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A seasonal announcement
December 24, 2012 8:17 AM   Subscribe

December 25th was the day of the Roman cult of Sol Invictus, the undefeated sun. The Philocalian calendar of AD 354 is the earliest literary reference both of this and of Jesus’ birthday. Many people accept that there is a connection between the two, not least because the Bible likens Jesus to the sun. Christian celebration on the 25th was well established following the outlawing of Paganism by Theodosius after the year 381. In the subsequent centuries, many traditional midwinter customs such as feasting, gift giving and bringing evergreens into the house became associated with it. The Puritans couldn’t decide whether to hate this because it was Catholic or because it was Pagan. In any case, they tried to ban it both in revolutionary England and in their religious republic in Massachusetts. Misrule was always present, but in the 19th Century, wassailing started to annoy the wealthy, who promoted a sentimental process of domestication. In recent years some people have behaved as if there were something offensive about the religious elements of our traditional midwinter celebration, while others even claim to believe that there is a campaign to do away with it altogether; I can only hope you won’t mind if I wish you – a very merry Christmas.
posted by apodo (78 comments total) 70 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thanks for the Christory. I now have something to argue about over various dinner tables, around fires etc for the next 48 hours or so. Gotta love those Puritans.
posted by philip-random at 8:24 AM on December 24, 2012


I had always heard about modern traditions coming from the immediately preceding Roman holiday of Saturnalia, but for some reason had never heard of Sol Invictus. Thanks!
posted by selfnoise at 8:35 AM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


In conclusion, Christmas is a land of contrasts.
posted by The Whelk at 8:36 AM on December 24, 2012 [40 favorites]


Slightly Relevant (but hilarious) early-internet paganism/christmas cartoon...... warning e-sheep!
posted by lalochezia at 8:37 AM on December 24, 2012 [9 favorites]


In recent years some people have behaved as if there were something offensive about the religious elements of our traditional midwinter celebration, while others even claim to believe that there is a campaign to do away with it altogether; I can only hope you won’t mind if I wish you – a very merry Christmas.
We get this a lot in England from Daily Mailers even though Christmas is widely and openly called such, even by government bodies. The claim itself is a seepthrough from the US where saying "Happy Holidays" is common, which gives (false) rise to such beliefs. Whenever I see somebody make the same claim over here, I have a good laugh and wonder if they've stepped outside their house lately.
posted by Jehan at 8:50 AM on December 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


*Ahem* lalochezia's link is kinda sorta maybe NSFW. Just a warning. Funny though.
posted by DisreputableDog at 8:53 AM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I burned a Yule log on the 21st and did some hippie rituals associated with that.

Still not sure with what all this fuss is about the 25th... Too little too late, if you ask me.
posted by hippybear at 8:54 AM on December 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, depending on your latitude, it could be the first day after the solstice when the sun rises earlier.
posted by apodo at 8:56 AM on December 24, 2012


Don't you lecture me about my latitude, mister! :P
posted by hippybear at 9:00 AM on December 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think I might have made this last December, or maybe somebody else did. Either way, I stand by it.
posted by uncleozzy at 9:01 AM on December 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Given that the Massachusetts link points to an archive of only the Plymouth Colony, it should be noted that the settlement was a completely separate entity until it was absorbed by the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691, and that the capital-P Pilgrims who came over on the Mayflower were a completely separate and mutually exclusive group of religious killjoys than the the capital-P Puritans who arrived later and founded Boston.

This bit of Christmas Eve Day pedantry is brought to you by: boredom.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 9:01 AM on December 24, 2012 [12 favorites]


I will be celebrating Christmas the way it was meant to be celebrated, the way my people have observed it for countless generations, in our hallowed traditions that we have refused to yield despite the pressures of modern cultural change.

As usual, I'll start with the wonton soup.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:06 AM on December 24, 2012 [43 favorites]


Just remember: Mithra is the reason for the season!
posted by ob1quixote at 9:14 AM on December 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


[hurriedly closes umpteen tags and sits on hands]
posted by infini at 9:16 AM on December 24, 2012


This morning I've been grooving on this list of lesser known Christmas carols from last year. It's awesome.

