(TMU Op-Ed) — In Russia, Christmas is celebrated on January 7 each year. This is the same in Egypt, Ethiopia, and Serbia.
Once you get your head around the fact that different sects of Christianity celebrate Christmas differently, it should be fairly easy to comprehend that Christmas has been celebrated differently for centuries (since even before Christianity came into existence).
The modern day Christmas celebration can find its roots in pagan traditions which celebrated the Winter solstice. The solstice is essentially when the sun starts to return and the days begin getting longer again.
Many cultures throughout history have celebrated the birth of the sun. Throughout these festivities, ancient pagans brought pine branches into their houses signaling the “return of life” and “light.”
As the BBC explained:
“Apparently, the season of good cheer did not start out as exclusively a Christian festival. According to Pagans, the early Christian church hijacked December 25 to celebrate the birth of Jesus because they saw that everyone was already having a good time and decided to take advantage of it.”
In Ancient Rome, Saturn was the Roman God of agriculture and plenty, and gift giving was a symbol of the redistribution of wealth during the time of the year which saw the greatest financial hardships. During the feast known as Saturnalia, slaves would rule over their masters for a day, continuing this trendy theme of the rich swapping with the poor that the stories of Jesus also generally portray.
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh,” Jesus said in the book of Luke. “But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.”
As for Jesus’ birth, the story of his entry into our planet is mentioned in only two of the four gospels—Luke and Matthew. The key components of the story: the virgin birth, the stable, and the three wise men, for example, feature heavily in other myths and legends that pre-existed Christ. (For a fairly comprehensive list, the Rank-Raglan Mythotype accumulates a set of characteristics that heroes across cultures have borne in common).
Further, the solstice feast of Mithras, the Roman God of Light, celebrated on December 25 has uncanny similarities with the nativity story we have all become accustomed to. The world’s oldest known religion, Zoroastrianism, also has its own version of the Christmas story, predating the birth of Jesus by approximately 1,000 years. (It is also worth noting that the three wise men in the Bible were also supposedly Zoroastrianists).
Even the concept of the “virgin birth” is based on a mistranslation. The original Hebrew text of the account of Matthew referred to Mary as “alma,” which translates to “young woman” and not “virgin.” Of course, it is possible that “young woman” and “virgin” were almost synonymous at that point in time, but we can never know for sure.
I understand many Americans are tired and weary of the so-called “War on Christmas,” but the truth about Christmas is that the festival, story, and celebrations of this holiday have been borrowed, retold, and redistributed from ancient cultures and appropriated for the modern era, even if we still do celebrate the festivities on different days across the globe.
Have a merry Winter Solstice and a happy new year.