An excerpt from Rudolf Steiner's Lecture in the Rudolf Steiner Archives
The Christmas Festival: A Token of the Victory of the Sun
Berlin, 24th December, 1905
"Christmas is not a Festival of Christendom only. In ancient Egypt, in the regions we ourselves inhabit, and in Asia thousands and thousands of years before the Christian era we find that a Festival was celebrated on the days now dedicated to the celebration of the birth of Christ.
Now what was the character of this Festival which since time immemorial has been celebrated all over the world on the same days of the year? Wonderful Fire Festivals in the northern and central regions of Europe in ancient times were celebrated among the Celts in Scandinavia, Scotland and England by their priests, the Druids. What were they celebrating? They were celebrating the time when winter draws to its close and spring begins. It is quite true that Christmas falls while it is still winter, but Nature is already heralding a victory which can be a token of hope in anticipation of the victory that will come in spring — a token of confidence, of hope, of faith — to use words which are connected in nearly every language with the Festival of Christmas. There is confidence that the Sun, again in the ascendant, will be victorious over the opposing powers of Nature. The days draw in and draw in, and this shortening of the days seems to us to be an expression of the dying, or rather of the falling asleep of the Nature-forces. The days grow shorter and shorter up to the time when we celebrate the Christmas Festival and when our forefathers also celebrated it, in another form. Then the days begin to draw out again and the light of the Sun celebrates its victory over the darkness. In our age of materialistic thinking this is an event to which we no longer give much consideration.
In olden times it seemed to men in whom living feeling was united with wisdom, to be an expression of an experience of the Godhead Himself, the Godhead by Whom their lives were guided. The solstice was a personal experience of a higher being — as personal an experience as when some momentous event forces a man to come to a vital decision. And it was even more than this. The waxing and waning of the days was not only an expression of an event in the life of a higher Being, but a token of something greater still, of something momentous and unique.
This brings us to the true meaning of Christmas as a Festival of the very highest order in cosmic and human life. In the days when genuine occult teaching was not disowned as it is today by materialistic thought but was the very wellspring of the life of the peoples, the Christmas Festival was a kind of memorial, a token of remembrance of a great happening on the Earth. At the hour of midnight the priests gathered around them their truest disciples, those who were the teachers of the people, and spoke to them of a great Mystery. (I am not telling you anything that has been cleverly thought out or discovered by a process of abstract deduction but was actually experienced in the Mysteries, in the secret Sanctuaries of those remote times). This Mystery was connected with the victory of the Sun over the darkness. There was a time on the Earth when the light triumphed over the darkness. And it happened thus: in that epoch, all physical, all bodily life on Earth had reached the stage of animality only. The highest kingdom upon the Earth had only reached a stage at which it was preparing to receive something higher. And then there came that great moment in evolution when the immortal, imperishable soul of man descended. Life had so far developed that the human body was able to receive into itself the imperishable soul. These ancestors of the human race stood higher in the scale of evolution than modern scientists believe, but the higher part of their being, the divine ‘spark’ was not yet within them. The divine spark descended from a higher planetary sphere to our Earth which was now to become the scene of its activity, the dwelling-place of the soul which henceforward can never be lost to us......"