Since this year Christmas falls right on the full moon in Cancer, I wanted to dedicate this post to the origin of Christmas focusing on some of the holiday's astrological, psychological, mythological and historical contexts.
A Big-Bang Story
Let's begin with a question: Can you tell me who is this guy?
He was born 4 BCE in a Roman-occupied land. Before he was born, a supernatural being announced his arrival to his mother announcing he will be a special kid, a savoir, wise and powerful. On his Saturn return, he embarked on a teaching tour and handpicked disciples who followed him around. Wait, don't guess...The man preached in parables, encouraged followers to denounce material good and embraced a humble spiritual path therefore making enemies with the orthodoxy. He was a wizard, healed the sick, cast demons out of people, and preformed miracles. His enemies delivered him to the Romans and after his death he returned to his disciples who wrote books about him, spreading his gospel around the Roman empire.
So, did you figure the identity of the man?
No, it's not Jesus of Nazareth. It is Apollonius of Tyana, a Greek Neopythagorean philosopher. I first heard about him from a wonderful lecture given by the biblical scholar Bart D. Ehrman. Apparently, Apollonius lived and worked in the same time as Jesus and many of their followers interacted and competed over converts. As their fans crossed paths, the followers of the two philosophers wanted to undo each other by arguing whose teacher was more divine, thus slowly exaggerating the tales. It reminds me of a debate I overheard a while back between two boys in the park:
"My dad can lift me with one hand."
"So what, my dad can lift me and my sister with one finger."
After a few minutes of back and forth, their fathers supposedly could lift cars, buses and airplanes. We know of similar conversation between the followers of the two teachers if we compare the gospels of the New Testament. While Mark, the earliest gospel (composed around 40 years after Jesus' death) claims Jesus was born a normal birth, in Luke and Matthew (written 20 years after Mark), we are told Jesus is born from a virgin. In Mark, Jesus suffers on the cross and has doubts about his journey, but in John (written a generation after Mark) Jesus is confident and can't stop talking about himself (I am the light, I am the word, I am salvation) and even goes as far as claiming he was with God as a God when the world was created.
What I am trying to point out is that stories shift and change over time. There is a constant reciprocal relationship between stories, their audience and those who write them. We author stories that eventually author us. This will be also true about the story of Christmas, the celebration of the savior's birth.
The Gospel According to the Stars
Astrology was developed by men and women across many ages and lands, mainly as a tool to help them survive. These early stargazers traced a correlation between the movements of the heavenly bodies and life on earth. Astrology takes the year and divides it into twelve sets of 30 days clustered according to the proportion of light and dark in each day. It calculates the seasons, thus giving humanity a cosmic watch that helps identify the time to plant and the time to reap (Ecclesiastes 3:2).
According to astrology, the four most important days of the year are the two equinox, when day and night are equal (March 21 and Sep 22) and the two solstices, when day or night is the longest (Dec 21 and June 21). Each of these days initiate a season and begins a sign. The most difficult day both physically and emotionally (in the Northern Hemisphere) is the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year that also begins the sign Capricorn whose Tarot card is the Devil, representing humanity's collective fear of survival. But while many people view dark or night as evil and day and light as good, Astrology, views that two opposing forces as equally important to sustain life. Similar to the Daoist concept of Yin (black and feminine) and Yang (white and masculine), astrology helps us balance the two primordial forces.
Instead of viewing the relation between dark and night as a cosmic struggle, I like to see the dance between these forces as the relationship between the goddess of night and her son of light, the savoir. Imagine the night to be a beautiful goddess who becomes visibly pregnant on the summer solstice when the sign Cancer begins. Cancer is the sign of pregnancy, the womb, and family. As day after Summer Solstice, the goddess' womb starts growing. On Winter Solstice, the goddess can hardly walk, life stops, she is too heavy, her back aches, and she sighs. He baby is kicking, eager to come out. She must lay down, and life depresses with her. However, on the winter solstice, the goddess gives birth to a tiny child of light (The day is the shortest.). The day after, however, the light starts growing, nursing on his mother's breasts, the savoir grows as his mother's body contracts and the goddess regains her illustrious body.
As this year we will celebrate the full moon on the longest night of the year, this story will have a more powerful affect on us all. On Dec 25th, even if you're not a Christian, you will be able to tap into the astrological gospel (gospel means "good news") and give birth to your higher-self. The psychological and spiritual message of the day is crystal clear: In the darkest day of the year, when we hit "rock-bottom," that is when the savoir appears. It is in darkness that we find the light of hope. Your seed of salvation for the next year begins Dec 25.
Why December 25?
Santuralia, the celebration of the god Saturn (agricultural deity) was celebrated in Rome between Dec 17-23 based on even earlier Greek festivities called Kornia. The holiday included feasting, gambling and exchanging gifts. In the year 45 BCE, Julius Caesar instituted a new calendar in which Dec 25 was assigned as the winter Solstice. Thus all the pagan holiday that celebrated the birth of the gods of light shifted to Dec 25.
The list of celebrity gods born on the solstice includes: Osiris, Apollo, Atis, Mythras and Horus, just to name a few. In addition, from the year 274 CE, the emperor Aurelian declared Dec 25 as a state holiday of Sol Invictus (unconquered sun). This holiday was very popular among the soldiers and rivaled the rise of Christianity in the empire. Many scholars believe that even though there was no mention of the date or season of Jesus' birth in the bible or any other early sources, the Church fathers decided to position Christmas on Dec 25th since the date was already deeply engraved in people's mental calendar. If the highway is already there, why build a new one? And so, about 400 years after Jesus' birth, the celebration of his nativity was finally instituted.
Winter Blues and Shopping Therapy
Psychologists concur with astrology and mythology, when they too noticed that as the days shorten, many of us experience winter blues. They call it SAD, an acronym for "Seasonal Affective Disorder." The medicine they propose is simple: the patient needs to be exposed to light. Duh! Our wise ancestors came up with a similar solution. The Germanic tribes celebrated Yule, when on winter solstice, fathers and son were encouraged to light bonfires and bring light in the darkest night. The Jews celebrated Hanukkah by lighting eight candles. Yalda: Shab-e Chelleh was the Iranian's version of this celebration.
I am writing this email from Istanbul, a Muslim country, and yet, even here, the streets, malls, and parks are filled with lights bulbs, LED and neon lights, all attempting a modern, commercial twist of light therapy. Of course, in the last century we added a capitalist flare by encouraging a shopping spree for the ancient gift exchange that begun in Saturnalia. Yes, giving and receiving makes us feel better, especially when it is done around an evergreen tree in our living room. After all, it is the Tree of Life, and Kabbalah in Hebrew means receiving. So to make this Christmas more "Kabbalistic," maybe you and your family can decide to cap the amount of money allowed to be spent on each gift, which will force us to be more creative and spend more time thinking or creating the gift. Give our friends and family what they really need, not what they think they want...
This upcoming Dec 25, we have a convergence of astrology and Christmas, with the full moon falling right on Christmas. A serendipity that reminds us of the ancient origin of the holidays of light. I suggest clearing some time on the full moon and imagine how out of the full moon, something new will be born in your life that will take shape as the days grow. It can be a new project, a relationship, a home, a family, healing or just a state of well-being. With the full moon on Dec 25 comes to you on special deliver from thousands of years ago, a savoir god, the sun, light and happiness.
I wish you a happy birthing and wonderful spiritual gifts.
Happy Solstice and happy Christmas