Apropos of Christmas trees, one of the most surreal things I've seen lately was this photo collection from a Nazi Christmas party in 1941, with Hitler himself in attendance. The trees shown take on a sinister aspect, probably because the Nazis thought of Christmas as a descendant of the Nordic holiday Yule and tried to scrub any reference to "Oriental" elements like Jesus.
posted by Cash4Lead at 9:16 AM on December 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


as someone pointed out to me long ago, given that Christians are celebrating the birth of their alleged savior on Christmas, the root celebration is one of being safe and secure. And what better time to do it than as winter enters its deepest, coldest, most harrowing phase (certainly in northern climes). So it makes perfect sense that this would fuse nicely with pre-existing pagan celebrations, observances, rituals, which would include feasting, imbibing, singing of celebratory songs, embracing of family, friends -- those we trust. I see nothing particularly wrong with any of this.

Also, this Waterboys song from a few decades back ...

December fell deep in the bleak
winter time when Jesus Christ
Howled a saviour baby's howl
primal truth as pure as ice
And though we crucified him on a cross
and dragged his word from prayer to curse
He was able to go anywhere
he was almost one of us!

posted by philip-random at 9:22 AM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


The first thing this post made me think of is that some of the tombs in the Vatican Necropolis depict Jesus as Apollo Helios, driving the sun chariot, which seems like remarkable evidence of co-opting pagan images. But I see that the Wikipedia article on Sol Invictus already mentioned this.
posted by stopgap at 9:24 AM on December 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Christmas is a weird time for me. I grew up with a lot of happy memories but now that I have a different relationship with religion most things feel off. I want to spend quality time with family and friends but the religious observances make me uncomfortable. The hyper-consumerism aspects rub me wrong, too. And those two things are what most of the Western world seems to be on about.

Realizing that 1500 years ago my ancestors very likely gathered around evergreen trees and fires and had feasts to celebrate with their families and their communities was important. Yes, these were religious occasions, but not Christian ones. This sort of thing has been going on for thousands and thousands of years (see, for example, the 5200 year old Newgrange) with various religions providing the details.

Seasonal affective disorder and food spoilage are the reason for the season; midwinter celebrations were and are a way of coping with that, of bringing people together. Of saying, hey, the days are getting shorter again, spring will come and it will be nice again. We can make it.

So thank you, apodo, and merry Christmas to you, too!
posted by mountmccabe at 9:30 AM on December 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Christianity - Corporate Raiding before it was cool.

The spread of Christianity in Europe is a pretty fascinating topic and not something that happened over night (Lithuania didn't become officially Christian until the 14th Century). Co-opting the rituals/practices/festivals of other religions was a pretty good way to infiltrate non-Christian communities. The practice happened pretty much throughout much of the Spanish conquest of the Americas, as well.
posted by Atreides at 9:37 AM on December 24, 2012


I was raised in a mish mosh of Judaism and Christianity. We didn't get a lot of Jesus, but my dad was big on Christmas decorations and Easter baskets. Funny--I'm agnostic now, though I enjoy celebrating holidays because I think humans are animals who crave tradition and routine. It's the food, mostly, that I find compelling about Judaism (matzah! latkes! hamentaschen!), but the lights and the trees and the spectacle and sparkly magic of Christian traditions. And most of those things come from the Pagans and the Romans. When I was pretty young, I remember my mom being weary about the whole Christmas thing, as many Jews are, I suspect. I kinda feel bad for her--she tried to get us excited in the same way about Hanukkah, but it just wasn't happening; it just wasn't the same. That tree is a compelling thing, and I can see why it's survived the transition from one religion to another.

We have one in our house now. We call it a solstice tree (and throw a big solstice party--our traditions are pork, Flash Gordon and aquavit, because why not?), because we believe in science and nature and solstice is something you can always celebrate--the oncoming shortening of days, spring, the Earth's progress around the sun. It really is invincible! Nature is awesome.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:39 AM on December 24, 2012 [13 favorites]


the oncoming shortening of days

Don't the days get longer from christmas on?
posted by Pendragon at 9:43 AM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, the solstice celebration is about the return of the light after Dec. 21, the longest night.
posted by FelliniBlank at 9:44 AM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Except in the southern hemisphere, of course. they get longer nights.
posted by Pendragon at 9:45 AM on December 24, 2012


Yes, of course. That was what we in the business call "a brain fart."
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:47 AM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


(The business of brain farting, that is.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:47 AM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Except in the southern hemisphere, of course. they get longer nights.

T'was the midsummer night's dream before Christmas!
posted by FelliniBlank at 9:52 AM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hey, if this is the catch-all Christmas thread, I just need to point out my best gift so far has been SmileyChewtrain's post about the Sonics/Wailers/Galaxies Christmas album.

