Christmas – the Sun God’s Birthday

And why it is December 25

The sun god is born at the winter solstice and grows until midsummer, afterwards declining towards his death at the midwinter solstice, where he languishes for three days in his grave before rising from his tomb, reborn. Sun gods born at the winter solstice include Zeus, Osiris/Horus, Adonis, Zeus, Chris of Chaldea, Mithras, Sakia of India, Chang-ti of China, and Krishna. These gods have several things in common:

They are usually counted as the saviours of mankind (because the sun saves the world from chaos, darkness and death)

Many were thought to have incarnated upon the earth, in order to help humankind.

They are born of a virgin mother, the Queen of Heaven.

They are born in a cave or underground chamber

They are born at the winter solstice

There is a star in the east

They are sacrificed to benefit mankind

They descend into the underworld and rise again

Isis gave birth to Horus (Osiris reborn) each year at the winter solstice. When he was born a voice proclaimed, “the ruler of the earth is born”. His birth was heralded by the evening rising of the three stars of Orion’s (Osiris’s) belt just before the rising of the birth star Sirius (Isis) shortly afterwards in the east, marking the place where the newborn sun would rise. Thus, the coming of the Light of the World was heralded by a star as that of Jesus was later said to be.

The Roman Emperor Aurelian (270 to 275 CE) blended a number of Pagan solstice celebrations of the nativity of such saviours into a single festival called Dies Natalis Invicti Solis, the ‘Birthday of the Unconquered Sun’ on Bruma, the winter solstice or December 25.  Roman women would parade in the streets crying “unto us a child is born!” The god Sol Invictus had been introduced into the Roman pantheon from Syria during the first century CE by Roman legionaries stationed there. The cult grew more influential by the reign of Commodus (180-192 CE) and in 272 CE it became the chief imperial cult of the Roman Empire, until it was replaced by Christianity.

December 25 was the day of the winter solstice in the calendar established by Julius Caesar in Rome in 46 BCE. Actually, the solstice usually falls on 21 December, and the difference is due to an error in the Julian calendar which calculated the year on 365 ¼ days, which meant a discrepancy of one day in the Julian calendar in 128 years. By 274 CE the Emperor Aurelian established the sun cult as the Roman state religion with the traditional birthday of Sol Invictus as 25 December, though by then the actual solstice had happened two and a half days earlier.[1]

Oh, you though it was the birthday of Jesus? This date for the birthday of Christ was not fixed until the fourth century and is still not accepted by some Eastern Churches. Various sects have celebrated Christmas on one hundred and thirty-six separate dates and every month of the year as been mentioned as the possible one in which Christ was born.  The first evidence of the birth of Jesus being celebrated was in Egypt in around 200 CE, when it was celebrated on 25th May.  Others placed it in April. The De paschæ computus, written in 243 CE, stated that Christ was born on 28th March because on that day the material sun was created.

The Council of Nicea (325 CE) opted to mark Christmas on December 25 to coincide with the Roman festival celebrating Natalis Invicti, the Birth of the Unconquered Sun (god). [2] In 386 CE St Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, preached

“But Our Lord, too, is born in the month of December . . . the eight before the calends of January . . ., But they call it the ‘Birthday of the Unconquered’. Who indeed is so unconquered as Our Lord . . .? Or, if they say that it is the birthday of the Sun, He is the Sun of Justice.”

With refreshing honesty, he stated this was so that

“…while the heathen were busied with their profane rites, the Christians might perform their holy ones without disturbance”.

© Anna Franklin, Yule, History, Lore and Celebration, Lear Books, 2010

[1] Dr E.C.Krupp, Beyond the Blue Horizon, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1991

[2] The Eastern Church refused to accept 25th December for another three hundred years.


Author: annafranklinblog

Anna Franklin is the High Priestess of the Hearth of Arianrhod, which runs teaching circles, a working coven, and the annual Mercian Gathering, a Pagan camp which raises money for charity. She regularly speaks at conferences, moots and workshops around the country. She is the author of many books on witchcraft and Paganism, including the popular Pagan Ways Tarot, Sacred Circle Tarot, The Fairy Ring, Herb Craft, Magical Incenses and Oils, Personal Power, A Romantic Guide to Handfasting, Familiars, The Oracle of the Goddess, Hearth Witch, The Path of the Shaman and The Hearth Witch’s Compendium. Anna’s books have been translated into nine languages.

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