Did you see the Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn? The two planets were also conjunct (close together in the sky from our Earthly perspective) three times in the year 7 B.C.E. — in May, September, and December. Whether the story that follows of magi and immaculate conception is fiction or divine revelation, we can probably all agree that the idea of Christmas miracles draws upon many ancient influences.
Christmas’s proximity to the solstice, when the sun seems to stand still in the sky just before daylight begins to increase, is likely a borrowing from pagan traditions. On Dec. 25, the pre-Christian Romans celebrated the birth of their god Sol Invictus. In Egypt, it was the day of rebirth of their own solar god, Horus. Hanukkah as well, which predates Christ by two centuries, is a commemoration of enduring light and renewed life.
And why not co-opt such solar power for the birth of the shiny baby Jesus, who would later be described as the light of the world? Whether or not you subscribe to a belief is not the point. Either way, we see that, collectively, certain beliefs have a way of enduring for generations and becoming a part of who we are. And so, we celebrate various appropriations from the pagan calendar, adopt versions of festive folk customs of the pre-Christian Germanic Yule, and re-enact the merriment and gift-giving of ancient Rome’s Saturnalia, incorporating all of it into this, our yearly Festivals of Lights.
Now, confronted with the natural severity of winter, among other realities we can barely continue to endure, we would be wise to honor the abiding, central theme of these traditions: to offer each other warmth and cheer, for, hurrah, a new day will be born. Whether you light a candle in token of the Sun, the Son, old Odin, golden Horus, or because the oil burned for eight days, may its light bring you hope.
In golden days of yore, I would spend the holiday with my extended family. We would gather and give and revel in our love for one another. This year is not as festive or familiar, however, and our troubles may not yet be out of sight. So, in the spirit of my family’s tradition of ordering Chinese food on Christmas Eve, I offer you these small fortunes, based, of course, on the miracle of your own birth under the sacred Sun. They may not be frankincense or gold, but we’ll muddle through somehow.
March 21 – April 19
Gifts that are hard to open are often full of wonder.
April 20 – May 20
Dreams left unchecked devolve into delusions.
May 21 – June 20
Intuition flows from an open mind through a thoughtful mouth.
June 21 – July 22
Don’t put off until tomorrow what can be done today.
July 23 – Aug. 22
When one door closes, open three more.
Aug. 23 – Sept. 22
Be mindful even when speaking from the heart.
Sept. 23 – Oct. 22
Nothing is as it seems, especially what you think you see.
Oct. 23 – Nov. 21
It’s tempting to start from scratch, but don’t scratch that itch.
Nov. 22 – Dec. 21
Seeing the bigger picture involves losing yourself in the details.
Dec. 22 – Jan. 19
Overthinking can be demoralizing. Opt for morale.
Jan. 20 – Feb. 18
If you’re speaking words of wisdom, let them be.
Feb. 19 – March 20
Your reflection is all misdirection. Close your eyes to see.