It's been a joy watching my preschool kids non-stop grooving round the Solstice Tree to Don't Believe in Christmas.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:59 AM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Misrule, Feast of Fools and Caroling for Beer sound about right for where I'll be going for Christmas dinner.
Merry MeFiMas to all!
posted by islander at 10:21 AM on December 24, 2012


c'mon, retro old-fashioned things are hot right now, lets bring back misrule and sing Ke$ha at the top of our lungs until pay us in beer to stop.
posted by The Whelk at 10:27 AM on December 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Well, depending on your latitude, it could be the first day after the solstice when the sun rises earlier.

May I ask where this interpretation (of why it's the 25th and not the solstice) comes from? My understanding — which I'm not able to cite right away — was that, in the Julian calendar, the solstice occurred on the 25th originally, i.e., when that calendar was introduced in 45 BC, and that people might have considered the 25th to be the solstice for quite a while afterward even though it was slowly drifting back (amounting to three days' drift by 325 AD when the Council of Nicaea met and standardized Easter, which wouldn't matter except that the Gregorian reform reset things to the way they were in 325 AD so that Easter would be the same, which is why we see only three days' difference and not... whatever the drift would have been between 45 BC and the Gregorian reform).
posted by stebulus at 10:38 AM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've read the book mentioned in one of the linked articles - Stephen Nissenbaum's The Battle for Christmas. It's a very good and accessible book. Most interesting for me was reading about how "a good old-fashioned Christmas" meant basically a lengthy drunken orgy along with extortion and vandalism. Good times, good times!

It was also interesting to read just how much we owe our image of a cozy family Christmas to Charles Dickens and his "Christmas Carol." I knew it was influential, but I didn't know just how much. It seems that "A Christmas Carol" was a perfect fit with the newly emerging cult of domesticity.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:45 AM on December 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hey, if this is the catch-all Christmas thread, I just need to

This was an FPP last year. Worth a re-link. Robert Fripp - "Silent Night" a' la Frippertronics
posted by philip-random at 10:53 AM on December 24, 2012


I ain't no facking Roman!

/Strings more intestines on the midwinter oak to help the sun come back.
posted by Artw at 11:02 AM on December 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


Great post apodo! I celebrated the solstice with the making of my annual solstice eggnog, straight out of Joy of Cooking - sinful, decadent, and strong!
posted by halonine at 11:33 AM on December 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I can get behind Flash Gordon and aquavit for Festivus.
posted by arcticseal at 11:35 AM on December 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Despite not being overly religious, I adore Christmas, and find no discomfort to even some of its more religious aspects. Whether you're worshiping Mithras, Sol Invictus, or Christ, there's a triumphant joy that not only moves beyond the specific rituals but with them also. "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" or "I Saw Three Ships" fit perfectly with "Here We Come A'Wassailing" and the like. It's a holy day that you can spend with your family and in the comfort of your own home with children and Santas (a la "cult of domesticity") or can spend it roaring around town with friends in a very adult way. It can be day of feast, or a day of gifts (and I do love to give and receive them). But best of all, it can be all of these things, mixed in measure to taste for those who celebrate. There's a Christmas celebration for everyone, which is why we can always find something to love in it. It doesn't have to be religious or Christian, but if you're religious and/or Christian, it can be too! It doesn't have to be overwhelmed with consumerism, but it can be a great day to think about what someone wants versus the more practical concerns. It's one (or twelve) days in the long cold that shows that we'll make it through, that what looks cold and dead is really alive and sparking and singing a silent song of joy. It's Christmas, and I will always love it.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 12:15 PM on December 24, 2012 [12 favorites]


Which gets us to the true meaning of Christmas
posted by philip-random at 12:32 PM on December 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


This year I'm putting the 'nail ya' back in Saturnalia.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:32 PM on December 24, 2012 [15 favorites]


FWIW, the phrase 'Merry Christmas' is much less offensive than the phrase 'In recent years some people have behaved as if there were something offensive about the religious elements of our traditional midwinter celebration'.

I completely get that the op was trying to be civil about the whole disagreement thing, but standing on one side and saying 'those people think what we do is offensive' is in and of itself... well... off-putting.

I thoroughly enjoyed everything in the OP right up until that very sentence.

That being said, I hope everybody has a great week, with or without any holiday celebrations.
posted by Blue_Villain at 12:36 PM on December 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's Christmas, and I will always love it.

Christ, who let Bubbles McHappypants in to Metafilter? I come here to argue with gun owners, complain that Obama is Wall Street buffoon, and maybe enjoy a cat video, not for the warm fuzzy.

