Here comes the sun,
Here comes the sun
And I say it’s all right. – George Harrison
Some people wonder why I, a pagan, celebrate Christmas. Certainly many pagans don’t, and the same could be said of many atheists and many others of non-Christian faiths. At the same time, many other non-Christians do indeed celebrate Christmas; it’s the single most popular holiday in the world, with thriving observances outside majority-Christian lands in Bangladesh, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore and South Korea. It’s also the oldest, with roots reaching back roughly 6000 years to a land whose name is now lost to memory. In a very real sense, the story of Christmas is the story of human civilization, and it belongs to everyone rather than only to the members of the Johnny-come-lately religion whose label and rationale is now most commonly associated with it (and whose leaders, until quite recently, wanted absolutely nothing to do with it because they recognized it as the pagan rite it is).
Though people have affixed all sorts of mythology to the holiday, the real reason it exists is the event which occurred last night at 23:03 UTC: the winter solstice, when the apparent course of the sun reaches its southernmost point. Last night was the longest of the year, and for the next six months the days will increase in length while the sun’s apparent course moves northward. For modern people, wrapped in our technological cocoons and insulated from Nature, it hardly makes any difference; but for our ancestors, dependent upon the return of the spring for their crops to grow, the “rebirth” of the sun was a cause for joy and celebration. It meant they could be sure that, no matter how cold the rest of the winter to come might be, that it would eventually end; the snow would melt, the plants would blossom and the crops upon which civilization depended could be cultivated. There’s still a lesson there for us: no matter how bleak things may appear, and no matter how oppressive the weight of tribulation, there is yet hope; the sun always returns, and spring always comes, even if we must endure dreadful storms before it does. And if that isn’t a reason to celebrate, I can’t think of a better one.