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Many people suffer from the misconception that Christmas is a Christian holiday. The earliest history of Christmas is composed of “pagan” (non-Christian) fertility rites and practices which predate Jesus by centuries. The truth is, that many of the traditions which we hold dear, such as decorating Christmas trees, singing Christmas carols, and giving Christmas gifts, are rooted in the traditions of non-Christian religions. 


While Christmas marks the supposed birth of Christ; this holiday has, in fact, closer ties to an older pagan festival known as the Unconquered Sun.  The impact this Pagan tradition had on how Christmas was celebrated is one of the ways in which The Christian tradition changed as it developed through the ages. 


The winter solstice is the time when the days are shortest and the nights are longest. But December 25th was the date of the winter solstice in the calendar Julius Caesar devised for Rome in 46BC. Today the winter solstice usually occurs on December 21st. Although Caesar used a 365 1/4 day year, a year is actually a little shorter, and this made the solstice occur a little earlier over the years. There was a discrepancy of 1 day in 128 years. 


The Pagans celebrated the winter solstice as the Unconquered Sun. After this day, the Sun would begin to stay in the sky longer each day, and there would be less cold, and less night; the Sun would win the battle of night and day. There would be feasts, communal singing, evergreens would be brought into the house to be decorated and lighted with candles to pay tribute to the Sun.


Look closely at the Christian Bible and you’ll see there’s nothing to specify the day of Christmas – indeed, many of the references to the birth would actually dictate it was in late summer rather than in winter. And prior to the fourth century, Christ’s birth had been associated with Three King’s Day on January 6. But the pagans and the newly converted were proving a major problem to the church because they were still celebrating the Unconquered Sun. Nothing the church did or said made a difference; the winter solstice was just too important a festival. 


But if you can’t defeat them, and refuse to join them, at least make it appear that you defeated them. So, in a sneaky move, it was changed into a “Christian holy day” by the Roman Catholic Church in Rome. Sometime between AD 354 and 360 a few decades after Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity, the celebration of Christmas was shifted to the day of the Unconquered Sun. 


Yet people have still carried over these traditions, though their earlier pagan roots have mostly long been forgotten. “Christmas” trees are still brought into the house. Coloured lights and candles light the darkness. The Yule Log is lit.


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