An astronomical event happened Monday night in Utah.
The winter solstice, the point in the earth’s orbit around the sun that the North Pole is the farthest away from the sun, and the sun appears to stand still, happened on Dec. 22 at 4:49 in universal time — what used to be known as Greenwich Mean Time.
That time translates to Dec. 21 at 9:49 p.m. in Salt Lake City.
The winter solstice also marks the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. In Salt Lake City, there were 9 hours, 14 minutes and 57 seconds of daylight on Dec. 21.
The days will continue to get longer now until June 20, the summer solstice, when there will be 15 hours of daylight.
I don’t know of any winter solstice celebrations held in Tooele County, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t any. Maybe I just wasn’t invited.
Hundred of Druids gathered at Stonehenge under the leadership of senior Druid King Arthur Uther Pendragon to watch the sunrise through the carefully placed rock structures.
The occurrence of the winter solstice near Christmas is no accident.
Tradition tells us that the early Christian church placed the celebration of Christ’s birth near the winter solstice to supplant the traditional hedonistic pagan festival that occurred at the time.
I don’t think the early Christians really thought that Christ was born on Dec. 25, but the astronomical time when darkness turns to light held a symbolic meaning for them.
There’s usually somebody around at Christmastime to remind me of the pagan origin of most Christmas traditions. Gift giving, Christmas trees, wreaths, mistletoe, and of course Santa Claus, are all pagan traditions they tell me.
The Christmas-Pagan theorist posts on the Internet reveal a belief by some that “Santa” is just an anagram for “Satan.”
I saw one thread that tried to sell the logical argument that “Claus” is just a shortened version of the name “Lucas,” which is a corrupted version of “Lucifer.”
I wonder how these people take “The Gospel According to Saint Luke,” which contains the most oft repeated version of the first Christmas.
I grew up with goodly parents in a Christian family that also believed in Santa Claus. I had no trouble distinguishing between Christmas as the day of celebration of the birth of Jesus, and the jolly gift-bringing elf.
Nobody had to teach me the meaning of the symbolism of Christmas. The fact that I put a tree in my living room at Christmas time and decorate it does not mean I am worshipping pagan gods or forest nymphs.
The Christmas tree, an evergreen that remains green in the dead of winter, reminds me of the living Christ.
Adorned with lights with a star on top, the tree’s branches are reminiscent of the stars above Bethlehem that testified of the birth of Christ on that first holy night.
The gifts under the tree are symbolic of the gifts born by the Magi that followed the wandering star from a great distance to find the Christ child.
As I look back on my childhood and Santa Claus, I can feel the anticipation, hope and fulfillment on Christmas Eve that “Saint Nicholas would soon be there.”
I have vivid memories of when I was close to five years old of walking up the stairs in my old house on Christmas Eve.
As the steps passed a small window near the peak of the roof, I could look out and see the Christmas lights on a neighbor’s Monkey Puzzle tree.
I remember stopping and thinking about Santa Claus and wondering what I would find under the tree in the morning.
I also thought about what sugarplums were and what they might look like dancing in my head.
In the morning I would wake up and rush down the stairs. In the still darkness of early winter morning, the tree lights would be shining.
Gifts, more than I deserved, were spread put under the tree. I would run into my parents’ bedroom and jump up and down on their bed.
“Santa came, Santa came,” I would shout.
It was as if from year to year I lost faith and was worried that maybe Santa wouldn’t come.
I wonder if my excitement as a child on Christmas morning came close to matching the feeling in the hearts of the shepherds to whom the angels declared the birth of their long awaited Savior.
I will keep my new traditions of Christmas because they teach and testify of Christ. Other Christian people may eschew them because of their pagan origins.
Those that are less religious may find a reason to celebrate Christmas that doesn’t involve God or Christ.
That’s OK with me.
You may celebrate Christmas as you wish.
But as for me, there is no Christmas without Christ.