Christmas is a northern hemisphere tradition, where the celebration of winter solstice was acknowledgement of the longest night and the shortest day; it was imported to Australia with colonisation with all its festivities that make little sense for us in the height of our summer.
I grew up in a Christian family with strong Scottish roots and we did it all by the book. Carol singing on Christmas Eve, presents an
d church on the morning of Christmas day and a big lunch with all the trimmings. This was the celebration of the birth of Jesus probably the most important day of the year.
As I grew up, I failed to find meaning in snowflakes and reindeer although briefly soothed by the Australian carols of brolgas dancing and the north wind tossing the leaves. However, as a Goddess woman, my thoughts have been puzzled by the ways in which we can find meaning in the turning of the year and the summer solstice as it sits alongside Christmas. Is it one celebration or two?
There is evidence that the birth of Christ was not on 25th December as it was not the real date of his birth, however that date would link it with the myths of Winter Solstice. The idea that Christ was born on December 25 doesn’t appear in the historical record until the fourth century A.D. So how to make sense of Christmas and its links to this important date?
Some years ago I decided to do some research on the links between solstice and Christmas; of course this was all about the northern hemisphere however it is fun.
My first find was in so called Christmas carols such as The Holly and the Ivy, which is really a note to the Goddess in the holly wearing a crown. Holly was sacred to the Goddess with the red berry representing sacred menstrual blood and the running of the sacred deer. Think on that as you sing!
More recently I discovered that Christmas Eve was originally known as “Mothers' Night” which according to the 7th century monk Bede, was known as Modraniht, which had been celebrated for at least 6,000 years, in honour of three all powerful European Goddesses. It was thought that these Goddesses worked their magic during the longest night to nurture seeds that were laying dormant in the dark womb of the Earth to emerge in the spring.
So what might these widespread win
ter celebrations have to do with the date of Christmas?
As the Roman Empire strengthened its hold on Europe and the Mediterranean it used ‘Christianity’ as a unifying factor and integrated the local customs into the rituals and celebrations whenever it could. One way was to adapt existing holidays and another to appropriate rituals and beliefs to make them more acceptable to the pagan peoples of the conquers lands.
For example, the Christmas tree may have the most ancient and varied roots in a pre-Christian world; it was as common in pagan Rome and Egypt as it is today however in Rome it was a fir, while in Egypt it was a palm tree. In both cases it was a celebration of eternal life and tree worship survived the conversion to Christianity. When you decorate your homes with wreaths and Christmas greenery, think about this pagans brought evergreens into their homes at winter solstice as a symbol of life over death. The ancient Israelite Goddess Asherah was worshipped with the use of trees.
Much of what we associate with Christmas has roots in our Goddess worshipping past: evergreen trees, holly, mistletoe, the wreath, lighting candles, and even our Santa Claus and his reindeer who have their origins in Northern European Sun Goddesses.
There are a number of Goddesses who took to the skies in sleighs pulled by horned beasts. For example Saule, the Lithuanian and Latvian goddess of light and the sun, took to the skies on the Winter Solstice in a sleigh pulled by horned reindeer.
Beiwe is a Sun Goddess of the Sàmi, the indigenous people of the Nordic countries and in Sàmi myth she flies through the heavens on the Winter Solstice with her daughter, Beaivi-nieida (sun maiden) in a ring of reindeer antlers flinging fertility and life back onto the land.
Reindeer are the only members of the deer family whose females have horns and are stronger and larger than the males. The males shed their antlers in winter, leaving it to the Deer Mother to fly through the long, dark night of Winter Solstice.
Horned Goddesses such as Elen of the Ways are also found in the Celtic world; in Her guise as the Horned Goddess, She led the way on the migratory tracks of the reindeer. The Roman Goddess Nerthus rode a wagon pulled by oxen to spread holiday cheer and peace. Scandinavian Goddesses Freya and Frigg, spread gifts in a wagon pulled by cats as the initial Mother Christmas who was re
placed much later by Santa.
Yet another Christmas ritual is of gathering around the hearth and Santa coming down the chimney. This story appropriates the role of Greek Goddess Hestia whose name means hearth and who was the Goddess of homes and welcoming. Children would gather around the hearth to wait for Her to bring gifts.
Kissing under the mistletoe can be traced back to the Norse goddess Frigg(a) whose son Baldr was killed by a mistletoe spear. When the gods brought Baldr back to life, Frigga declared that, from then on, people passing under mistletoe should kiss in celebration.
Food was often scarce at winter solstice and a special celebration called for a special feast. Dried fruit and herbs were the basis of this and the Christmas pudding is said to come from these ingredients and feast to the Goddess.
Central to the story of Christmas is Mary’s virgin birth. In 2013 Jon Sorensen published a paper Was the Virgin Birth of Jesus Grounded in Paganism? There were many common beliefs in Goddess religions at that time. that spoke of virgin births and great emperors and leaders were often retroactively elevated to the status of virgin births: Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of Rome, Pythagoras, Plato, Apollonius, Alexander the Great, the Roman emperor Augustus, the Roman general who defeated Hannibal, Scipio the Elder, all Egyptian Pharaohs — even Buddha.
There are also stories of women who were impregnated by gods such as Zeus and most myths claimed that to be a king or considered ‘divine’ there must be a virgin birth such as that of Isis and Horus, a mythological virgin mother and her child who was often a popular subject of art and sculpture. Egypt also had a number of Goddess virgin births along with places such as Assyria, Greece, Cyprus, and Carthage.
As you can see, Christmas has adapted, borrowed or stolen many of its beliefs and rituals from the traditions and celebrations of the Great Mother Goddess who predated Christ’s birth by thousands of years. Have a wonderful time with family and friends and remember that Goddess never went away!