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In combination with these religious sources is a heavy dose of commercialism - many "traditions" are in fact invented by commercial companies trying to find nifty ways of selling goods. A sensible and modern refrain is that Christmas is simply a secular midwinter holiday season; it is important to all families as one of the three holiday seasons in between children's school terms. Christmas is a multicultural festival with a long pagan history, and can be celebrated by anyone. Many traditional elements of Christmas pre-date Christianity 1. In other words, Christmas was pagan before it was adopted and renamed by Christians.
The Catholic Encyclopedia of states that " Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church. Irenaeus and Tertullian omit it from their lists of feasts " 2 - those authors lived into the 3rd century.
The CE article concludes that when later Christians adopted the date of the 25th of December for Jesus' birth, "the abundance of analogous midwinter festivals may indefinitely have helped the choice of the December date, the same instinct which set Natalis Invicti at the winter solstice will have sufficed, apart from deliberate adaptation or curious calculation, to set the Christian feast there too". Hutton, a respected and careful primary-sources historian, mentions Christmas in his valuable book on the history of modern Paganism.
Christians adopted these during the earliest period of Church history. The Church, however, has given this recognition and incorporates it into the Church year without too many misgivings.
Only the more radical fundamentalist elements in some churches protest from time to time about this mixing of 'pagan' elements into the religion. It is the reason Sun-day is a holy day in many religions, and why major festivals are held at spring and at the Solstices. The real meaning of Christmas is sun worship; a reminder to all life on Earth that we owe everything to the Sun. Sun worship is one of the main pillars of all religion, especially older religions.
Sun worshippers and nature religions held major celebrations at the Winter Solstice the victory of the strength of the Sun over the forces of darkness that try to suppress it. Osiris-Dionysus represented and was represented by the sun, as was Jesus, whom the Church father Clement of Alexander calls 'The Sun of Righteousness' 6. When old relics and religious symbols such as Human faces are given a light backdrop of rays of light or a corolla it means they represent the sun.
This winter festival was called. However, other Sun-worshipping groups were included too, because of the general importance and popularity of Sol Invictus, the Invincible Sun-deity. Mario Righetti, a renowned Catholic liturgist, writes, "the Church of Rome, to facilitate the acceptance of the faith by the pagan masses, found it convenient to institute the 25th December as the feast of the temporal birth of Christ, to divert them from the pagan feast, celebrated on the same day in honour of the 'Invincible Sun', Mithras.
In these solemnities and festivities the Christians also took part.
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Hutton highlights the role that the celebration of light has had through all the threads of history that combined to become part of the symbols of modern Christmas. It must also be clear that many Christmas customs are, as we heard from Moojan Momen and Prof. Hutton, very ancient. But they have in present centuries been combined with the very modern phenomenon of commercialism.
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But the exact date of the Winter Solstice changes slowly over time. Today it falls around 22 December" 6. In another coincidence, the birth of Mithras was also said 'to have been witnessed by three shepherds' 7. The most skeptical view of modern Christmas is that the fads, decorations, festive goods and all the paraphernalia are a commercial scam to make us spend money on over-priced useless goods. However true this is, it has also become a secular social festival much akin to the American thanksgiving.