The celebration of Christmas is one of the most popular in the world. Despite the fact that its celebration is limited to the birth of Christ, and that is what most countries in the world celebrate, the celebration of Christmas as we know it has been introduced since the expansion of Christianity, coinciding with a much older and more ancient anniversary. celebrated, at least in the northern hemisphere of the planet: the winter solstice.
Celebration of Christmas
In the different calendars of antiquity, between December 20 and 23 of our Gregorian calendar, the moment when the sun reached its lowest point of elevation with respect to the earth was celebrated. This is reflected as the longest night of the year at the North Pole and therefore the longest day at the South Pole. This had the effect of seeing the sun very low on the horizon, being more evident at the highest latitudes on the planet.
It is evident that Christmas and the winter solstice are not the same celebration. However, they share the same festive spirit that allowed the universal popularization of a festival that corresponds to a single religion. You can even find in the Christian celebration vestiges of ancient celebrations that became pagan with Christianity. Let’s see some of them.
The winter solstice for the Celts. Being one of the most widespread towns of antiquity, it had different celebrations throughout time and the localities it inhabited. Its oldest constructions, such as Stonehenge and the Newgrange burial mound, are astronomically oriented to react to the position of the sun during the solstice. In the Cornish peninsula, in the United Kingdom, Mummer’s Day or Dark Day was celebrated , in which people danced and darkened their faces with paint or using masks. Ireland and the Isle of Man celebrated Wren’s Day, in which crowds of people dressed up in multicolored clothes and took to the roads playing music and asking for money or food. This tradition included the hunting of the wren, or the kinglet or false king , which consisted of chasing the false king, capturing him and tying him to a beam. This festival has its simile in Galicia, Spain, under the name of La Cacería del Rey Carlos .
The winter solstice in Hellenistic Greece. The Greek ritual corresponding to these dates is the same one portrayed by Euripides in his work Las Bacchantes . The ritual, exclusively female, was carried out on the outskirts of the villages, where a group of women called Bacchantes they took a calf or a goat, which was fed and then butchered. This represented the death of Dionysus caused by the fury of Hera, who threw lightning that burned his mother when she was carrying him in her womb. Immediately, a baby was offered to the god, which represented the survival or resurrection of Dionysus when his father, Zeus, found him in the flames and sewed it on his thigh so that it would finish forming. Several authors have made the semblance between the elements of the Christian rite and the Dionysian rituals. For example, the presence of wine, which for the Greeks was a metaphor for “eternal life.”
The winter solstice in the Roman Empire. In the year 274 d. C., the emperor Aureliano made the cult of the invincible sun god ( Sol Invictus ) official, giving it the same dignity as traditional Roman rites. On December 25, after the “solar stagnation” of the winter solstice, the rebirth of the sun was celebrated as it shone again with all its splendor. The possibility is debated that the celebration of the birth of Christ was agreed on this date by the first Christians, and even that they were celebrated as the same thing.
According to the Germanic peoples
The winter solstice according to the Germanic peoples. The Yule festivities grouped a series of events related to the arrival of winter in the Nordic and German cultures. Among them were the Modranicht, the night on which the events that would take place the following year were predicted or the Hold Nickar (which translates as “inciter of the battle”), in which Odin, represented as a man with a white beard , crossed the skies and caused storms. In any case, the Yule festival was a twelve-day period in which families gathered, ancestors were remembered, banquets were prepared in splendor and observed hospitality with outsiders.