Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas History Predates Christianity

So, I wrote a blog last year where I explored a little bit about the origins of the Christmas holiday, just out of curiosity (reprinted below).

However, I was not feeling fully satisfied with it, and so this year, with the pressure of having editors checking my work, as well as certain criteria that need to be met, I decided to do a more extensive article on the history of Christmas, including the pre-Christian origins of the holiday.

It was pretty fascinating, and I can honestly say that I learned quite a bit while doing the research. It is a more informative piece than my Christmas article from last year. If you are interested, I urge you to go ahead and click on the link below so that you can read the article, which also has a video attached. There is some fascinating material there.

Some of the things I did not know, and even though I tried to make the history of Christmas complete, there are some things that I had to leave out, because the article was already growing too long for that site. I needed to rein it in a bit, and so it did not include all of the information that I encountered.

That said, I will now try to add some of the information that was missing, which I did not include in the article, since this is my own blog page.

"The tendency to claim God as an ally for our partisan value and ends is the source of all religious fanaticism."
~Reinhold Niebuhr  

If you are reading this blog page, I have to imagine that you are an adult. And since we are all adults, I wanted to discuss something that has been on my mind lately - specifically because it is Christmas time.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love Christmas. It really can bring out the best in all of us, the best in humanity, because of the emphasis on giving. If human beings are not at their best then, then when are we at our best, anyway?

The Significance of December 25

The oldest is Horus (circa 3000BC). He was also born on December 25th, and born from a virgin, with a star in the east. There were three kings present for his birth. He was teaching people at 12 years old, and leading a ministry at 30, with exactly 12 disciples to spread his word. He walked on water and healed the sick, was crucified, and came back to life three days later.

There was Attis (circa 1200BC), who was also born of a virgin on December 25th. He was crucified, and raised from the dead after three days.

We also have the Persian God Mithra (circa 1200BC), who was honored by a popular cult known as the Mystery Cult, which honored the virgin birth of Mithras on December 25th. Placed on a manger as a baby and attended by shepperds. he had 12 disciples and performed miracles. His message was to personally sacrifice for the greater good of the world, and ascended to Heaven. He was known as the way, the truth, and the light. He also was crucified and resurrected after three days.

There was Krishna (circa 900 BC), who was also born of a virgin when there was a star in the eastern sky. Like Jesus, Krishna also performed miracles and was known as the "son of God." He also happened to be the son of a carpenter, and was resurrected after his death. 

Finally, we have the Greek god Dionysius, the god of wine (circa 500BC). he also was born of a human mother impregnated by Zeus on December 25th (he was later reborn by Zeus, who used a piece of his own leg), and performed miracles, including turning water into wine. Dionysius taught and traveled widely in his day. He was known as the "Holy Child" and was also resurrected after his death.

So, we can see that all of these mythical figures had their birthday on December 25th, which was picked (yes, picked, because there is no actual concrete proof) as the day to recognize and honor the birthday of Jesus. It was both a way to blend the long established traditions of worship on a sacred day for pagan faiths, while simultaneously replacing it, which is to say accelerating the process for many in forgetting it.

December 25th is also significant for another reason, as well. The ancient Romans honored this day as the Winter Solstice to honor the "Unconquered Sun". Indeed, it is right around the time when days begin to get longer, even though the winter season has essentially just begun. So, Pagans recognized this as a time to worship the sun, understandably, even with months of often harsh winter yet to come. One can see the positive and hopeful motives behind this. Generally, it is roughly three or so days after the winter solstice, and this was indeed recognized by many so-called pagans before Christianity, so the date was already significant. It would be easy enough, and very convenient, for Christianity to pick up on this significance for one of the most important dates in the Christian calendar.

There is no mention of the birth date in much of early Christian writing. Celebrating the birth of Jesus was hardly a unanimous, undisputed thing when it was first instituted, and Origen of Alexandria (circa 165-264) even mocked the practice of recognizing this particular date, and considered them remnants of "pagan" traditions.

