Yesterday was Faunalia, and yet in this secular, gods-less country, I didn’t see a single procession of ithyphallic fur-suited Satyrs, Fauns, Pans, or Silenoi (although I wasn’t at a Furry convention either, so…but that’s not the point!). I find this truly sad; but, it’s been the same for the last seventeen hundred years, now that there’s this new religion that thinks it has won the “war” on the Birth Festival of the Unconquered Sun. Sadly, they’re wrong.
Elsewhere in the pagan blogosphere, you’ll hear Sannion very rightfully pointing out that “Dionysos Is Not The Reason For The Season,”, but likewise you’ll see Jason Mankey trying to argue that Christmas is secular, and Christian, despite many of the popular customs from it emerging from pagan sources. While I entirely agree with Sannion (despite having made that mistake myself on several occasions), I have to dispute some of Jason’s facts, and not just the ones about Dionysos. If it weren’t for the fact that anything “not Christian” isn’t considered religious by many of the current Western world’s overcultures, all of the “secular” aspects of Christmas that have survived or been transformed from pre-Christian and/or non-Christian sources would not be considered “secular” at all, but as spiritual rituals and phenomena that are just so close and important to the folk consciousness that they continue to speak to those needs and wishes more so than tales of shepherds and Zoroastrian astrologers and evil kings of Judea (or tetrarchs of Galilee…?!?) and angels and stables and the like.
And, despite my recent rekindling of interest in Mithras, Mithras has little to nothing to do with December either…just sayin’.
But, what is true is that both Saturnalia (December 17-23) and the birth of Sol Invictus (December 25) are things that are important to me, and have been around for a very long time (though sometimes not as long as one might think), and yet because of their popularity during the third and fourth centuries, it was Christians who decided to appropriate their dates and some of their customs in order to make their rather severe and non-worldly religion a bit more attractive to those who might not be interested in it otherwise. If their own members were going to be taking part in the activities in polytheist temples that did not honor their gods, a thin coat of Christian paint and a few natal suggestions could easily appropriate what was necessary for their purposes.
Tertullian of Carthage–who was not a fan of any polytheistic deities, but I’m particularly familiar with his critiques of Anubis (how could a doghead possibly be a deity?…but, alas, some polytheistic Romans agreed with him on that) and Antinous–mentions that the Annunciation was celebrated on March 25th as a major Christian holy day in his time, but he does not mention that therefore December 25th was a time of equal attention; yet, in today’s world, hardly anyone knows when the festival of the Annunciation occurred, since it tends to get overshadowed by Easter (the popular customs of which also have little to do with the Christian religion!). It’s actually the more miraculous of the two events, I think: virgin conception is harder to verify, whereas virgin birth may just be like any other birth for all intents and purposes–everyone who lives has been born and this is generally easily verified, but conception is much more difficult to pinpoint, or provide a straightforward conceptual agent, as it were. Would that many might still recognize this important matter…
But, no, all attention turns toward this holiday in the midst of December, in the dark and the cold and the quiet, when everyone eagerly awaits the return of the Sun to the world. (It’s only in English that Christianity can pun with “sun/son,” incidentally…!?!) And why not? What else are they going to do? Unfortunately for the Christians, they’ve chosen rather poorly in terms of which narratives to include in their infallible and gods-given scriptures regarding all of this, since the Lukan birth narrative (the only one really deserving of the name) seems to take place at some other time of year, since lambs are not born in the dead of winter. It would be nice if religions that claim to be infallible and inerrantly true were a bit more consistent in their doctrinal, calendrical, scriptural, and theological assertions…but, there’s little we can do about that.
Thus, I make this present post not to argue that Christmas is “really ours,” because it isn’t; but, I do make this post to suggest that Christianity thinks it has won the war on Dies Natalis Solis Invicti to the point that they don’t even realize there ever was a war or that the war might still be going because there are combatants on the other side, who celebrate these festivals to these very-real-and-still-thriving deities (whether they are long-standing and traditional in their honoring at this time of year, like Saturn and Sol Invictus, or more recent and perhaps misguided in their celebrations at this time of year, like Mithras and Dionysos…and yet, any occasion at which people honor the gods in true devotion and with joyous celebration is an occasion to pause and be thankful for the holiness and the power of the gods’ presences in our lives today without question!) in their own ways today, even though it is no longer popular to do so. One of the Christian’s gods does not have the monopoly on “rising again” after an apparent death and defeat–and we all know that’s a very old story indeed.