Or stars in general.
The ancients weren’t all that stupid, they knew what side their bread was buttered on. They knew that without the sun their crops wouldn’t grow and there would be no warmth and they would all die. They got scared the colder it got because they knew it was because the sun moved further down on the horizon, making the days shorter and colder. So they stored up all their food, perhaps in preparation for the worst, and then when or if the sun began to come back on december 25th, they used the additional food to have a feast and celebration, knowing the coming year would yield them new crops and more food. The sun, not the son, is the actual “reason for the season”.
The sun is also billions of times bigger than ourselves, more powerful than we can begin to appreciate (see my blog about the hadron collider), it is billions of years old and just barely showing signs of age. Timeless, eternal, un-ending. At least in the time we will likely exist.
Thermodynamically it is what makes life possible. We know you need energy to build up chemical complexity. Just like you need energy to build a building or a car or something, you need energy to build a baby or heal a wound. That energy for us comes from metabolizing food, which is stored energy from the sun we get directly or indirectly from plants. Everything we can do we can do because of the energy we get from the sun.
People revere the gods of various scriptures for giving life. The sun actually does give life, in perpetuity.
Another important quality the sun has which traditional deities lack is substance, visibility. To quote george carlin from his standup routine “Why I Worship The Sun: “And another thing, I can actually see the sun, okay? If I can see something… I dunno, kinda helps the credibility along.”
I don’t worship the sun, but I do respect it : )
“The christian religion is a parody on the worship of the Sun, in which they put a man whom they call Christ, in the place of the Sun, and pay him the same adoration which was originally paid to the Sun.” – Thomas Paine