Every Christmas we are doomed to hear from this year’s crop of internet-educated people that Christmas is “really” just the Winter Solstice. From this we are supposed to conclude that Christmas really only mattered to the early Church because of the Solstice, or something like that.
Now if that is so, then the Summer Solstice, as well as the Spring and Fall Equinoxes should likewise be the loci of huge feasts like Christmas. So it’s only fair to take the occasion, this week, of noting that here we are at the Autumnal Equinox and you know what? There’s not a huge feast or much of anything special happening. Sure it’s the feast of Matthew today, but that’s not really that big a deal. (Also, the equinox this year falls on September 23). (Quick! Without asking Google, when are the feasts of the other three evangelists! You don’t know. Because they aren’t a very big deal.)
The reason that matters is because the myth that Christianity is a warmed-over pagan religion reliant on things like solstices and equinoxes for its real underpinnings is just not so. Easter, the most important feast of all, looks to Passover, not the vernal equinox for its dating. Christmas is tied to a Jewish, not pagan, tradition that a true prophet died on the date of his conception (March 25 being the date the western Church tied to Good Friday and April 6 being the date in the Eastern Church.) By no coincidence at all December 25 and January 6 are therefore Christmas in West and East, respectively. And John the Baptist’s birthday, six months older than Jesus, is accordingly celebrated on June 25. But because the equinox was not per se important, nothing especially big is made of the autumnal equinox.
You can, of course, note that Jewish feasts were (sometimes, not always) tied to the cycles of nature. Passover happens around (very roughly) the Spring Equinox (if by “around” you mean “within a month of”). So Easter, following the Jewish calendar, is likewise tied to the natural cycle. But that’s pretty dang far from paganism. Likewise, Pentecost is tied to the first harvest (of crops in the Jewish tradition and of souls in the Christian tradition). But calling that “pagan” is to stretch credulity to the breaking point. The great driver and key to understanding Christian imagery is not pagan, but Jewish.
People who think that merely because something Christian is associated with a pagan day equals “worship of pagan deities” or “practice of pagan religion” need to pause and ask themselves if saying “Today is Wednesday” makes them worshippers of Woden. When they realize the speciousness of that, they should then go back and reflect on the fact that when the Christian tradition encounters pagan forms and images (as it does throughout its history) the process of incorporating them into its Tradition is never to empty a Christian form and fill it with pagan content and is always to empty the form of pagan content and either leave it empty (which is why “Wednesday” no longer has any religious significance at all), or to fill it with Christian content, (which is why Christmas trees now refer to the birth of Jesus, rings now signify the sacrament of marriage, the Pantheon in Rome is now the Basilica of St. Mary and the Martyrs, and Easter now refers to the Resurrection and not Eostre).