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Two things occur in the next few days — the astronomical winter solstice in the northern hemisphere on December 21 at 11:19 p.m. EST and Christmas. While we experience the least amount of daylight on the 22nd, Christmas is bright and joyful. We fill our homes with lights and exchange gifts to celebrate the Light of the World’s incarnation. Yet over time, the day’s celebration has morphed into a season (that begins far too early for my taste) full of parties, gift giving, caroling, baking and “Season’s Greetings.”

Some find secular greetings offensive because they ignore the “reason for the season,” the birth of Christ. Yet historically the pagan festivals Saturnalia and Sol Invictus (“Invincible Sun”) occurred on and around December 25 and it was in Constantine’s reign that Christmas was first observed on December 25 (according to ). Many Bible scholars believe Christ’s actual birth was in the spring when shepherds and sheep lived mostly outside.

Although there was quite a bit of debauchery as well as gift giving at those pagan festivals, some of our Christmas customs may well have begun then. Like the ancients, we exchange gifts, we bring greenery into our home, and fill our rooms with decorative lighting. The early Church may have used the wildly popular celebrations to provide a spiritual component to combat the hedonistic elements of Saturnalia and Sol Invictus.

No matter its history, December 25 is important now because despite what was celebrated before, a spirit of love and generosity captures our hearts at Christmas. It celebrates the reign of the Prince of Peace both then and to come.

May His spirit grow throughout your year as light begins a slow return to earth on December 23.

So Merry Christmas to all, and please enjoy my favorite videos of the Piano Guys at Christmas at and .