Posted by: fvbcdm | December 21, 2011

Feast of Saint Peter Canisius (21 Dec 2011)

For those of us who live in the Central Standard Time zone, today is the winter solstice, the day when winter officially begins.  And the exact moment of that event will be at 11:30 tonight.  At that moment, in the wheeling of the earth on its own axis and around the sun, our northern hemisphere will be tilted as far away from the sun as it will go, and the moment later, it will begin to reverse the tilt back in the other direction.  Thus we have longer days in the months from late December to late June, and then shorter days for the rest of the year. 

Why do I mention this today?  Because four days from now we will celebrate the birth of Our Divine Lord Jesus Christ at Christmas.  Since we really don’t know in what time of the year our Lord was born, why do we celebrate it on December 25th?  There are a number of theories about this; one of them is especially likely and very interesting. When Saint John the Baptist was preaching (we find this in the gospel according to John, chapter 3, verse 30) he spoke of Jesus and said of him, “He must increase; I must decrease.”  The early Church, when it began to formulate its religious calendar, used that saying of John the Baptist’s as a guide in the celebration of the births of these two men. After the winter solstice, the days begin to grow longer.  After the summer solstice, they begin to shorten. Thus we celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25 as the days lengthen, and the birth of John the Baptist on June 24, when they begin to shorten.

The connection of Christmas with the winter solstice is another example of the Christianization of paganism.  The ancient pagans celebrated in various ways the festival of Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun.  We find it in a number of cultures and parts of the ancient world.  Even now, our contemporaries who claim to be Druids or witches or things like that hold ceremonies on this day and on the summer solstice, too.  And a number of stone structures, like Stonehenge in England, were so constructed that on certain days the sun would shine directly through an opening to mark a day which was dear to sun worshippers.  As the pagans called the sun “unconquerable and unconquered,” so we speak of our divine Lord as the Sun of Justice, or the  Brightest Star of Holiness.  

With all this in mind, I wish you today a happy solstice, and much more importantly, I wish you a Merry and Blessed Christmas, and I remind you that, as the saying goes, Jesus is the reason for this Christmas season!  Thank you for seeking God’s truth.  God bless you.  Father Victor Brown, O.P.

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