Wednesday May 22, 2019

Christmas: Birthday of Son of God or Sun God?

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By Nithin Sridhar

Christmas’ is one of the most widely celebrated festivals among the Christians across the world. It is a time to enjoy and make merry with family. Children also look forward to getting presents from ‘Santa Claus’. More than anything, it is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, who is considered as the Son of God in Christianity.

Yet, a deeper look into the origins of Christmas celebrations as well as its various elements reveals that Christmas has almost nothing to do with Christianity! The celebration and various practices associated with it are all rooted in pre-Christian pagan religions, which were then appropriated, digested, and Christianized as part of the Christianity’s early attempts to establish monopoly over Europe.

Writing about Pagan origins of Christmas practices, George W. Curtis notes: “Christmas looks out at us from the shadow of the groves of the Druids who knew not Christ, and it is dear to those who now renounce the name of Christ. The Christmas log, is but the Saxon Yule-log burning on the English hearth, and the blazing holiday temples of Saturn shine again in the illuminated Christian churches. It is the pagan mistletoe under which the Christian youth kisses the Christian maid. It is the holly of the old Roman Saturnalia which decorates Bracebridge Hall on Christmas Eve. The huge smoking baron of beef, the flowing oceans of ale, are but survivals of the tremendous eating and drinking of the Scandinavian Walhalla. The Christian and anti-Christian feeling blend in the happy season and the Christian observance mingles at every point with the pagan rites. It is not easy to say where the paganism ends and the Christianity begins.”

Thus, various elements of Christmas celebrations, be it the use of Christmas tree, holly, ivy, and mistletoe, or the ceremony of gift giving and merriment, all trace back to Pagan religious practices. But, more interesting is the fact that December 25th was not adopted as the birthday of Jesus Christ till many centuries after his death. In fact, there is no consensus among traditional Christian accounts regarding the date, year, or the place of the birth of Jesus Christ. Hence, we can find at least half a dozen different dates, which have been put forward as the birthday of Jesus Christ, including May 20, April 19, November17, March 28, March 25, and January 6.

On the other hand, strong arguments based on Christian Gospels have been made against the possibility of December 25 being the day of Jesus’s birth. Hence, it is quite clear that December 25 is not the birthday of Jesus Christ- the Christian Son of God. In fact, before the adoption of December 25 as his date of birth, January 6 was widely accepted date among early Christians. So, naturally the question arises: Why did the early Christians change their preference and adopt December 25 for celebrating the birth of Jesus? What was the significance of the day?

The answer to this lies in the Pagan lore of ‘Mithraism’– the religion of the Sun God. The worship of the Sun God, Mithra quite clearly can be traced to Persia and India. In India, the solar deity is one of the Vedic Gods and one of his names is ‘Mitra’. The religion of Mithras appears to have spread from Persia to Europe, where the people began to worship the Sun God as ‘Sol Invictus’ (Unconquered Sun) or as ‘Sol Invictus Mithras’. It is the birth of this ‘Unconquered Sun’ which his devotees began to celebrate on December 25- the day of Winter Solstice. The celebration is further traced back to the Roman Emperor Aurelian, who officially instituted the festival Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (the birthday of Unconquered Sun) to be celebrated on December 25 in 274 CE. This winter solstice occasion was further adopted by the Romans as the festival of Saturn called ‘Saturnalia’.

Raymond Kilduff in ‘The Christian Tradition: The Birthday of the Sun’ writes: “The present custom of celebrating the Nativity on December 25th was not instituted by the Church until 353 or 354. December 25th coincided with both the birth date of Mithra (the Persian god of light and truth) and the beginning of the winter solstice. So the birthday of the Son of God came to be celebrated on the Birthday of the Sun.

It must be noted here that it was the conversion of Roman Emperor Constantine to Christianity in 313 AD and the subsequent Roman patronage of Christianity that actually led to the appropriation of Mithra’s birthday into the birthday of Jesus Christ.

Thus, O M Spencer in ‘Christmas Throughout Christendom’ writes: “When, however, Constantine proclaimed the Christian faith as the predominating religion of the Roman empire, the Christian Church, relieved from persecution throughout both Orient and Occident, began to solemnize, under the aegis of imperial authority, Christmas as the birthday of Christ. One prominent feature, however, of Constantine’s political propaganda of Christianity was the adoption under Christian forms, not only of pagan rites and ceremonies, but also of pagan festivals. In order to reconcile heathen converts to the new faith, these relics of paganism, like antique columns transferred from ancient temples to adorn Christian churches, were freely incorporated into the Christian ceremonial. Thus it was that Christmas, though formerly observed on the 6th of January, was transferred to the 25th of December, the time of the Roman Saturnalia, and became invested with much of the paraphernalia of the heathen festival.

In other words, Christianity digested various religious symbols and practices of Pagan religions present in Europe and in the process gave them new Christian meanings, thus ultimately causing the death of those Pagan religions. And ‘Christmas’ serves as the best example of this Christian process of ‘inculturation’ by which it uprooted numerous Pagan cultures and successfully evangelized Pagan people across the world. This inculturation strategy continues to be adopted by the Church even today especially in countries like India.

