This is a time of year that many people around the world refer to as “The Holiday Season.” In the view of most Western Christians, it is a time when Christmas is celebrated as well as the American Thanksgiving and the Gregorian New Year. I, however, have a slightly different definition of just what consists of the holiday season.
Fundamentally, much of the holiday season is shaped by the period of time around the December Solstice. In the Northern Hemisphere, it’s the day characterized by the longest night and the shortest days, and the point from which the days begin to grow longer. It is the time after which the last of the fall harvest is collected. In most agricultural societies, it is the time with the least amount of work and the most amount of time for reflecting. It is a time that would naturally lend itself towards spiritual matters.
Most Christians agree that Jesus was not born on December 25th. Many scholars believe that the Catholic Church in the 300s CE declared December 25th to be the day of Jesus’s birth as an effort to compete against popular religions at the time and draw more people to the Christian religion. Many scholars place the date of Jesus’s birth in either the autumn or the spring. Yet, Christmas as celebrated in December has become the cornerstone for both a religious and secular holiday season. Nevertheless, it is a time of year when many religions celebrate important holidays, not just Christianity. It is worth noting that some common themes often emerge when looking at this holiday season.
The nature of the Winter Solstice has an enormous impact on holidays in several different religions. Yule has pre-Christian and Pagan origins, and some form of worship at the time of the Winter Solstice goes back centuries, if not millenia. In Iran, the Winter Solstice is celebrated as Yalda.
The Hindu celebration on January 14 of Makar Sakranti, also known in some parts of India as Lohri or Pangal, is related to the lengthening of the days of the year, despite being three weeks later than the actual December Solstice. It the celebration of the passing of the sun into Capricorn (according to Vedic astrology—Western astrology would date this at Winter Solstice.) Westerners would find familiar some of the themes of this holiday including dedication to the sun and a time for reconciliation between enemies.
The Hawaii-based Himalayan Foundation, publishers of Hinduism Today, saw a need to have a time for Western practitioners of Hinduism to celebrate during the Western holiday season. They decided to institute the holiday of Pancha Ganapti, a five day holiday festival which celebrates the different aspects of the god Ganesha.
Some African-Americans have also sought to redefine the American holiday season for themselves out the need for a spiritual holiday that would reflect their own history, culture and heritage. Kwanzaa was developed as a result. While not tied with a specific religion or spiritual leader.
Other spiritual events and leaders are commemorated during this time as well. Zoroastrians celebrate the passing of their founder Zarathrusta on December 26th. (Historically, many cultures put as high of an emphasis on the death of religious figures as the date of their birth, as evidenced by the fact that Easter was celebrated before Christmas in the Christian faith.) The Buddhists celebrate Bodhi day on December 8th, the day they believe Gautama Buddha reached enlightenment. Sikhs celebrate the birth of Guru Gobind Singh Sahib on January 5. He lived from 1666-1708 CE, and was the tenth and last human Sikh Guru. He was very influential in the religion’s development. At his death, he declared that the collection of holy Sikh scripture known as the Granth replace him as the Guru for all Sikhs.
Many Jews living in Christian dominated countries have chosen to give greater emphasis on the Jewish Holiday of Hanukkah, which occurs between early and late December. Hanukkah commemorates the Maccabean revolt against the Selucid Empire between 167-160 BCE. The successful revolt allowed Jews to practice their religion once again after not being allowed to under the Seleucid emperor Antiochus IV, and they were able to rededicate the Second Temple.
Finally, it must be noted that the Islamic calendar may or may not have important holidays during this season. The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar whose months are 29 or 30 days and whose years are 354 or 355 days long. Because of the difference in the length of the year between the Islamic calendar and solar calendars like the Gregorian, the dates that Islamic holidays fall will change each year. The “Birth of the Prophet” in Islam fell on December 1 of this year.
The richness of the holiday season combined with the spiritual symbolism of reflection and renewal are among the reasons why I chose the December Solstice as the first day of the year for the Earth Epic Calendar. Its proximity to the beginning of the year to the most widely used calendar in the world is another reason—it makes for an easier transition. But the principal reason I created this calendar is to reflect that incredible amount of gain in our understanding of the world, the Earth and our place within it. I wanted to liberate the calendar from religion, especially when religions date their calendars from the time of their own founding. Religions draw a line between the few hundred or thousand years since their founding and the billions of years prior to that time. I have always known in my heart that such a line was always artificial, and a distortion of our place and heritage on Earth. Only time and God/The Universe will determine whether others choose to pick up on this calendar or not.
Regardless of whether you might choose to take this calendar seriously or not, I truly hope you take advantage of this precious time of year to tune in with this period of reflection, renewal and celebration, in whatever form it may take.