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.
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!
- 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.