The usage of inculturation by Christianity against Mithraism is further reinforced by the presence of many similarities between Christianity and Mithraism. The birth of Mithra from a virgin mother, Mithra’s association with shepherds, Mithra having 12 disciples and performing miracles, his association with Lion and Lamb and his connection to Sunday, all became included into the life story of Jesus Christ. More importantly, Jesus is associated with Light similar to Mithra, who is the Lord of Light. These similarities clearly point towards the digestion of Mithratic symbols and practices into Christianity, which ultimately resulted in the spread of Christianity and the death of Mithraism. Thus, through inculturation, the original festival of the Sun God was transformed into Christmas-the festival of the Son of God.

(Photo: redeeminggod.com)

Next Story

Christmas and Controversies

The Christmas tree came from Germany, Christmas card from England, Santa from the USA, and secular celebrations started all over the world.

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Christmas
Christmas was invented to convert people by appropriating pagan’s original practices with Christmas.

-By Bharti Raizada

Bharti Raizada
Bharti Raizada

To my knowledge, no other festival is as universal and controversial as Christmas.

As per M-W dictionary, the definition of Christmas is as follows:

“A Christian feast on December 25 or among some eastern orthodox Christians on January 7 that commemorates the birth of Christ and is usually observed as a legal holiday.”

Christ- Mas: is the church service that celebrates the birth of Jesus.

X- Mas: X is the Greek letter Chi that is a short form of the word Christ. In Greek, Christ’s name is Xristos. Therefore, X- mas is the same as Christ-mas. For some, X removes the religious aspect of Christmas by replacing Christ with X and this celebration then becomes more secular to them. You can fill X with anything you like.

People observe or celebrate Christmas in many different ways: religiously, in a secular way, or as a holiday. Some people do not pay any attention and become part of the Christmas in a mixed way.

Christmas
Christmas is celebrated every year to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ

Those who do not celebrate are either indifferent or wage a war against it.

Pagans are unhappy for Christianization of Saturnalia. Christians are complaining about paganization or secularization of Christmas. Some Christians believe that it is not their festival at all.

Actually, if we dig deep into it, we come to know that Christ’s birthday and life have been surrounded with assumptions. There is controversy whether he was Jewish or Christian; and whether Jews or Romans crucified him.

Contrasts between Hinduism and Christmas

Now, before we go further into the roots of this topic, let us take a glance at Christmas from the Hindu point of view. Here is how I would summarize a few contrasting points.

  1. Trees are sacred to Hindus. We worship them and believe that Devi, Devtas, or Bhagwan (God) live in them. We do not believe in cutting trees at mass level and bring cut trees inside our home for decoration purposes. We do not believe in the sacrifice of living beings/trees.
  2. We have all four kinds of weather and many varieties of trees but the Christmas tree is typically not found in India.
  3. Chimney is not a common architectural entity in Indian households. Hindu children typically touch the feet of elders, in morning, and get gift of blessings every day. The focus of secular Christmas celebration is expectation of a gift by Santa. Materialism and expectation of gift is not a central part of any Hindu celebration. Hindus give gifts on many occasions but expecting a gift from someone is not a primary theme of any celebration.

    Christmas
    The tree has pagan origins but now it represents Christian beliefs.
  4. Hindus go by facts. Hindu scriptures have a birth date for Ram and Krishn. Christmas celebration is based on an assumption- the assumption that December 25 is the birthday of Jesus.
  5. In Hinduism, one is not a sinner by birth and therefore does not depend on Jesus to save him or her. We all are part of the supreme divinity.
  6. Jesus died in place of all other humans so that they can live, i.e., he rescued humanity. We believe inkarma and therefore do not need Jesus for salvation. Someone else cannot own our sins and give us Moksha. Moksha is attained individually.
  7. Vegetarianism is a common theme in Hinduism. Christmas feasts in church typically include meat and alcoholic beverages.
  8. Hindus have so many festivals. It is not an exaggeration to say that every day is an occasion or festival for Hindus. We do not need more from other religions.

Christmas was invented to convert people by appropriating pagan’s original practices with Christmas. We know, the birth of Christ is not that important to Christians as his Resurrection. Protestants/Puritans do not even consider Christmas as their festival. Initially, the agenda of this celebration was conversion by assimilation.

 When we adopt festivals and traditions, which are not our own, it dilutes our own traditions and festivals and slowly our celebrations are replaced and become obsolete. Additionally, it does not take long (takes only a few generations) to lose our own practices.

Why do some Hindus celebrate Christmas?

  1. While Hindus do not believe in Jesus and Christianity, they get attracted to the holiday by the decorated trees, lights, and Santa. They take pictures, share them on social media, and may inadvertently give the false impression that they believe in Jesus.
  2. Some celebrate it just to show that they are secular and tolerant of other religions.
  3. Some who live in Christian dominated societies celebrate it for the inadvertent fear of exclusion, or to become a part of the process.
  4. Some do not think about it much and take it in a neutral/secular/holiday way. They believe in going by the flow.

