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Saturnalia & The Origins of Christmas

8228571691_977d1722dc_q  While theologians and scholars may argue over the exact birth date of Jesus, they can all concede that it probably wasn’t the 25th December.  Scholars have suggested a summer or autumn birthday, using astronomy as their guide.  Theologians, rather practically, suggest that if shepherds were guarding their flocks by night, it makes more sense that the birth of Jesus was in Spring, not in Winter.  So why did the church choose December 25th?

Well, we can all blame the Romans!  Before the church got their hands on December (and more recently the capitalists and high street retailers), the Romans used to celebrate a very different God.  Saturn, the god of seeds and sowing, was celebrated with gusto from 17th – 25th December, incorporating the Winter Solstice for good measure.  Like most pagan rituals, it was based around nature and farming and the mid-winter festival provided some welcome entertainment between harvest and spring.

Apparently, it was a pretty wild affair, with lots of partying, eating and (as used to be the case when I was younger) everything stayed shut for about a fortnight.  So the church thought it would be a good idea to sort of ride on the coat tails of Saturnalia and turn it into a more solemn affair.  Not sure how that’s working out for them, but in both traditions, we do look towards the heavens at this time of year, whether it be for a star, a planet or a toy-laden sleigh to light up the dark.  Regardless of your beliefs, it certainly is a magical time of year, captured here by The Henry Girls as part of their wintry music show with their song, Aurora.

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