*dons matching sweaters with kids and goes out to deliver Christmas cookies to the neighbors*
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 12:38 PM on December 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


I like Christmas. Especially a white one.
posted by infini at 12:45 PM on December 24, 2012


Hey, I'm all for returning to the old American traditions:

...urban violence associated with the Christmas season as those without means often demanded gifts from the wealthy. ... the devolution of the holiday during the twentieth century into an unparalleled celebration of greed and power...

The wealthy can have their year-long celebration of greed and power, and the rest of us can take to the streets with pitchforks to demand gifts.

Werks fer me!

Merry Nog-mas and Happy New Beer to all.
posted by BlueHorse at 12:50 PM on December 24, 2012


it's Christmas every day in Heaven
posted by philip-random at 12:50 PM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jesus' birth chart showing the "star" seen in the heavens.
posted by infini at 12:55 PM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


John the Baptist, who according to the Gospel of Luke was born 6 months before Jesus, said to disciples wondering if they should follow Jesus or continue following John, "He must increase, but I must decrease."

The way the current calender sets it up, John the Baptist's birthday is on the Spring Solstice, when the days start getting shorter, and Jesus' birthday is on the Winter Solstice, when the days start getting longer.
posted by straight at 1:07 PM on December 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's funny, because my kneejerk reaction to seeing the pagan connection posted on Metafilter and on Facebook, which happens like clockwork each year, is usually one of "well no shit who doesn't know that orgina-" then I see all the outraged and badly misinformed comments of my more bible-adhering FB friends, and remember why we need to do this.

Anyways, hope you all had a great solstice. And Merry Christmas!
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:11 PM on December 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Summer Soltice, you mean. Spring has a lovely Equinox....
posted by hippybear at 1:29 PM on December 24, 2012


Christmas is that wonderful time of year when Christians drink everyone under the table In Moderation™ and say more thank-yous than on Thanksgiving.
posted by michaelh at 2:12 PM on December 24, 2012


Christmas is that wonderful time of year

Yeah, when I was Out And About today running errands, people were kind and gracious in a way which warmed my hippie heart, until I realized it would all end in about a week and people would be extra asshole-ish for a while just after New Years.
posted by hippybear at 2:17 PM on December 24, 2012


(seriously people... if you can be this way around Christmas, you can be this way ALL THE TIME if you would just choose to...

I know, it sucks to be being that way when others are not, but if YOU choose to be, and YOU, and then maybe YOU and yes, also YOU... then that is that many more people in the world who choose to be this way even when it isn't Christmas.

Perhaps next year we will snag a few more. Eventually the tide will turn, I promise.)
posted by hippybear at 2:19 PM on December 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sign me up, hippybear.
posted by straight at 2:26 PM on December 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm frankly shocked no one has mention the Hogfather yet. Besides being a great Christmas movie (i'm a bit warped though, seeing as Rare Exports is up there too, heh), it has a great moral about not being such a spoil sport about "believing in things that aren't true."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AnaQXJmpwM4
Death: Humans need fantasy to *be* human. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.
Susan: With tooth fairies? Hogfathers?
Death: Yes. As practice, you have to start out learning to believe the little lies.
Susan: So we can believe the big ones?
Death: Yes. Justice, mercy, duty. That sort of thing.
Susan: They're not the same at all.
Death: You think so? Then take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder, and sieve it through the finest sieve, and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy. And yet, you try to act as if there is some ideal order in the world. As if there is some, some rightness in the universe, by which it may be judged.
Susan: But people have got to believe that, or what's the point?
Death: You need to believe in things that aren't true. How else can they become?
posted by usagizero at 2:32 PM on December 24, 2012 [10 favorites]


Jesus' birth chart showing the "star" seen in the heavens.

That was Orson Welles, wasn't it? I mean he's had cameos in everything.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:39 PM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm wandering around my local bars handing out free fistfuls of candy to all and sundry, I'm pretty sure I can keep up my background radiation of being a decent freaking human being for a few extra weeks.
posted by The Whelk at 2:44 PM on December 24, 2012


Stebulus - May I ask where this interpretation (of why it's the 25th and not the solstice) comes from?

It isn't an attempt to explain that, I had also heard that Christmas is on the 25th because of calendar creep of some sort.
However, evenings start getting lighter before the solstice, while mornings start getting lighter after it, in a way that depends strongly on latitude, so for some people (very northerly ones, I believe) the 25th is the first lighter morning.
posted by apodo at 2:47 PM on December 24, 2012


It isn't an attempt to explain that

Ah, sorry, then I misunderstood.
posted by stebulus at 3:00 PM on December 24, 2012


infini: "Jesus' birth chart showing the "star" seen in the heavens."

