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By Dr Ian Ellis-Jones ... Mindfulness Training
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The Pagan Roots And Origins Of Christmas

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Now, don’t get me wrong—I love Christmas, and I have often written about its spiritual and esoteric (or ‘inner’) meaning. However, this much needs to be made unambiguously clear. The only thing foreign, external and even extraneous to Christmas is—Jesus. Bible-believing Christians keep saying, ‘Put Christ back into Christmas,’ but they fail to realize that, so far as Christmas is concerned, Jesus was and remains an interpolation, that is, something extraneous that was added or interjected into an already existent pagan feast and festival. Indeed, every element and aspect of the Christmas festival predates Christianity.

Apart from the gift-giving associated with the Biblical account of the birth of Jesus, the New Testament makes no mention of Jesus, his disciples or the New Testament Church celebrating Christmas Day. Amazing. It is not until around 354 CE that we get the earliest recorded reference to a December 25 Christmas actually celebrating the birth of Jesus, although it is highly likely that it had been celebrated for at least two or three decades before then.

The roots and origins of Christmas lie in, among other things, various pagan fertility rites and practices which predate Jesus by many centuries. Pope Julius I proclaimed December 25 as Christmas Day for a very good reason. You see, it was the day on which the ancient Romans celebrated the winter solstice, being the last day of the Roman festival of Saturnalia (the cult of Saturn [pictured left], the Roman god of agriculture). Why did the pope of the day choose that day? Well, at the risk of being very cynical, the reason was simple. It made it easier for people to convert to Christianity, for they would not lose their feasts.

During Saturnalia, people exchanged gifts (especially dolls, candles, caged birds and fruit) decorated trees with candles and decked their halls with garlands of laurel. There was much partying (both private and public), and masquerades took place in the streets. Masters and slaves swapped clothes, which could have been a lot of fun if you were into cross-dressing. (I should also mention that this swapping of roles between masters and slaves also took place among the ancient Babylonians and Persians in a five-day festival called Sacaea.) The wealthy paid the month’s rent for the less-well-to-do. (I can’t see the ‘big end of town’ doing that today. What a pity!) Executions were cancelled and—listen to this—no wars were declared during the festival. We could all learn something from that.

There is another pagan contender for the origination of Christmas—the monotheistic Sun god cult of Sol Invictus (‘Invincible Sun’) [pictured right] which, it seems, had its origins in Syria. One would light a candle to encourage the Sun to reappear next year.
Closely associated with this cult was the cult of Mithras who was another Eastern solar deity (in the form of, among other things, the equinoctial Sun which revivifies and fertilizes the earth) whose feast day was also celebrated on—guess when—December 25. It is written that the mythical Mithras [pictured below] went around the countryside, teaching, healing and the sick, and casting out devils. This Mithras supposedly had twelve disciples, held a last supper; was killed, was buried in a rock tomb, and then supposedly rose from the dead three days later, before finally ascending into heaven. Sound familiar? 

In the Middle Ages, in the festival of Yule ([‘wheel’]; a pagan symbol for the Sun), the birth of the pagan Sun God/Mithras was celebrated on the shortest day of the year, the idea being that as the Sun God grew and matured, the days would become longer and warmer. I could go on.

Christianity has always had an annoyingly bad habit of stealing from pagan religions and then running those religions out-of-business and declaring their practices heretical.

At the risk of stating the obvious, you don’t have to be a Christian to enjoy and celebrate Christmas. So, don’t let Bible-believing Christians tell you that you must put Christ back into Christmas. Historically—and also for millions of people throughout the world today—Jesus is not the reason for the season, although the legends surrounding the birth of Jesus constitute a wonderful object lesson of the ‘meaning’ and significance of the festival.

Christmas—like Easter—is about renewal and revivification. It’s about the livingness and givingness of life itself. Life forever gives of itself to itself—and as itself—so that life can continue and be renewed. Each one of us is a unique individualization of the livingness and self- givingness of life. May you rejoice in that fact—and celebrate it at this time … and always.

Bless you all.



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