The true meaning of Christmas

There is a strong correlation between Christian religious dates and the central European farming calendar. It all works except for one odd festival: Christmas.

If you ask anyone why we celebrate religious events on certain days, most people will tell you they are Biblically significant days, or that these days were inherited from earlier pagan dates. Neither are good answers because many of the celebrations either precede organized religion, or are unchanged by them. There is only one good answer:

Almost all Christian religious festivals are strongly tied to agricultural events that preceded organised religion.

There is a strong correlation between Christian religious dates and the central European farming calendar. It all works except for one odd festival: Christmas. Although we have a good idea what Christmas is celebrating, we don’t know why it is celebrated in December. Knowing the answer to this would give us a better insight on the true meaning of Christmas:

Before organised religion even existed, what were ancient people celebrating at around the shortest day of the year?

Life in Neolithic Europe was hard. Granted, the Demographic Transition (sometimes called the Agricultural Revolution, where civilization’s move from hunter-gatherers to agricultural settlements) had just taken place, but winter was still bitter and the biggest time of starvation, disease and death.

If you made it to the shortest day of the year there was a good chance that you would make it through to the next spring. So what would you do? Count the grain to make sure you had a bit more than half left and then soldier on? No. You would have a celebration.

Christmas
Christmas

People would have decked the trees and buildings to brighten up the cold. Instead of hunkering down until the spring they would have stared the evil spirits in the eye and said ‘look at me! I have enough to feast today, enough to give to others, enough to celebrate my family and my ancestors. I am more than well, and you will not have me this winter!’.

The elder of the village would have perhaps gone around the village and shared out some of the stored food to each family for the coming celebration: an old bearded man bearing gifts.

It was not a religious festival. It was not a time of giving. It was a time of hedonism. Of drink, food, drugs, and over-indulgence. A celebration of life and that you had made it this far. A show of strength that you and yours would live to the summer.

You are not celebrating the gifts of the three kings when you give presents. You are celebrating the fact that you and your people have enough to give anything at all. When you eat your Christmas dinner with your extended family, you are giving thanks that all your family are all still with you. A proof that in the cruelest time of the year and against all adversities, you are still thriving.

So that is the true meaning of Christmas, and to celebrate it properly you have to have to say feck it to previous hardship and have a very Merry Christmas.

I hope you do!

Notes

  1. None of this is to say the Christian Christmas is wrong. Its about why that particular day has been so important for as long as western civilization has existed. The need to celebrate continuing life and a hope for the future is common in all versions of the thing we celebrate as Christmas, and that is the one thing that has never changed, irrespective of what else you believe about Christmas.
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4 thoughts on “The true meaning of Christmas”

  1. Your historical agricultural commentary is interesting but excludes the pagan origins of the celebration’s development. Superstitions and traditions found in various pagan societies have accumulated over time to create the holiday features presently celebrated. True Christians recognize the more meaningful and eternal significance of Christ’s death (Ecc 7:1) over the obscure details of his birth which were misrepresented through the Roman Saturnalia, pagan sun worship accompanied by counterfeit Christianity practiced by Constantine.

    An annual Memorial of Jesus’ death is the only occasion directly commanded by Jesus to be observed by his disciples (1 Cor. 11:24). The hardships of mankind’s entire existence on earth can be credited to Satan the Devil, whose rulership over humans (1 John 5:19) would end with the presence of Jesus kingship in God’s Kingdom (Rev 11:15). We live in the time Satan would be expelled from heaven and enraged at the Kingdom’s birth in heaven. World events since 1914 testify to his expulsion and the resulting ‘woe for the earth’ (Rev 12:12) experienced by a global deterioration of social mores through war, greed, immorality and a hypocritical religious atmosphere.

    Hope this truthful report sets the record a little straighter…

  2. As an atheist, I don’t believe in god (a fault of my upbringing – my father has a run in with religion at an early age, so we were bought up in a secular household).

    Faith is not something I cannot therefore readily accept, although there is perhaps hope as my father finally found his faith at a late age (he’s still alive). As I mention in another post, faith has the ability to cure when science and logic have both long given up.

    Myself and my partner always enjoy visiting cathedrals and other religions buildings though, Here in the UK we have a lot of them dating back to at least the middle ages (and the foundations of many predate even this). Perhaps it is starting to already rub off onto me!

  3. FWIW, there’s one other reason that Christmas was placed when it was, that, although laughable by modern standards, provides at least as great a rationale as any convergence with the solstice or the pagan Roman feast of Sol Invictus: in the early years of Christianity, there was a belief that either everyone, or at least great individuals, lived a “complete” number of years from conception to death. In other words, one died on the exact same day of the year as one had been conceived. Since it was well-known that Jesus died during the Passover (in late March to early April), it would therefore stand to reason that his conception took place at that time. People looking back at the calendar for the assumed year of his death of 33 A.D. calculated — accurately or not — that he would have been executed on the first day of Passover, which they pinpointed as being March 25th of that year. Therefore, they could then calculate the day of his birth as nine months later, on December 25th. The fact that this lay so close to the solstice was only a bonus, enabling them to point to the birth of Christ as happening at the point where “light returned to the world.”

  4. A lovely post. However, I believe holidays at this time, especially the older pagan ones, celebrate awareness that days are getting longer. Christmas is celebrated a few days after the winter solstice, and has been celebrated on Epiphany (January 6) at some time in the past. Our new year’s celebrations also occur just long enough after the solstice for us to confirm that the days are growing longer.
    BTW, anyone who had used up a quarter of the stored food by late December, let alone half, was in danger of starving to death. Winter had barely set in by then, and harvest was very far away.

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