Marc Graham

Transforming Lives Through Story

The Reason for the Season

Pardon the digression from our creative explorations. Given the time of year, I wanted to take a moment to discuss this hallowed time. Because physics.

As a brief refresher, the tilt in the earth’s axis is, literally, the reason for the seasons. As the earth travels about the sun, the northern and southern hemispheres receive more or less direct sunlight, causing the periods of daylight to be longer or shorter. This results in the winter solstice (on or about December 21 in the northern hemisphere) being the shortest and darkest day of the year.

Ancient cultures recognized this rhythm of the seasons. Nearly all indigenous cultures–at least those in the middling latitudes–developed myths about the changing seasons. In particular, Midwinter (the solstice) was generally associated with the emergence of a savior-god come to return life and light to the land, and with the death and resurrection of the sun or solar deity.

It is no accident that when Emperor Constantine chose a date for the birth of Christ, he selected December 25. By the Roman calendar, this was the day of the first noticeable increase in sunlight following the solstice. The date was already celebrated as the birthday of Sol Invictus (the Invincible Sun) and the Zoroastrian god Mithra. Other traditions suggest that the gods Adonis, Tammuz, Osiris, Horus, Krishna, and other savior-deities had the same birth date, were attended by shepherds and magi, received lavish gifts, etc., but I’ve been unable to confirm this in original sources.

So, what does this mean? Many point to these “coincidences” as a means to discredit Christianity. By this claim, the Christian myth is simply a rebranding of tales common in the Roman Empire of the time, and so it bears no truth or significance today. These critics claim that no shepherd would be pasturing his sheep in late December, hence the notion of shepherds watching their flocks by night cannot be accurate and the Christian bible is a hoax.

Not so fast.

I fully agree that the biblical nativity story cannot be read as fact. However, this does not make it untrue. As in most mythic literature, there are parts to be taken literally and parts to be read as allegory or symbolism. The fantastical elements of the story key us in to the notion that the narrative has entered the realm of myth. But to what end?

As inhabitants of this little planet on the edge of the galaxy, one with an off-kilter axis and a slight wobble, we live in a world of cycles. From the 24-hour day/night cycle to the 26,000-year (give or take a few decades) precession of the equinoxes, these rhythms govern our existence as individuals and as a species.

The Creator (whether a nameless, impersonal force or a trans-dimensional being with gender, name, and personality) has seen to it that our evolution, our personal and global development, is in harmony with these cycles. We crave the ebb-and-flow. We thrive in the expansion and contraction. We rejoice in the rising and in the setting.

Technology has attempted to “liberate” us from the natural cycles, much to our detriment. Despite generations of adaptation to artificial lighting, our bodies require alignment with the diurnal rhythm of day and night, and bad things happen when one is cast out of this natural balance for an extended duration.

So, what does this have to do with Christmas?

The annual cycle of Spring-Summer-Autumn-Winter has the greatest impact on humanity, individually and collectively, of any of the natural patterns. The rebirth and renewal of Spring. The expansion and grand activities of Summer. The culmination and harvest of Autumn. And the rest and reflection of Winter.

The natural peace and goodwill of this time of year is no accident, nor is it a Hallmark creation. In ancient times, the long hours of darkness were reason to gather about the fire for warmth, to create stories to pass the time, to rest from labor and reconnect with clan and tribe. It could also be a time for sickness and infirmity, a rest from which not all would rise.

And so, the solstice became a time of reflection, of peace, of sorrow, and of hope. As the daylight hours began to lengthen, the people were reassured that the long night would not endure, that the days would grow warmer, the earth would awaken and life return. Their myths and legends reflected this, heralding the birth of the savior-gods amid festivals of light.

So, as the northern hemisphere angles farthest from the sun, as the temperatures dip and the day grows short, I tell you this:

  • Take heart, and be of good cheer
  • Be at peace, and know that all is well
  • The long night will have an ending
  • The sun will return and breathe life and light upon the land.

With that, and in the hope that you will receive this as Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah or Season’s Greetings or whatever is most meaningful to you…

I wish you a most Blessed Solstice.

– Image credit: Inked Pixels / Shutterstock

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About Marc

I help writers use the power of Story to change their readers' lives.

One Reply

  1. Thanks for this! My mantra for the new year is “Let nothing you dismay”. Your reassurances that the sun will return is reassuring indeed. Happy Holidays!