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  • In 2015, December 22 will mark the exact mid-point of winter in the Northern Hemispherethe shortest day and longest night of the year.

  • This is the Winter Solstice, and for many, conjures images of pine trees, decorated wreaths, and burning Yule logs.

  • But while that may sound like Christmas, as a matter of fact, nearly all Christmas traditions are borrowed from other celebrations.

  • Different cultures have been celebrating the solstice for over 5,000 years.

  • So why do Holidays fall around the Winter Solstice?

  • Well, the term solstice literally means "sun stands still."

  • As far back as 3,000 BC, Neolithic people erected sculptures and architecture to frame this type of solar alignment.

  • Scholars believe that these solstice sculptures had a religious significance, and that sites in Europe like Newgrange and Stonehenge were meant for worship.

  • We also know that the Romans famously celebrated an occasion they called Saturnalia, which marked the mid-point of winter with a debaucherous seven day festival.

  • In Iran, the festival of Yalda also takes place on the solstice, and dates back to the pre-Islamic religion of Zoroastrianism, which itself dates back to around 600 BC.

  • Like Christmas, Yalda celebrates the birth of Mithra.

  • In fact, the word Yalda means "birth."

  • Many winter solstice festivals are focused on the idea of birth or rebirth.

  • Some have suggested that these celebrations also served the purpose of keeping a large group of people awake on the darkest, and arguably, most dangerous night of the year.

  • Within the Buddhist tradition, the solstice is a day of celebrating the daughter of a pre-Christian Indian Emperor.

  • The festival, known as "Sanghamitta Day" is considered a major holiday for modern Buddhists.

  • And in Chinese and other East Asian cultures, the solstice is one of the most important celebrations, called the Donghzi Festival.

  • So where do our Christmas traditions come from?

  • Well, historical records show that the Germanic peoples of Northern Europe also celebrated the winter solstice in a form called Yule.

  • The Christmas tree, pine wreath, and Yule log all derive from the pagan Yule festival, all predating the Christian symbols of the winter solstice.

  • But as Christianity grew from a cult into a mass religion, pagan traditions were adapted to make the burgeoning movement seem more familiar to early Christian converts.

  • Despite Christmas' stranglehold on winter solstice holidays, it is actually one of many ongoing holidays.

  • Like other portions of the Christian religion, the basics are mostly borrowed from long standing traditions.

  • So this holiday season, instead of saying "Merry Christmas," why not wish everyone a "Super Saturnalia"?

  • Many pagan traditions revolve around nature, but the umbrella of pagan religions is more diverse than you'd think.

  • Learn more about their beliefs in our video right here.

  • Then modern times, the neo pagant movement has become associated with Wicca, or pagan witchcraft, which was invented by an English man in the mid 20th century.

  • It was based on the idea that witches are not followers of satan, as had been believed, but rather followers of a pre-Christian religion. followers were pre-christian religion.

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In 2015, December 22 will mark the exact mid-point of winter in the Northern Hemispherethe shortest day and longest night of the year.

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