    Christmas
    Puritans worked hard to stop Christmas celebrations.

Questions/ Observations:

  1. In USA, the Church and State are separate. Still, Christmas trees shows up in all public places, schools, and government buildings. Is there any explanation for this? If almost all government offices celebrate Christmas, then how are the State and Church/religion separate?

How is it democratic and gives equal rights when non-Christian children also have to do Christmas activities in schools?

How can one avoid this festival in Christian dominated areas? There are decorations, trees, Santa everywhere, in public places, official buildings, schools, malls, zoos, movie theaters, hospitals, parks.

You can choose not to celebrate it in your own home but you cannot close your eyes when you go out.

  1. Christians do whatever the Bible says and the Bible does not give ‘instructions’ to celebrate the birth of Jesus. They have written commandments, everything else is against Christianity. Bible has no Christmas tree and no date for the birth of Jesus. So, is this celebration a violation of the Bible?
  2. Many people greet others using phrases like ‘Happy Holidays’, ‘Season’s Greetings’, Merry Christmas, Jesus is the reason, Happy HOLYdays? Does Christmas become secular by saying Happy Holidays or Seasons Greetings?
  3. Are people forgetting the Christ’ birth part or real reason for Christmas and is it all traveling, feasting, gift exchange or gift giving, tree, decorations, Santa etc.?
  4. How is it justified to cut trees for decoration?
  5. If (religious) minorities cannot mingle with the majority and celebrate their festivals, should majority stop celebrating their festivals?
  6. By teaching your children not to celebrate Christmas, are you inadvertently making them more intolerant towards other people’s beliefs? If your own religion has a solid foundation, why are you scared of learning or teaching other religions or beliefs? Are you scared that you will start facing questions, which you cannot answer?
  7. How does Santa get so much money to donate? What does he do to earn? How does he choose good or bad children? What are the criteria? Is he better than parents are, as he gives gifts? Is it okay to cheat children and give them false information that gifts are from Santa? For how long this lie is going to survive and what happens when they come to know the truth? What is the long-term effect on children who do not behave well and still get a gift from Santa/parents? Do they start believing that they can get away with anything with no consequences? Is it discrimination by Santa to give gifts to good children only?

To answer some of these questions we need to know the history and take part in healthy discussions. A clear understanding of the festival and facts can make a solid foundation of the decision to celebrate or not.

Christmas
Saturnalia is a pagan celebration to honor the god Saturn, as the name Saturnalia itself indicates.

What were the ways of Celebrations before Christmas?

Before Chistmas was ‘invented’, people all over the world used to celebrate the coming of long days in different ways. For example, people in Norse celebrated the festival Yuletide. People carried the biggest Yule log to their home and set it on fire. It gave warmth in cold days and sparks of fire represented new lives to arrive in spring. Because of daily sacrifices, food was abundant. Festivities went on for days, until the log kept burning, usually 10 to 12 days. Evil spirits stayed outside in dark and cold weather. Sacred Evergreen trees kept inside were worshiped. Evergreen represented the natural symbol of life when everything else was dead or inactive in dark and cold winters.

Mistletoe is a ceremony in which the Mistle tree is cut to make an elixir, which is supposed to increase life and fertility, and works as an aphrodisiac. Mistle is a magical, sacred plant. It grows on oak trees, symbolizes peace, and wards off evil spirits.

Saturnalia is a pagan celebration to honor the god Saturn, as the name Saturnalia itself indicates. It is a weeklong festival in December when days are very cold, dark, and gloomy. People stay inside and celebrate. They sacrifice many cattle so that they do not have to feed them in winter when it is hard to go out for food. Because of the slaughtering of cattle, there is a lot of meat, so feasting is a major part of the celebration. Holly bushes hung on doors ward off evil spirits. Role reversal occurs. Masters behave like servers; one chosen person from lower status becomes ruler for the duration of the festival. He enjoys all the freedom and good meals and at the end of the celebration, his sacrifice happens. Juvenilia is the same festival for children.

 Saturnalia culminates in Winter Solstice on December 25. It is the birthday of unconquered Sun God Mithra. People honor his strength and power. It represents the end of long, dark nights and beginning of bright days.

Christmas
Christmas trees shows up in all public places, schools, and government buildings.

Origin of Christmas:

Initially, Christians celebrated only the Resurrection of Jesus, not his birth. To them, Easter was more important. They believe that Jesus died in place of all other humans so that they can live i.e. he rescued humanity. For them, his work during his life and his death for saving others are more important than his birth.

During financially hard times, in ancient Rome, the Roman king ordered everyone to come to the city and pay taxes. Mary and Joseph (from Lineage of King David) also went there and Mary gave a virgin birth to Jesus. Many believe that it was spring season as days were not cold; shepherds were outside in the field with their livestock, and people from faraway places were traveling to the city. One speculation is that Jesus was born in September; therefore, Mary must have conceived him in December, probably on December 25. As life starts with conception, not at delivery, the Church decided his birthdate as December 25.

The Bible does not mention Jesus’s birthday. It was the Church which decided that his birthday is December 25, same as Mith