I can’t remember how old I was when I learned that the birth of Christ did not occur in December but actually around the time of the Passover in the Spring; perhaps it was on my LDS mission, when I first started really studying the scriptures and the various available commentaries. I have to admit that it slightly dampened my Christmas celebrations for a few years and heightened my love of the Easter season, especially when I discovered that many of the “Christmas” traditions and symbols I loved were actually pagan to begin with and were conveniently adopted by the church to more easily transition new converts into historic Christianity. Some historians and other experts speculate that early Christianity chose to appropriate the Winter Solstice for its Christmas celebration, as the solstices and equinoxes were key parts of many pre-Christian religions.
Despite all of this (and not to mention the commercialization of Christmas), to me the holiday has always been about the birth of the Christ child as much as it was about pine trees and holly, Santa Claus and gift giving, or feasting and caroling. In my heart I thought, “keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.” Maybe ten years ago, a friend of mine gave a talk in church about the symbolism of Christmas. It was a bit of a re-appropriation talk; I enjoyed it and it made me think about the chicken and egg of these symbols – who appropriated what, from whom, and when? He talked about the symbolism of caroling pointing to the heavenly choirs singing hosanna to shepherds in the fields outside of Bethlehem, rather than the pagan wassailing to drive away evil spirits. The evergreen tree as a tree of life adorned with “fruits” of light rather than the fertility decorations Romans used for Saturnalia. And of course the greatest gift of all – the condescension and later sacrifice of a god, rather than the jolly
I learned that the Equinoxes represent the atonement and resurrection of Christ. In the Fall, as the light is in balance but is descending to its darkest day, the equinox is symbolic of how Christ descended below all things in the Garden of Gethsemane – even the red leaves falling to the ground bring to mind Christ’s bleeding from every pore. There is a reason that the Jewish Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) takes place in the fall near the Equinox. In the Spring, again the daylight and night are in balance but the light is rising toward a perfect day, symbolizing Christ’s victory over darkness where He overturned an unjust death, having never sinned, and rose again to life as the Spring does from Winter’s dead and frozen grip. Christ’s resurrection occurred right after the Passover had been celebrated, in the Spring of the year.