Holy stellium, Batman!
(Literally, I guess.)
posted by Superplin at 3:06 PM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


When the argument's getting heated,
Sol Invictus remains undefeated.
All of those in the know
Worship Sol
Worship Sol
Worship Sol

As the days keep getting longer
The invincible sun's getting stronger
All who wish it so
Worship Sol
Worship Sol
Worship Sol

His rites can be clearly seen
In the Birth of the Nazerene.
So those who are in the know
Worship Sol
Worship Sol
Worship Sol

Sniff. I always enjoy the classics this time of year....
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:12 PM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ring them solstice bells -- whoever they may be for
posted by philip-random at 3:13 PM on December 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


When the time comes to worship sol we will worship sol / andrewwk.
posted by The Whelk at 3:18 PM on December 24, 2012


Worship the sun? Right before it's about to kill us?
posted by Apocryphon at 3:31 PM on December 24, 2012


Since the beginning of time, man has yearned to vince Sol...
posted by No-sword at 3:51 PM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, here in Louisiana, the lighting of a hundred or more bonfires along a three-mile stretch of the Mississippi River levee on Christmas Eve is the highlight of community Christmas festivities in St. James Parish. The first Christmas I lived in New Orleans, we packed a picnic and went upriver to Lutcher to stroll along the levee, talking to the families who had been building their bonfires since Thanksgiving and to watch the fun.
posted by Anitanola at 4:13 PM on December 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Christmas started two months ago and is over in 31 more hours.
posted by telstar at 5:03 PM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I also love pointing out the shamanistic origins of Santa during Christmas. Everything about the Christmas traditions make sense when taken under this context.

Let's do this again for Easter.
posted by daHIFI at 7:13 PM on December 24, 2012


telstar: "Christmas started two months ago and is over in 31 more hours."

In my house it started yesterday and is over on the Feast of Kings. :)

Also, this year I discovered putting reindeer antlers and a red "nose" on your car makes people yield right-of-way to you surprisingly often. And wearing a Santa hat means black kids waiting for the bus aren't wary of a white man with a dog when we walk by. :)
posted by IAmBroom at 7:20 PM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Let's do this again for Easter.

And Eid?
posted by Apocryphon at 7:23 PM on December 24, 2012


And Diwali.
posted by Artw at 7:31 PM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bah.

Humbug.
posted by Cookiebastard at 7:44 PM on December 24, 2012


cockles = warm
posted by fingers_of_fire at 9:38 PM on December 24, 2012


Well I should hope they'd be warm. That certainly seems to be the best way to eat cockles.
posted by DisreputableDog at 9:47 PM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Don't forget the butter. Christmas cockles.
posted by DisreputableDog at 9:48 PM on December 24, 2012


Happy Dies Natalis Solis Invicti everyone!
posted by Justinian at 10:21 PM on December 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


lalochezia: "Slightly Relevant (but hilarious) early-internet paganism/christmas cartoon...... warning e-sheep!"

Oh, gods, do I miss e-sheep; that site made me happier than most.
posted by ChrisR at 10:24 PM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


guy in orange suit sings big song about Jesus to huge crowd, with occasional unexpected howls ...
posted by philip-random at 12:13 AM on December 25, 2012


Hairy Fishnuts, everyone!
posted by deborah at 1:17 AM on December 25, 2012


Happy Dies Natalis Solis Invicti everyone!
posted by Justinian


You are a backslider, you are. What will Theodora think?
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:18 AM on December 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Those crazy people over at Wikipedia say:

Sol Invictus ("Unconquered Sun") was the official sun god of the later Roman Empire. In 274 the Roman emperor Aurelian made it an official cult...

According to the OED (no, not that one):
cult (n.)
1610s, "worship," also "a particular form of worship," from Fr. culte (17c.), from L. cultus "care, labor; cultivation, culture; worship, reverence," originally "tended, cultivated," pp. of colere "to till" (see colony). Rare after 17c.; revived mid-19c. with reference to ancient or primitive rituals.


... so it would appear that the term cult is inapropos for Roman times (anyone? anyone?) even though it originally existed without the modern pejorative (mine is a religion, yours is merely a primitive cult!!) sense. OR not.

Anyway, please be merry as a schoolboy, giddy as a drunken man ... just remember to pay your housekeeper 10 shillings to keep her mouth shut.
posted by Twang at 1:29 PM on December 25, 2012


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