The true meaning of Christmas


Christians have a slogan “Put Christ back into Christmas” in response to the commercialization of Christmas. I agree that the true meaning of Christmas has been forgotten.

The annual cycle of the seasons was at the heart of the festivals that were celebrated each year by our distant ancestors and co-opted by Christianity in an effort to make it more palatable to the original “pagans”, people who lived in the country and worked the land.

Our ancestors understood the importance of living in harmony with Nature and a successful harvest of crops to see them through each year. My English ancestors from Staffordshire were agricultural labourers and market gardeners until the late 19th century, when my great-grandfather worked as a coal miner and my great-grandmother worked in paper mill. Today many of us have lifestyles that are artificially removed from the source of our basic physical sustenance, with little real concern for where our food comes from other than retailers such as Woolworths, Pick ‘n Pay, Shoprite Checkers and Spar.

In the (Neo-)Pagan wheel of the year, the four “sun sabbats” or “quarter days” that correspond with the solstices and equinoxes are celebrated by most Pagans, while the four “cross-quarter days” are also celebrated by some Pagans especially Wiccans.

Pagan festivals that are widely celebrated today, whether people realize it or not, are the quarter days of Yule and Ostara that take place in the colder, darker months in the Northern hemisphere when our European ancestors would have heartily welcomed the return of light, warmth and new life.

Unfortunately, due to a six month lag in seasons most people in the Southern hemisphere are celebrating this on behalf of someone else! Paganism therefore has an added bonus for people living in the Southern hemisphere, in that we get to celebrate our own seasons (with a few optional extra celebrations thrown in such as Christmas and Easter).

This factor also makes it harder for many of us in the Southern hemisphere to buy into the mainstream holiday traditions, as they are purely religious events belonging to a religion that no longer makes all that much sense or, even worse, purely commercial events. This leaves a void, a psychological need for a meaningful way to mark the seasons and celebrate life on Earth.


The word “Yule” is related to the Old Norse word “jol” meaning “feast”. Many Paganism resources provide an alternative original meaning of “wheel”, which is disputed.

Christians celebrate the annual rebirth of the sun as the birthday of the Son of God on Christmas Day, a few days after the winter solstice on 21 or 22 December in the Northern hemisphere. The winter solstice is the shortest day and the longest night of the year, after which the days begin to lengthen again. The traditional Christmas season lasts for more than a day however, and also includes New Year’s Day hinting at the true meaning of the season.

Starhawk’s classic book on modern Paganism, The Spiral Dance, commences a ritual for the festival of Yule (Winter Solstice) in the dark as follows:

“This is the night of Solstice, the longest night of the year. Now darkness triumphs; and yet, gives way and changes into light. The breath of nature is suspended: all waits while within the Cauldron, the Dark King is transformed into the Infant Light. We watch for the coming of dawn, when the Great Mother again gives birth to the Divine Child Sun, who is bringer of hope and the promise of summer. This is the stillness behind motion, when time itself stops; the center which is also the circumference of all. We are awake in the night. We turn the Wheel to bring the light. We call the sun from the womb of night. Blessed Be!”

This ritual explains why some families celebrate Christmas as much on Christmas Eve as on Christmas Day.

Traditional Yule trimmings, displayed by Pagans and Christians alike at this time of year, are a form of sympathetic magic encouraging the return of light and life.

Bright evergreens such as pine, holly with its red berries, ivy and mistletoe symbolize eternal life, serve to honour and provide a symbolic indoor sanctuary for nature spirits in winter, and some are believed to provide protection from evil and mischievous spirits.

Candles, or nowadays electric fairy lights, as well as a Yule log burning in the fireplace are all symbols of the returning light.


The word “Easter” derives from Eostre or Ostara, the name of the ancient Germanic goddess of fertility and spring, and is related to the word “east”, the direction of sunrise and new beginnings. Christians celebrate the annual return of new life on earth as the resurrection of Jesus Christ after his sacrificial death by crucifixion. Easter is a moveable Christian feast, celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal (spring) equinox in the Northern hemisphere when daylight and darkness are approximately equal again.

Painted eggs and rabbits are symbols of fertility and new life used by both Pagans and Christians at this time of year.

I say put the sun back into Christmas and put spring back into Easter.


“i thank You God for most this amazing

day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees

and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything

which is natural which is infinite which is yes


(i who have died am alive again today,

and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth

day of life and of love and wings:and of the gay

great happening illimitably earth)


how should tasting touching hearing seeing

breathing any-lifted from the no

of all nothing-human merely being

doubt unimaginable You?


(now the ears of my ears awake and

now the eyes of my eyes are opened)”


Edward Estlin Cummings (1894-1962)


This article was first published here


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