Why isn’t Christmas on the solstice?

Some people are aware that Christmas is the de-secularized version of the Yule celebration of ancient times, which is a celebration of the Winter Solstice.  But the Winter Solstice happens anywhere between the 20th and the 23rd of December, and Christmas is on the 25th.  Why isn’t Christmas celebrated on the solstice?

In ancient times, when the Yule was THE celebration of the whole year in terms of scope and duration, people did not take things for granted, because that was tempting the gods to do their worst.  So, every year, the shadow cast by a stone was measured, during the days close to the solstice.  Every day, the shadow would be longer, until one day, there was no difference.  Was this the solstice?  Or was it just a taunt from one of the gods?  The next day, the shadow might be the same again.  Finally, the shadow would change, growing a tiny bit shorter.  Only then did the celebration begin, only then did people feel relief.

December 25 is the first day of every year that on can be sure to see the shadow cast by the Sun at noon get shorter.  December 25 was the first day that people could be sure that the Sun was going to return to the Northern sky, bringing warmth and life back to the world.  Even though Winter was just beginning, it was a time of merriment and feasting, because Summer would come again.  The Yule Tide celebration began with a vigil, held overnight from sunset to sunrise, to attend the Sun in its rebirth, after its journey through the land of the Dead.  Revitalized, renewed, it began the new year.

The celebration of the Yule was long because travel was difficult, and there was little else to do.  People would allow their hearth to go cold, take their animals, and travel to another dwelling, where they would spend days sharing in the abundance brought by the slaughter of an animal.  After a time, they might travel to another dwelling, and again feast.  Then, they would turn for home, to relight their own hearth, and prepare for the slaughter of one of their own animals.  Thus, the celebration of the Yule often extended into February, as the days grew steadily longer, even though Winter’s grip seemed unbreakable.

The Christian church encountered the Yule when it moved out of the Mediterranean area into the lands to the north.  Both the Byzantine and the Rome branches absorbed the pagan Yule Tide holiday into their calendar, testimony to the widespread observance of this ancient tradition.  Because it was an affront to the leaders of the Christian religion that people would celebrate the Yule and not celebrate Easter,  it was decided to bring the Yule into the Christian religion, by calling it the birthday of Jesus Christ.  Just as was the Sun reborn every year, the pagans could celebrate the birth of the Christian savior at the same time.

This is why Christmas isn’t on the Solstice, even though it is descended from a celebration of the Solstice.

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