Many ancient African ideologies, traditions and beliefs have been assimilated into European and Western culture. A most notable example of this inheritance is the globally celebrated 'festive season' culminating on Christmas Day.
Today, the entire festive season is a time when many people, both in Africa and across the world, enjoy the festivities without fully understanding the meaning and origin of the holiday they are celebrating.
Karaism, which is based on the ancient spiritual beliefs that originated in Africa, reveals that Christmas and the festive period surrounding it has its roots deeply entrenched in ancient African philosophy.
It teaches that the 25th of December, which is the original date of the summer solstice according to the Roman Julian calendar instituted in 46 BC, marked the birth of our primal African ancestors and of all sacred kings of pre-Christian times. It was believed to be the birthday of Osiris (or Usara) and his two sisters Isis and Nephtys. It was the birthday of Thoth Hermes or Horus, ‘The One’ or first God, later known as Ra Harakhte or Xpakhte (pronounced ‘Christos’ in Greek), and also known as Karast or Jah.
This belief is also reflected in the philosophy of Karaism which teaches that the first god to arise from the cosmos at the time of the summer solstice was the sacred King Faro, the Lion God, also known as Mwanamutapa or Momptah. His birth was marked by the early morning appearance of the three stars of the Orion or Urhana belt. Later these three stars came to symbolise the three wise men from the East who visited the Virgin Mother Mari (or Saba).
So why was the summer solstice regarded as a time of spiritual birth?
The summer solstice is the day when the sun reaches the Tropic of Capricorn, its furthest point in the southern hemisphere, marking the longest day in the southern hemisphere and the shortest day in the northern hemisphere. In ancient times people believed that this was when the sun would turn around and travel back to its furthest point in the northern hemisphere – this process of “coming back” to the northern world was therefore seen as a time of the sun’s rebirth and new beginnings. At the adoption of the Roman Julian Calendar in 46 B.C. the shortest day of the year was December the 24th, and the following day, December the 25th, was the first day of the year in which daylight increased, and was therefore believed to be the day of the sun's rebirth.
Today, thanks to modern calculations, we know that the solstice actually occurs on 21-22 December. But this does not change the fact that since time immemorial the birth of the spiritual sun was celebrated in Africa on 25 December. Eventually this date was adopted by the Roman Imperial Church as the birth date of Jesus the Christ from Nazareth. Thus December the 25th came to be known as Christmas day. In an African context, this name means the birth (mas) of the light (chr) and life (ist) of the sun god.
The sacred King Faro born on 25 December was perceived as the first fruit, thus in ancient Africa Christmas was celebrated as the first fruit festival – a tradition that is still observed in many African communities to this day. The new moon experienced in December announces that preparations for the first fruit festival must start. This festival, also known as Kwanzaa, Incwala, Inxwala or Tevhula, is the sacrificial ceremony of giving the first fruits in a harvest to the gods. Its central feature is the biting of the pumpkin (hu luma lerotse/hu luma tswitswa); the first people to bite the pumpkin are the nobility and children. Other traditions included, and still include, the slaughtering of a heifer in sacrificial gratitude to the gods for the abundance of food.
The origin of Christmas day being rooted in sun worship has been documented across the globe. For example, Hindus, whilst they do not celebrate Christmas, have an equivalent of the Inxwala festival in their midwinter known as Makar Sankranti, which serves as their major harvest festival. They bathe in rivers such as the Ganges and offer water to the sun god in celebration of the transition of the sun and the ascendancy of the sun god into the Northern Hemisphere. In ancient Britain and Scandinavia midwinter sun festivals were celebrated; these would include lighting candles and winter fires to encourage the rebirth of the sun.
It is important to know that the celebrations of the festive season are for the expression of gratitude for the abundance given to us in this life. In the Christian context, it is also important to know that while Christmas does not celebrate the exact day that Jesus Christ was born, it certainly celebrates the fact that He was born.