Monday, December 03, 2012

Looking At the Real History of December 25th and Christmas

It is December and while the holiday season can offer time with family, friends and hopes for a better tomorrow, as is the norm, we also see the ugly efforts of the Christian Right to demonize retailers and others who fail to force all of their customers to engage in the Christmas story.  These "godly Christians" basically flip the middle finger to non-Christian Americans - and label as a foe those who "censor" Christmas.  Three years ago I did a post that looked at the phenomenon and as the onslaught of the far right once again ensues, it is forth while remembering the real history of how today's Christmas story - myth if you will - came to be.  It is very different from what one hears coming from America's pulpits.  As Bob Felton at Civil Commotion noted in 2009, not only are such "campaigns" to stop the "war on Christmas" insulting to non-Christian Americans, but they also ignore the historical fact that the present day date of Christmas was hijacked from pagan festivals, in particular celebrations to the middle eastern derived god, Mithras. Here are a few of Bob's comments:
* ‘Recognition’ includes exclusivity from retailers when greeting shoppers; those who say ’season’s greetings’ to the nation’s Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Bahai, agnostics, atheists, Wiccans … they are foes.

* The comical irony, of course, is the grotesque and garish dishonesty of it. Christianity stole the solstice from the Romans, who observed Saturnalia, who stole it from the Greeks, who stole it from the Egyptians, who stole it (probably) from Asia. The winter solstice has been the occasion for observances for at least 5000-years and, always, literally and metaphorically, the shortest day of the year has signified a sort of bottom and the promise of coming better times.
Not only was the date of December 25th commandeered from the pagan celebrations by Pope Julius I in the year 350, but the Mithras cult had other interesting parallels to the relatively new Christian faith (as did aspects of the cult of the Egyptian goddess, Isis). Here are some highlights from History 101:
* However there is another theory - regarding the worship of Mithras, an Indo-Aryan deity (the Mitra of Vedic religion, the Mithra of the Persian Avesta) associated with the heavens and light. His cult entered the Roman Empire in the first century BC and during the formative decades of the Christian movement was a formidable rival to the latter, with temples from Syria to Britain. Given his solar associations, it made sense to believe that he had been born on the darkest day of the year, the winter solstice. That falls this year on December 21 but the Romans celebrated the birth feast of Mithras on December 25, ordered to do so by Emperor Aurelian in 274 AD. Christian texts from 325 note that the birthday of Jesus had come to be observed on that same day, and the Roman Catholic Church has in modern times acknowledged that the December 25 Christmas quite likely derived from Mithraic practice.

* Mithras, the story went, had been born of a virgin. Virgin-birth stories were a denarius a dozen in the ancient world, so this similarity to the gospel story isn't surprising. But Mithras was also born in very humble circumstances in a cave, and upon his miraculous birth found himself in immediate proximity to the bovine. In his case, not mellow manger beasts but a wild bull. In the Persian version of the myth, this bull had been the first creation of Ahura Mazda, another, greater god of light. (Ahura Mazda, in the history of Persian religion, gradually becomes conceptualized as something like the Judeo-Christian God. But his worship in the Zoroastrian tradition probably predates the Jewish conception of Yahweh as universal deity. Quite likely the Zoroastrian conception of God influenced the Jewish one.)

* Mithras serving Ahura Mazda subdued the bull, confining it in the cave, and later slaughteed it. The blood of the slaughtered bull then generated vegetation and all life. This myth surely has something to do with cattle-worship among ancient Aryan peoples, which of course survives to this day in India. In Rome the Mithras cult involved such rituals as drenching the Mithras devotee in bull-blood, and having believers in secret ceremonies consume in the form of bread and wine the flesh and blood of the fabled slaughtered bull. A communion ceremony, if you will. Mithras died and was entombed, but rose from the dead. In some accounts, he does so on the third day.
Yet another source has this about Mithras:
Mithra was a Persian savior. Worship of Mithra became common throughout the Roman Empire, particularly among the Roman civil service and military. Mithraism was a competitor of Christianity until the 4th century. Their god was believed to have been born on DEC-25, circa 500 BCE. His birth was witnessed by shepherds and by gift-carrying Magi. This was celebrated as the “Dies Natalis Solic Invite,” The “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.” Some followers believed that he was born of a virgin. During his life, he performed many miracles, cured many illnesses, and cast out devils. He celebrated a Last Supper with his 12 disciples. He ascended to heaven at the time of the spring equinox, about March 21. 
I believe that individuals are free to believe whatever they want about the Christmas holidays.  That does not mean that everyone else must be forced into submission.  The historic truth is that few Christians (or others) nowadays know of Mithras, but today much of the world unwittingly celebrates his birth.  The irony of the history challenged, egocentric morons of the Christian Right and professional Christian set is that they foolishly rely on an allegedly inerrant Bible that can be proven to be anything but inerrant. Moreover, they are in effect promoting a pagan holiday to which the early Roman Catholic Church added a veneer to further its own aggrandizement. It would be humorous but for the damage these Christofascists do to others in the process of their self-centered love affair with themselves.

No comments: