Jesus’s birthday isn’t December 25th.
That’s not meant to be inflammatory, it’s simply the truth. In the earliest years of the church, the birth of Jesus was not nearly as much of a focal point as his resurrection, and the actual date was (and still is) unknown.
But in the 4th century, Christian leaders came together in that series of infamous councils to formalize a singular, unified religion called the Holy Roman Catholic Church. They went through everything, deciding dogma and illuminating mysteries and assigning authority, and one of the issues they finally got around to resolving was the birthdate of the savior.
December 25th was the obvious choice, and for many reasons. There were still several pagan sects that needed converting, and the Church cleverly realized that a simple Christian rebranding of long-held pagan festivals would facilitate an easy transition. The most notable of these sects were the Romans who celebrated Saturnalia, the late December festival of raucous revelry to honor the father-god Saturn, and the Germanic people who observed Yule, the holiday in honor of the winter solstice. The Romans replaced Saturn with Jesus, as the Germanic people swapped out the Sun for the Christ-child, and that was that, the feast of Christmas gripped all of Europe, and later all the world.
But my theory for why Christmas has succeeded as the world’s most popular holiday, and why it’s so important to us now, errs (just like all my theories) a little more toward a feminist perspective. You see, I believe Christmas is not so much about the birth of Jesus, as it is about the birth of Jesus by Mary. It’s about the divine made flesh, through the flesh-body that houses the divine. It’s the celebration not of a god coming to existence, but of a god being born through the portal of the Feminine.
Because that is the forgotten power of the Divine Feminine. She is both god and god-bearer, created and creatrix. She is the womb that forms both flesh and spirit, life and eternity. The paradox of Jesus is that he is somehow all god and all man, but in order for that mystery to be realized he had to be born of Woman, he had to be formed inside the womb of the world, the body of a human female, the Feminine herself.
And this story is an old one, which the people before Jesus’ time would have certainly recognized. There’s the Hellenistic myth of the supreme Cybele and her lover-son Attis who sacrifice himself and his manhood for thelove of his mother and the return of the sun and harvest. Then there’s the Aztec Huitzilopochtli, the powerful solar deity who tirelessly sacrifices himself to protect host mother Coatlicue, great earth goddess of the Serpent Skirt of infinity. And of course there’s Ishtar and Tammuz, the Babylonian Queen of Heaven who sacrificed and resurrected her sun-god consort annually. The feast day for Tammuz was—big surprise—December 25th.
Then there is the tale of Isis, Osiris, and Horus, which is again a story of death and resurrection via the goddess, and also my favorite. After her husband Osiris, the god of the underworld, is murdered and dismembered, Isis searches for him tirelessly, reassembling his body piece by piece. In a fit of love and mourning, Isis conceived from Osiris’s corpse, and bears the great, shining Horus. Here is the miracle birth of light in perfect form: it is through Isis’s magical power that she becomes pregnant from something which is dead, symbolically resurrecting the old to create the new. It is through the womb of the Theotokos—the divine throne, the transformative Feminine—that hope and sun is restored to the world. And the festival for this miracle? You guessed it, December 25th.
Christmas is this same story. It is the Virgin birth of a god in human form, who will be crucified and resurrected, and born again every year. Even though Mary is barred from true divinity, and even though it is Jesus who will technically redeem the world, we can still recognize that it is through her power that salvation is made available. It’s really quite beautiful when you think about it. In a religion where god is all-knowing, all-creating, he still needs a womb to complete his divine task. He still needs Woman, because she is the gateway, she is the embodiment of the indestructible Feminine principle. It is in her that the sun is reformed, and through her that light must first pass to be revealed to us.
Of course, I don’t mean to oversimplify the role of the sun-god in Christmastide. The central unifying event of Christmas and its cousin festivals is, of course, the winter solstice. It is the point at which the sun can recede from us no more. It is the moment we give thanks because the light will always return. The solstice is the festival of hope in a period of thorough darkness. It is the reminder that the planet spins, the barrenness of winter softens, and a god is born now somewhere in the world, who will save us all.
But I encourage you this holiday season to remember that it is through the grace of the goddess that the god is born to us. It is through the perfect balance of nature, of the loving cosmos, of cyclical infinitude, of the Divine Feminine spirit herself, that the light will always, always return. We celebrate the sun, but musn’t forget the life we’ve been gifted, the very manifestation of our soul within its cask of skin. We, too, were born of the Divine Feminine, and it is her son that bestows on us both joy and hope.
Happy Yule, my friends. May it be blessed with light and love in equal measure.