A Brief History of Christmas
For many of us our fondest childhood memories revolve around the traditions of Christmas. It is the time that people all around the world celebrate as the birth of Jesus Christ, the savior and messiah of mankind. But do we know the real origins of Christmas, and the symbolism and paraphernalia that go with it? In the western countries buying and exchanging gifts, and cards has become an established and cherished custom. In less economically advanced nations like Ghana where the majority of the people remains poor and under nourished, Christmas is a time of great joy because one can expect to eat chicken and other foods rich in protein at least for that period. But why is this the case? Is the celebration of Christmas indeed sanctioned by the Bible and imperative for all the Christian faithful? Where did the Christmas trees, Father Christmas, jingle bells, merry making, and others come from, because clearly they are not mentioned in the Bible? Was Jesus born on December 25th? This article presents a brief history of the celebration of Christmas from the earliest recorded celebrations to the current modern day Christmas we take for granted.
The first evidence of a celebration that can be linked to the modern day Christmas comes from northern Europe, not the Middle East or Israel where Jesus is purported to hail from. In the pre-christian times the Europeans practiced many forms of religion that today we collectively call paganism or pagan worship. In the northern hemisphere, that is the regions north of the tropics, during the month of December, the days are at their shortest lengths and the nights are at their longest. Among the pagan religions this had long been the month to celebrate and practice the works of darkness. The pagan calendar identified this period as the winter solstice. It was during the pre-Christian, mid –winter celebrations of the Norsemen that what we call Christmas today, began. The descendants of the Norsemen today are the country called Norway. Yes, Christmas originated from a pagan festival celebrated by the ancestors of the Norwegians. As a means of honoring their god of fertility called Yule, the Norsemen celebrated a 12 day celebration during the month of December. The strong men of each community felled and brought home the largest timber they could find. This timber log was brought inside of a communal shelter, lit up and let to burn for 12 days. The log was called the Yule log. Animals and in some cases human sacrifices were offered to the god Yule from this fire on each of those days. Wild daily reveling, feasts, intoxication and even sex orgies accompanied the daily sacrifices as drunken participants defiantly strove to make contact with the spirit world. This is the origin of the term Yuletide that is sometimes used as another name for Christmas. Also many Christmas carols that we sing today mention 12 days of Christmas, why? Because the Yule celebration of the ancient Norwegians lasted for 12 days.
For our next piece of evidence from the historical record we travel to Germany, also in the pre-Christian era. Whiles the ancestors of the Norwegians were offering sacrifices to Yule, the ancient tribes who became the ancestors of the Germans, also pagans, were worshipping a supreme being called Odin. It is interesting to note that those worshipping Odin did not work on Wednesday, because that it was the day of rest for that god. The name Wednesday actually comes from Odin’s day when pronounced in that dialect. The ancient Germans also celebrated a festival in December to appease this supreme being. The ancient Germans were terrified by this god because it was believed his nocturnal flights decided who would prosper, and who would perish in the coming year. It was believed that Odin rode on a horse drawn carriage in the sky and placed the gift of prosperity or damnation on each household during the month of December. This is the origin of Santa Claus which is German for St Nicholas, but we shall come to that later.
Next we move to Rome during this same pagan era. At this time the ancient Romans were the advanced nation in Europe. They conquered others and projected the power of their empire far afield, previously not seen before. As with conquered people even today, the conquered tribes adopted the customs of their conquerors. So lest look at one custom the Romans added to the pagan religious status quo at the time. Every December 17 culminating on December 25th, the ancient Romans celebrated a major festival called the Saturnalia. During this celebration, among other things, the Romans held huge parties and feasts. They decorated their houses with greens and ornaments, and gave each other gifts. On the final day of the festival (December 25th) they honored the pagan god Mithras, in a feast known as the birth of the unconquered sun. It is interesting to note that Mithras was worshipped on Sundays and is the first god on record to do so and is the reason Sunday worship was transferred to Christianity by the same Romans, because we know that the Sabbath practiced by the Jews falls on Saturday not Sunday.
So far we can see there were several god’s birthdays or festivals celebrated in December well before Christmas was even invented. Some other examples include Dionysus (Greece), Attis of Phrygia, and even Baal. However Mithras was specifically said to be born on December 25th in Persia. Mithras was personified as the god of the light between heaven and earth. Mithras was initially worshipped by an influential Roman cult and later became the god worshipped by the ruling classes of the Roman empire. In fact it was illegal for lower class Roman citizens and slaves to worship Mithras. One had to be officially promoted to a higher class before becoming eligible to worship this god. Promotion could be based on success or contribution to the advancement of the Roman state, bravery in war, great acts of loyalty or sacrifice for the nation etc etc. Mithras birth on December 25th which was indeed the winter solstice marked the end of the long nights and a return to the dominance of the sun. During the month of the celebrations in Rome, courts were closed, and any or all crimes were allowed. Homosexuality, cross dressing, and uncontrolled debauchery were practiced openly with no consequences. Slaves did not have to work and were free to have sex with anybody of their choosing. The law and order in Rome were turned upside while this celebration went ahead. Children were allowed to participate in the drunken orgies as part of another celebration that ran concurrently called Juvenalia.
