NOTES FROM FOREIGN COUNTRIES
By: Bro. Nestor Martin J. Abanil

We are all familiar with the “life and death cycle” of the Sun. There is the occasional “death” of the storm – where the Sun is obscured by dark clouds. There is also the even more occasional “death” of the eclipse – with the Moon obstructing our view of the Sun during daytime.

One Solar death, however, is regularly periodic and inevitable. At the close of each day, the Sun, no matter how glorious its reign, must sink beneath the western horizon, defeated and bloody, and Night returns in victory to the sky.
The Sun’s setting and rising is one inspiration for the many mythic tales involving the death and resurrection of a god. An even more impressive death and resurrection is the death of vegetation with the coming of winter and its restoration in the spring.

The Norse tale of Balder may well be the symbol of the god of Summer being slain by the god of Winter. Similar significance can be given to the death and resurrection tales of Osiris among the Egyptians, of Thammus among the Babylonians, of Proserpina among the Greeks, and so on.

But the Sun is clearly connected with the summer-winter cycle as well as with the day-night cycle. Throughout the European summer, the Sun at meridian height reaches a slightly lower point in the southern sky each day than it did the day before. As its path in the sky slowly sinks southward, the temperature grows colder and the vegetation browns and dies.

If the Sun should continue to sink, and should pass down behind the southern horizon altogether, death would be universal and permanent, but that does not happen. The rate of sinking slows and each year at December 21, the Sun comes to a halt (“solstice” – or “Sun halt” in Latin) and thereafter begins to rise again.
The winter may continue to sharpen after the solstice but the fact that the noonday Sun is rising steadily higher in the sky is a guarantee that spring and summer will come once again. The day of the winter solstice — the birth of a new summer Sun, is thus a time for celebrating the rescue of all life!

The most familiar solstice celebration of ancient times was that of the Romans. The Roman god of agriculture, Saturn, was believed by them to have ruled Italy during an early golden age of rich crops and plentiful food. The winter solstice, then, with its promise of a return of summer and of the golden time of Saturnian agriculture, was celebrated with a weeklong “Saturnalia” from December 17 to 24. It was a time of unrelieved merriment and joy. Businesses closed so that nothing would interfere with the celebration and gifts were given all round. It was a time of the brotherhood of humanity, for on that day servants and slaves were given their temporary freedom and were allowed to join in the celebration with their masters.

In the later Roman Empire, about 218 onward, the worship of Mithras, a Sun-god of Persia, became popular among Roman soldiers. The birth of Mithras, the Sun, was set on December 25 (not on December 21, the solstice day), so that the Roman Saturnalia could build up to the Mithraist “Day of the Sun” as a climax.

About 300 A.D., Christianity managed the coup of absorbing the Saturnalia. The birth of Jesus was then fixed on December 25, and the great festival was made Christian. There is absolutely no biblical authority for December 25 as the day of the Nativity; in fact, from the biblical tale one can be quite certain the Nativity came at some other time, for there would be no shepherds tending sheep on frozen fields.

All the appurtenances of the Saturnalia were adopted anyway — the joy and merriment, the closed businesses, the brotherhood, the gift-giving. All the paganism was now clad in Christian garb. All was given new meaning, but all was still there.

So that underneath the panoply of celebration of the birth of the Son is the distant echo of that far older rite, the celebration of the birth of the Sun.

 

Maguindanao Lodge No. 40 F.& A. M., Masonic District No. 28, Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines


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