Overall, celebrations during this time of the year in recognition of the winter solstice are actually quite widespread. Many of them I get into in the article for the Guardian Liberty Voice, and again, I do hope you will take a look at it. But in the interest of space and time (I had to make sure it was actually published by Christmas day itself), not everything was mentioned. One thing that I left out, for example, was a tradition recognizing the sun god for the winter solstice, although the Spanish banned this tradition when they tried to convert the Incas to Catholicism. Yet, in the 1950's, a small group of Quecia Indians from Cusco, Peru, resurrected the tradition, and it has grown into a major festival in the present day.

There are the St. Thomas' Day celebrations honoring St. Thomas the Apostle. That falls on December 21,the shortest day of the year. Mayan Indians in Mexico and Central America honored the sun god in what was known as polo voladore, or “flying pole dance”.

For the Kalasha or Kalash Kafir people of northwestern Pakistan, there is something called Chaomos, which lasts no less than seven days, and always includes the winter solstice. There are baths that represent cleansing, as well as a torchlight procession, singing, dancing, and feasts complete with bonfires.

There are plenty of others, as well. The yule was a Scandinavian god of fertility, and the tradition of Yuletide carols and greetings seems to have stemmed from that. Decorating with wreaths was a Wiccan tradition, adopted by practitioners of Christianity for Christmas. Druids began the tradition of putting up a mistletoe with hopes of getting a kiss as reward. The tradition of putting in a decorative tree into your home seems to have stemmed from the older tradition of putting a Saturnalia tree to honor Saturn. The fairy tale of some jolly stranger entering your home and giving gifts for the holidays existed in other traditions, with Thor, Odin, and St. Nicholas all establishing that before the more recent myth of Santa Claus. Sleipnir, Odin's eight-legged horse, who predated the eight reindeer that brought Santa across the globe to slide down chimneys and give those wonderful gifts to the children of families. Mithras celebrated the sun's rebirth on December 25th. Finally, let us remember that the name Christmas came from the original celebration, which honored Jesus and was known as Christ's Mass.

There may be other celebrations involving the winter solstice that I have not yet gotten around to. However, I suspect that this list this year is far better than the one I did last year, if you include the Guardian Liberty Voice article.

In any case, this was a topic that interested me quite a bit, and which I always wanted to learn more about. Below are some of the links that helped me to understand this history a little better, and greatly assisted me in writing this particular blog entry. Of course, you are free to do your own research, and come to your own conclusions. But these websites seemed a good starting point to getting the debate going:

 Horus was born of the reanimated and reassembled body of his father Osiris.   Mithra was just born. No mother.   Krishna had a mom and dad and has no real parallels with Jesus.   Dionysus was son of Zeus and Hera got pissed off because as usual he was out banging mortals.

Okay, before the links and video, I just thought that it would be fitting to share the following quote by comedian Chris Rock, which I think illustrates the paradoxes between what Jesus taught and represented, and what the holiday officially celebrating him and his birthday has come to represent and be in reality:

"Christmas is Jesus' birthday. Now, I don't know Jesus, but from what I've read, Jesus is the least materialistic person to ever roam the Earth. No bling on Jesus! Jesus kept a low profile, and we turned his birthday into one of the most materialistic day of the year.

"Matter of fact we have the Jesus Birthday Season... 'We had a horrible Jesus' birthday this year, hopefully business will pick up by his crucifixion.'"

Chris Rock pushes close to the edge with Jesus and 9/11 jokes on SNL by Christian Today staff writer, November 3, 2014:

Here is the article of mine that was published on Guardian Liberty Voice. Please take a look:

Christmas Celebrations Predate Christianity [Video]

"Dionysus: Born of a Virgin on December 25th, Killed and Resurrected after Three Days"  by D.M. Murdock/Acharya S

"WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF DECEMBER 25?"  By Dr. Lee Warren, B.A., D.D.   (c) 2002 PLIM REPORT, Vol. 11 #5:

"What pagan holiday falls on December 25?" In: Paganism  [Edit categories] for

"How December 25 Became Christmas" by  Andrew McGowan   •  12/07/2012:

Facebook post by Elizabeth Ruth

Christmas History Lessons by Jennifer Czepiel, December 9, 2014

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