December gets its name from the latin word for “ten” decem. It was the tenth month in the roman calendar until the monthless winter period was named by the Roman King, Numa Pompilius in 600 BC. Numa added Inauarius and Februarius to the 10 month-long “Romulus” calendar originally created in 800 BC. Inauarius was celebrated as the first month of the revised 12 month calendar beginning in 200 BC. Prior to that, the year began in March in honor of the Spring Equinox. Inauarius is pronounced Januarius, meaning month of Janus.
The New Year was originally celebrated by the Greeks, Romans and Europeans on the Winter Solstice on December 25th. When Julius Caesar reformed the Roman calendar in 46 BC he choose January 1st as the first day of the year in honor of its namesake Janus.
The Gregorian Calendar was instituted in 1582 AD, by Pope Gregory the XIII, as a way to bring order and importance to the “Christian” calendar throughout Europe, Asia and Africa. As the Conquistadors moved into the Americas during the 1500’s they brought this calendar system with them. It is interesting to remember that people in the Southern Hemisphere will be celebrating the Summer Solstice which is the opposite of the Winter Solstice. By honoring natures balance of giving and receiving, light and dark, revealed and unrevealed we come to understand the beauty and harmony that exists within each of us.
December has always been a month of inner reflection and preparation for the Winter Solstice. During the long nights of winter, nature reminds us quiet ourselves and nourish our bodies, minds and souls in preparation for Spring. It is a month of great significance and sacredness.
The Winter Solstice on December 21st – 22nd is symbolic of inner peace as people throughout time have reconnected to their inner light. It is also both the shortest and darkest day of the year. It heralds the opening of the door when the sun is reborn, gradually growing in strength til the Midsummer Solstice on June 21st.
To Northern Europeans the Winter Solstice was known as Yule a celebration that lasted for twelve days. Yule trees were cut and decorated with images of wishes for the year ahead. A Yule log was burned and a portion of it saved to be used for protection of the home.
One of the prominent early Gods of the Winter Solstice is the God Mithras. His origins date back over 4000 years or more.
Mitra (circa 1700–1100 BC) is also seen as one of the ancient Hindu Gods of the Rigveda. Paired with the God Varuna, Mitra/Varuna are seen as the Devas who bring balance to the world. Varuna represents the God of the cosmic night sky (Moon) , Mitra represents the dawning of the solar day (Sun). Together they bring light, life, order and truth to the world.
Mithra (circa 1000 BC) is also one of the Persian Zoroastrian/Iranian Gods of Truth.
Mithra (circa 600 BC) was also known as the Sumerian/Chaldean trinity of Anu/El (God of the Sky), Enki/Bel/Baal (Son of Anu/El) and Enlil/Hea (God of Wisdom), sometimes referred to as Ad (Adonai, Adonis or Lord) .
With the creation of the Julian Calendar in 46 BC the Winter Solstice officially fell on December 25th.
In Roman culture (circa 200 BC – 313 AD) Saturnalia (Saturn is the Roman God of Agriculture) began on December 17th and lasted for seven days culminating on December 25th the Winter Solstice. On that day Mithras the Sun God or Sol Invictus (the invincible sun) was born. The Emperor Constantine saw himself as the Sol Invictus before converting to Christianity in 313 AD. This celebration was marked with wreaths on doors, gifting and feasting.
Early Christians didn’t have records of Jesus actual birthday so they chose the Winter Solstice as the perfect day to celebrate it. They saw it as both the rebirth of the “Son” & the “Sun”. Since Jesus taught that the “light” was within each of us, his followers wanted to honor his birth on a day that honored the “light within”. The Winter Solstice was the perfect time to honor that sacred connection.
When Pope Gregory the VIII, adjusted the calendar in 1582AD, the Sun had changed in relation to the actual days so the Winter Solstice was moved to either December 21st or 22nd. Pope Gregory chose to keep Jesus birthday on December 25th as a way to separate the “Pagan” holiday from the “Christian” holiday. This severed our sacred connection to the Winter Solstice and the “light” we share with nature. People began to feel separate from the beauty and harmony nature great cycles of life provides. The word pagan itself means “to be from nature”.
“Holidays” are “Holy Days” and the Winter Solstice is a “Holy Day”. It is also natures “Holly Day” for Holly is symbolic of truth and the concept of being forever green/alive. Holly is an evergreen that is used to make wreaths for celebrating the sacred circle of life and natures cycle through the seasons.