Many people are surprised to learn that the celebrations of Easter and Christmas go back further than any organized religion.
Imagine that you lived over ten thousand years ago. Before the invention of agriculture, before the invention of any writing system. Everything you knew you had to physically hear from somebody else. You lived in a group of hunter-gatherers, about two hundred people in all. You didn't know yet how to plant food, so you had to forage, hunt, scavenge, anything you could do on a daily basis to find food. Every time you felt the pangs of hunger, which was often, you were reminded of the absolute precariousness of your existence.
Anytime you were out on a hunt and somebody was injured with a twisted ankle, or a broken leg, they were likely left behind. Life was brutal. Because you mostly ate meat, you had to follow herds of animals on their yearly migration. Spring and summer was ok, because there was a relative abundance of food and warmth, but with winter, came cold, harsh death.
The plants disappeared, the days became shorter and colder, and the animals were much harder to track and to hunt.Because nothing was known about celestial mechanics or astronomy, the sun, the moon, the stars were looked out with a reverential wonder. Stories about their origins were likely passed down from generation to generation.
The small group you lived in likely celebrated two very important days on your primitive, memory-based calendar. One was when the days stopped becoming shorter, and started to become longer. This was a sign that the warmth was coming, and all the life that came with it. This was celebrated as the birth of the light in the darkness. The light of the world was coming. The sun in the heavens was born. The date, of course, is the Winter Solstice, or December 23.
The second important date was when the actual length of day overcame the length of the night. Light finally triumphed over darkness. The warmth overcame the cold. Life overcame death. This happened, of course, during on the Spring Equinox, or March 23. The celebration centered on the abundance of flowers and plant life, which symbolized the light.
How are these two holidays celebrated today? Is it just a coincidence the celebration of the Birth of the Son, December 25, occurs almost on the same day as the ancient birth of the sun? Is it a coincidence that the most powerfully symbolic holiday in western civilization, Easter Sunday, a celebration of the Resurrection of Christ, the defeat of Death by Life, takes place on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox?
Do the two most celebrated holidays in western civilization have their roots in ancient, hunter-gatherer societies?
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