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The day is now the longest night-- happy Winter Solstice

From today's The Writer's Almanac:
"In the northern hemisphere, today is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year and the longest night. It's officially the first day of winter... The stone circles of Stonehenge were arranged to receive the first rays of midwinter sun. Ancient peoples believed that because daylight was waning, it might go away forever, so they lit huge bonfires to tempt the sun to come back... In Ancient Rome, the winter solstice was celebrated with the festival of Saturnalia, during which all business transactions and even war were suspended, and slaves were waited upon by their masters."

Interestingly, the debate over which came first Saturnalia or Christmas seems to depend on which group (neo-pagan or Christian) the intellectual is attempting to support. The role of the intellectual and historian is to examine the evidence in search of the truth.

James Grout writes:
"[A]t the time of the winter solstice (December 25 in the Julian calendar), Saturnus, the god of seed and sowing, was honored with a festival. The Saturnalia officially was celebrated on December 17 (a.d. XVI Kal. Ian.) and, in Cicero's time, lasted seven days, from December 17-23. Augustus limited the holiday to three days, so the civil courts would not have to be closed any longer than necessary, and Caligula extended it to five (Suetonius, XVII; Cassius Dio, LIX.6), which Claudius restored after it had been abolished (Dio, LX.25)."

Here's some historical context: Cicero lived from 106–43 BC. The Julian calendar was created in 45 BC. Augustus (and all the world should be taxed) lived from 63 BC–AD 14 and Claudius lived from 10 BC–AD 54.

William J. Tighe writes:
"[T]he pagan festival of the “Birth of the Unconquered Son” instituted by the Roman Emperor Aurelian on 25 December 274, was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians... The idea that the date was taken from the pagans goes back to two scholars from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Paul Ernst Jablonski, a German Protestant, wished to show that the celebration of Christ’s birth on December 25th was one of the many “paganizations” of Christianity that the Church of the fourth century embraced, as one of many “degenerations” that transformed pure apostolic Christianity into Catholicism. Dom Jean Hardouin, a Benedictine monk, tried to show that the Catholic Church adopted pagan festivals for Christian purposes without paganizing the gospel.

In the Julian calendar... the winter solstice fell on December 25th, and it therefore seemed obvious to Jablonski and Hardouin that the day must have had a pagan significance before it had a Christian one. But in fact, the date had no religious significance in the Roman pagan festal calendar before Aurelian’s time, nor did the cult of the sun play a prominent role in Rome before him.

There were two temples of the sun in Rome, one of which... celebrated its dedication festival on August 9th, the other of which celebrated its dedication festival on August 28th. But both of these cults fell into neglect in the second century, when eastern cults of the sun, such as Mithraism, began to win a following in Rome."

If you really want to read some history check out the Catholic Encyclopedia. The Catholic Encyclopedia establishes that the first attempt to celebrate/recognize the Advent of Christ was recorded by Clement of Alexandria around AD 200. However, the celebration was actually in May. Christmas in December, as a Church tradition, really didn't take hold until the fourth century due to Constantine (and all the world should be Christian).

So, if you're a Christianized pagan or a paganized Christian enjoy the longest night of the year with a cup of java and compare The Pagan Left to the Catholic Encyclopedia to The Annals of the World and see what you discover.

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