Letter: Spirit of Christmas

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Sir: According to Martin Day (Letters, 13 December), 'it should never be forgotten that Christmas remains, at its heart, a Christian festival'. On the contrary, it should never be forgotten that Christmas remains, at its heart, a pagan festival. It is a rather late example of the celebration of midwinter, previously represented by the Jewish Chanukah, the Saturnalia and Brumalia of the Romans and the Yule of the Germans, and previously chosen as the birthday of several saviour gods (Horus, Bacchus/Dionysus, Mithras).

The Christians didn't celebrate the birth of Jesus, and didn't even agree about when it had occurred, for several centuries. The Mithraic day of the Birth of the Unconquered Sun on 25 December was transformed into Christmas by the Western church only in the fourth century. The baby, the virgin mother, the stable, the crib, the animals, the star, the visitors, the presents, the lights, the fire, the tree, the plants, the food - all come from pre-Christian customs.

Yours faithfully,

NICOLAS WALTER

Rationalist Press Association

London, N1

13 December

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