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What Is Paganism?
In the northern hemisphere, December 22 marks the longest night of the year and the start of the winter season. Christmas comes just a few days later but is by no means the only major religious holiday this time of year. Historians have found records of wintertime religious ceremonies that go as far back as 3000 BCE to the Neolithic era. The Romans had their own wintertime celebration called the Saturnalia, a 7-day celebration at the midpoint of the winter season. In Iran, before the rise of Islam, there was a religion called Zoroastrianism that included a holiday known as Yalda. Yalda marked the anniversary of the birth of Mithra, the goddess of light. By the time Christianity began spreading through Europe, there was a long-standing pagan holiday known as the Yule festival. The holiday was marked with evergreen trees and ornamental wreaths. At this time, as Christianity grew, elements of pagan observance were incorporated into Christianity as a means of welcoming new followers.
Solstice a Cause for Celebration Since Ancient Times (news.nationalgeographic.com)
"The winter solstice is again upon the Northern Hemisphere, and though the year's shortest day heralds the onset of winter it also promises the gradual return of the sun after a prolonged period of darkness."
Did the Romans invent Christmas? (bbc.co.uk)
"'Io Saturnalia!' Two thousand years ago this was the seasonal greeting which would have chimed out across most of Europe, not 'Merry Christmas'."
Celebrating Yalda Night (iranreview.org)
"Iranians around the world celebrate Yalda, which is one of the most ancient Persian festivals."
Winter Solstice (bbc.co.uk)
"The Pagan celebration of Winter Solstice (also known as Yule) is one of the oldest winter celebrations in the world."