Solstice celebrated long before Christmas


Long before the star over Bethlehem and the eight days of Chanukah and certainly Festivus, there were solstice celebrations. So why aren't we freethinkers complaining about the War on Solstice and the theft of our winter holiday by religious folks like Bill O'Reilly?

Maybe it's because we are more forgiving and willing to share than they seem to be so much of the time.

Some scholars say solstice celebrations tied to the cycle of seasons go as far back as the Neolithic Era (c. 10,000 BCE). Yule or Yuletide was a Germanic pagan festival that Christians eventually expropriated. Once the Catholics and the Protestants saw how much fun the pagans were having, it was time to say "so long, solstice" and start suppressing it.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, with about 16,000 members nationwide, doesn't go for the nativity scene, especially in and around government buildings. As a counterweight, FFRF annually levels the playing field for nonbelievers with its solstice displays (“There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world.") next to the babe in the manger.

“Most people think December is for Christians and view our solstice signs as an intrusion, when actually it’s the other way around,” said Dan Barker, FFRF co-president, a former evangelical preacher. “People have been celebrating the winter solstice long before Christmas. We see Christianity as the intruder, trying to steal the natural holiday from all of us humans.”

Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said freethinkers and their families celebrate the season pretty much like everybody else. "Evergreen trees, eggnog, eating too much and exchanging gifts with your loved ones are all secular traditions. We just cut to the chase and skip the religious dogma part."

Gaylor noted that the Santa Claus myth has parallels with the ancient god Odin, and that pre-Christian Northern European traditions were incorporated into the Christian Christmas.

Last year, the Foundation raised consciousness (along with some eyebrows) with its "Yes, Virginia. . . There is no God" advertising campaign.

ClearChannel Outdoor took down six billboards saying that in Las Vegas, Nev., shortly after putting them up. Too many complaints, claimed ClearChannel.

" 'Tis the season for censorship," Gaylor said then. "Who would have guessed there would be such delicate sensibilities in the city known for 'What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.' "

The artist behind the atheist Santa concept is Arizona Republic cartoonist Steve Benson, the freethinking grandson of the late Ezra Taft Benson, who once headed the Mormon Church.

Benson's concept is also one of FFRF's 14 solstice card selections that are popular this time of year. “Wishing you a splendid and secular Winter Solstice & New Year,” it says inside the card.

New this year are Wisconsin artist Claire Wenstrom's vintage wrapping paper design cards and a set of red-and-green cards saying " 'Tis the Season for Reason." Other cards say "Heathen's Greetings" and "Reason's Greetings."

FFRF offers a variety of other holiday ideas online, including books, music, clothing, DVDs/video, tote bags, bumper stickers and more.

And yes, musical sentiment from Dan Barker:
O, ancient drums stop beating,
And superstitions fall!
It's time for Reason's Greetings,
For peace, goodwill to all.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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