The science and timing behind a winter solstice
Winter Solstice, Pagan Traditions & Christmas
The solstice may have been a special moment of the annual cycle for some cultures even during neolithic times. Astronomical events were often used to guide activities such as the mating of animals, the sowing of crops and the monitoring of winter reserves of food.
Many cultural mythologies and traditions are derived from this. This is attested by physical remains in the layouts of late Neolithic and Bronze Age archaeological sites, such as Stonehenge in England and Newgrange in Ireland.
The winter solstice was immensely important because the people were economically dependent on monitoring the progress of the seasons. Starvation was common during the first months of the winter, January to April (northern hemisphere) or July to October (southern hemisphere), also known as “the famine months”.
In temperate climates, the midwinter festival was the last feast celebration, before deep winter began.
Because the event was seen as the reversal of the Sun’s ebbing presence in the sky, concepts of the birth or rebirth of sun gods have been common and, in cultures which used cyclic calendars based on the winter solstice, the “year as reborn” was celebrated with reference to life-death-rebirth deities or “new beginnings”.
The pagan Scandinavian and Germanic people of northern Europe celebrated a twelve-day “midwinter” (winter solstice) holiday called Yule (also called Jul, Julblot, jólablót, midvinterblot, julofferfest). Many modern Christmas traditions, such as the Christmas tree, the Christmas wreath, the Yule log, and others, are direct descendants of Yule customs.
Sol Invictus (“The Unconquered Sun”) was originally a Syrian god who was adopted as the chief god of the Roman Empire, the official sun god and a patron of soldiers under Emperor Aurelian in 274 AD.
His holiday was traditionally celebrated on December 25, as are several gods associated with the winter solstice in many pagan traditions.
The theory dating from the 12th century says that the near-solstice date of 25 December for Christmas was selected because it was the date of the Roman festival of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (Birthday of the Unconquered Sun).
Of course, there are scholars who challenge this theory.
On the other hand, customs of the Christian religion are full of examples of pagan rituals adapted by Christianity. The purpose was clear and logical: to make it easier for the ancient folks to accept the new religion.
Beatus Sol Invictus