolized renewed hope, faith in the restorative cosmic forces and most of all, a love of life.

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“In the depths of winter I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer.” – Albert Camus

The pagan winter solstice is an exaltation of the human spirit’s rebirth and revitalization, from “the dark nights of the soul” (“la noche oscura del alma”, with apologies to St. John of the Cross) into the energizing warmth of a radiant morning. It is the grandeur of this splendid background that the Christian religion stole for its prevailing celebration called Christmas, to the point of claiming: “It is not the birth of the Sun but rather that of the Son.”

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Christianity, whose key figure, Jesus Christ, is a paragon of humility, should be humble enough not to monopolize the significance of the annual December 25 celebration. Deities from other religions whose births, in different periods, have been celebrated on the same date include: Attis and Dionysus, both of Greece; Mithra of Persia; Salivahana of Bermuda; Odin of Scandinavia; Crite of Chaldez; Thammuz of Syria; Addad of Assyria, and Beddru of Japan.

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The winter solstice has influenced the lives of many generations of humanity, through the passing of different civilizations. Therefore the universalizing slogan “Jesus is the reason for the season,” is inaccurate. A more logically acceptable statement for Christians is: “Jesus is our reason for the season.” An all-encompassing claim that articulates ownership of the winter solstice celebration, by claiming that Jesus Christ is the season’s only source of meaning, is a blatant audacity of narrow-minded fundamentalist and evangelical Christians. Christians should be more sensitive not to monopolize the winter solstice celebration and should acknowledge the fact that most—if not all—material symbolisms in Christmas originate from the pagan realm. The legacy of the ancient pagans is still carried on by modern pagans who continue to use the ancient material symbolisms inherited from their precursors with comparable spiritual intensity and pomp.

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It is tragic that the originally spiritual celebration of the pagan winter solstice has been ruined by the materialism of modern nominal Christianity. The modern winter solstice celebration has become commercialized and has lost, not only the graciousness originally associated with ancient pagan spirituality, but also the magnanimity of Christian virtues exemplified by the teachings of Jesus Christ.

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“The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light.” – Joseph Campbell

Even Christianity has been made seasonal by Christmas, which has become the only time of the year when nominal Christians affirm their shallow Christianity through their superficial adoration of their so-called Lord. I think that Christians, to be true to their commitment, should draw their inspiration and get moved to action not only during the Christmas season but also on a daily basis by the words of wisdom and example of Jesus. A truer spirit of Christianity might well reside in the pagan spirituality that has animated the ancient winter solstice celebration with its promise of renewed hope, faith in the restorative cosmic forces and love of life.

Merry Yuletide Season to All!

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Editor’s Notes: Photograph one by Don McCullough; photograph two by Mark K; three by Vicky WJ; four by Walt Jabsco; five by Debs; six by Keizer; seven by Jacqueline Ross; eight by Moyan Brenn; nine by Sigurd Rage; ten by La Fattina; and eleven by Fdecomite.

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9 Responses to Winter Solstice: From Pagan Spirituality to Christian Consumerism

  1. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1rogelio l. ordonez
    December 21, 2014 at 5:17 pm

    Highly informative, ka Ruel. Reminds me of the short story by the late Quijano de Manila or Nick Joaquin entitled “Summer solstice”. I have read “Gospel fictions” by Randel Helms and some analytical writings of Acharya S., or D. M. Murdock “The Christ conspiracy” and “The suns of god”, and other related biblical topics. Definitely, your article contributes a lot to my enlightenment. Congratulations, my dear friend and comrade, Dr. Ruel Pepa!

  2. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1Ruel F. Pepa
    December 22, 2014 at 1:45 am

    Thank you so much for the appreciation, my dear friend and comrade, Ka Roger, even though my article is just a minuscule supplement to the much more comprehensive and in-depth writings you’ve previously read on the same topic. Mabuhay ka!

  3. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1kaamos
    December 23, 2014 at 12:54 pm

    I regularly read CounterPunch for truthful political commentary and analysis – but this was very edifying and exhilarating! thank you and hyvää joulua!

  4. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Ruel F. Pepa
    December 24, 2014 at 8:04 am

    Thank you very much, kaamos, for the joyful appreciation. Allow me please to extend likewise my heartfelt gratitude to my Editors — Gilbert Mercier, Dady Chery and John Goss — for giving me this opportunity and the space to share my thoughts, both political and philosophical, through our online magazine News Junkie Post. May we all have a more active and more productive 2015!

    • Dady Chery
      +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Dady Chery
      December 25, 2014 at 6:23 pm

      It has been a pleasure Ruel! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

  5. Gilbert Mercier
    +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Gilbert Mercier
    December 25, 2014 at 9:35 pm

    Feliz Navidad, Ka Ruel!

  6. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Ruel F. Pepa
    December 26, 2014 at 8:49 am

    Felices fiestas, Dady y Ka Gilbert! . . . Saludos!

  7. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Laurel Kornfeld
    January 4, 2015 at 11:26 am

    Many neo-pagans and people drawn to Earth-based spirituality are reviving the seasonal celebrations and taking back the Winter Solstice as a time sacred to all, not just Christians. Even as a child, I felt this time of year was sacred and did not buy into the notion that if you aren’t Christian, this is not your holiday. It is the heritage of all people and of all species.

  8. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Ruel F. Pepa
    January 5, 2015 at 3:13 am

    The article is an expression of my belief which totally agrees with yours, Laurel. Thank you very much for your comment which highlights the core notion that I wish to impart. . . . Feliz año 2015!

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