By 270 AD the Roman emperor Aurelian made Saturnalia an official state celebration from the 17th to the 25th. On the 25th there was an official exchange of gifts, some prisoners were given amnesty etc all in celebration of the birth of the sun god. The word Saturnalia comes from the god of excess and self indulgence called Saturn. Saturn means plenty.
If pagan Rome was already celebrating the birth of Mithras on December 25th it seemed natural to honor the birth of the Christ child at the same time. By the 4th century AD the now official Roman Catholic Church established by decree of Emperor Constantine made it official. December 25th was declared the Feast Day of the Nativity. It was hoped that the festival of saturnalia would merge into the new legally sanctioned form of Christianity. The church practice of changing the dates of Christian events to coincide with pagan festivals continued and by the 7th century AD, Pope Gregory the First had ordered Bishop Augustine of Canterbury (England) to incorporate any and all pagan practices and customs into the rapidly expanding Roman Catholic Church. Examples of these other customs include rosary, saints, Ash Wednesday, Easter, and many others.
During the Middle Ages the celebratory festival atmosphere of what was now known as Christs Mass had reached a fevered pitch of lawlessness. In Britain for example common practices included open sex in the streets, rioting, vandalism, even murder, and a number of Halloween type rituals. This chaotic celebration got so out of hand that by 1652 Christs Mass was abolished and outlawed in Britain by Oliver Cromwell who had overthrown the King in a bloody coup detat. A religious reform movement swept the country lead by the Puritans who had brought Cromwell himself to power. The Puritans took the biblical mandate more seriously which commanded that Christianity remain pure and separate from paganism. Despite their noble efforts the celebration simply went underground and by 1656 after only 4 years of the ban, the public’s demand for the re-legalization of the Christ Mass had become insurmountable. After Cromwell died the Monarchy was restored to Britain and with it a trove of the old customs including Christs Mass.
So at this time we shall address the question of when Jesus was born. Was he actually born on December 25th ? And how can we be sure? In fact we can only be sure of one thing, he was NOT born in late December because shepards do not abide by their flocks in the fields by night in late December because it is too cold in Israel of anywhere in the Middle East. Rather they take them out in the morning to pasture, supervise them while they eat during the day and then bring them back in before night. So late December is simply false. What is an interesting question and intellectually tantalizing is to try to figure out when Jesus was born, and it can be done by piecing together the available evidence. We can actually established the truth behind the storey if the truth really matters even though it does not appear to matter to God and to Christians who have so far not provided a single claim to refute the lie that Jesus was born on December 25th. It turns out If we piece the evidence together the case can be made that Jesus may have been born in late September.
At this juncture we may pause and ask some cogent questions.
1. Is Christmas the reason for December 25th? No, pagan Europeans were celebrating one festival or another on December 25th many centuries before the purported birth of Jesus.
2. Was Jesus born on December 25th? No. There is no evidence to support this claim. The only reason Christianity has adopted it is because it has been inherited from the Romans who celebrated their own pagan festival on that day before Christianity became the official state religion.
3. Should Christians celebrate Christmas? They may, but they must remember that they are worshipping ancient gods when they put up Christmas tree, decorations, Christmas cards, jingle bells, Santa Claus etc.
4. Was Jesus a real person who walked on this earth? So far there is no evidence outside of the Bible to support this claim. And even the biblical accounts tell vastly different stories all of which are unconfirmed. One would have expected a person who could heal the sick, walk on water etc to be widely written about by historians of the time, yet that is not the case. The first mention of Jesus by historians is over 350 years after he purportedly died and that account is two paragraphs. Can you imagine? Lets say in the future somebody researches the life of Barack Obama or Nelson Mandela and the only documents they find are published 350 years after these individual lived and the documents about these individuals is just 2 paragraphs. For a person famous all over the world like Mandela? Two paragraphs? So no, there is no credible evidence that a real person called Jesus actually walked the earth.
5. But kwaku ba what is the purpose of your essay? Are you an agent of Satan? Why are you trying to blaspheme? Because I care about what is true and what is not. Was this savior born on December 25th? Or not? Is the story credible? Or not? Are the Christian claims true? Or not? Can virgins get pregnant? Or not? As for Satan, he was brought to Africans by the same people who brought Jesus, and yet provided no evidence how this character can thwart, overrule, and even veto the omnipotent god they claim, since god never seems to be able to defeat him. Christians claim this is due to free will, but that is also false because free will is not mentioned in the bible, it is an invention of modern academic European philosophy. So what, god forgot and had to wait until 1700 for free will to be invented and then used to defend him? An omnipotent god?? Come on. The search for the facts and the truth is what interests kwaku ba. These facts have been discussed in academia and in the advanced nations for a long time and is well documented. Sadly Africans don’t seem to be getting the information and continue deluding themselves that the foreign gods brought to them by slave traders and colonialists will somehow make them prosper whiles those who brought them those tales have long abandoned them for science and technology.