December 25: Merry Christmas and Sol Invictus!

On December 25, in Rome, we celebrated the “day of the birth of the Unconquered Sun”, the invincible victory of light over darkness.

Two days after the feast of Lar familiaristhe tutelary deities responsible for protecting the family but also the crops, the streets and the cities, it Dies Natalis Solis Invicti came to conclude the great festivities of the Saturnalia, inaugurated on December 17. The Saturnaliaa religious celebration dedicated to the god Saturn, the civilizing and sovereign Latin deity of the peninsula, were accompanied by great popular festivities: abundant feasts were organized, the houses all decorated with holly, mistletoe and ivy, gifts exchanged. And the children received gifts in the form of small terracotta figurines, from the divine pantheon and heroic : it’s the feast of sealsfrom the name of these small statuettes that were sold on the Via Sigillaria of Rome, fitted out at this time of the year with temporary shops provided for this purpose…. a bit like the Christmas stalls which adorn the center of our towns and villages these days.

Much has been written about the origin of the celebration of the Unconquered Sun. It is said that the emperor Aurelian, at war against Queen Zenobia of Palmyra, would have had a vision of the Sun god. The latter would have intervened and would have ensured victory for the Roman troops during this decisive battle. Two years later, in 274, in Rome, he formalized the cult of Deus Sol Invictus and consecrated a temple to him on December 25, on the Champ de Mars.

The adoption of the Sun-God was considered by Aurelian as a strong element of cohesion since, in various forms, the cult of the Sun was present in all regions of the Empire. The Greco-Roman Helios, of course, but also Apollo, Jupiter, and the Indo-Iranian Mithra being identified with the Sun.

For our Indo-European ancestors, the star of fire was the source of light, life and warmth. Something that is not necessarily shared by other populations who, suffering from excessively high temperatures in areas with a desert tendency, have associated the sun with a destructive power. There he could be perceived negatively, which resulted in the prevalence of religions dominated by a jealous and authoritarian god.

In our latitudes, it is in 354 that the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti is retained by Christians to celebrate the birth of Christ: Deus Sol invictus and Mithras from which it is inspired, corresponding to the birth of a god of light, who emerged from a rock or a cave in the form of a newborn child; a savior god who regenerates the world through the spilled blood and the sacramental meals during which bread and wine were shared, constants of their worship, were perhaps not for nothing in this choice.

History buffs will debate endlessly about the origins of Christmas festivities. From its etymology: does its root come from Latin Natalis or the fusion of two Gallic words Noio – new – and Hel – sun ? We will be able to study the origin of the different symbols that enchant us in this period and bring magic into our dreary and frenetic lives… What a beautiful thing to question ourselves, to research and to know the genealogy of our customs! But if there is one fact to remember, it is the syncretism that unites us. The spirit of our holidays. This is what really matters: beneath the apparent diversity of our local or religious, pagan or Christian, Nordic or Mediterranean cultures, it is up to us to connect with God or the Cosmos, to bring a little spirituality into our sadly become rational. Finding meaning, reviving ancient traditions, connecting with family and community, minimizing as much as possible the consumerist character that has taken hold of our sacredness. To refocus too, to want to be better.

So, tonight, more than ever, let’s light our lanterns, our lanterns, our candles and our fireflies, that this new birth, undefeated and invincible, either !

Audrey D’Aguanno

December 25: Merry Christmas and Sol Invictus!