This won’t be a particularly popular or well liked post, but it’s really an issue of integrity (see last link for more re integrity) and I’ve had several questions come in the last few weeks about my take on Christmas …
Let me just say, up front – I’ve made decisions of what I will do with the holidays based on my personal beliefs. If your beliefs vary – that’s okay. Please do not read this as any condemnation from me personally – I am suggesting that Christianity as a whole needs greater integrity, but I’m not pointing fingers at individuals. If you are a friend of mine, I likely know what your beliefs are and I love you & value your friendship, even if we disagree on things!
Lots of my Christian friends have already been posting about putting “Christ” back in “Christmas”… and, I get that. I was raised on Christmas, it was my favorite holiday… I get the idea of “putting Christ back in Christmas”.
However, there are other groups of people in this world who have a much longer history with the story and traditions, complete with “virgin birth/rebirth” of a god, namely the SUN, and celebrations including a decorated tree idol under which gifts were placed for their sun god in hopes of blessing…
Let me be clear – I believe that Yahshua, commonly known as Jesus, was the Son of the One True God, Yahweh, and that they, the Father & Son are one, and Created us and this Earth, and that Yahshua was born of a virgin, near the town of Bethlehem in Israel, roughly 2000 years ago, very likely during the Feast of Tabernacles. He lived a sinless, Love filled life which proclaimed the True Story of our world, he died on a cross as the Passover Lamb, resurrected as the “First Fruit” of the resurrection that all who have died “in Him” will experience, and lives not only in Heaven, but thru His Spirit, in the hearts of those who believe in Him, and He changes our characters to reflect his character of Agape Love. I believe He will return, and that the Feasts of Trumpets, Day of Atonment & Tabernacles point to His Return and dwelling with us, His Beloved Creation, for eternity. I believe we have an enemy, commonly known as Satan, who is the father of lies, and who has done all he could to create counterfeit stories thru history to throw off the True Way. The following stories are just some examples, and tho those who believe them to be the original stories, I see them as counterfeit. I recognize those who hold to the stories see my beliefs as counterfeit, and I’m happy to agree to disagree.
The names of those gods change with the location, but the story is pretty much the same. Scripturally, the names are Baal, Molech, Tammuz & Astheroth or Ishtar. Persian sources say the celebrations have been around since 5000 BC – so, pretty much since the Flood, or even before, which is Scripturally accurate.
The earliest stories I’ve found go back to Nimrod of the Tower of Babel era, who was likely the brains behind that endeavor – but they are stories of course, and details change depending on the teller. The basic Nimrod Story says he was worshiped as a god, but died – details on how vary. His Wife/possibly mother, Semiramus claimed he ascended to the Sun, and then impregnated her (immaculate conception), and she gave birth to “their” son, Tammuz whom she may have married later, and who was born at the winter solstice. She claimed that a symbol of Nimrod’s death/Tammuz’ birth was a log which died & fell, but at the winter soltice sprang to life in the form of an evergreen tree, and that believers in the Sun could decorate & place gifts for the Sun around such trees, in hopes of blessings from the Sun, their god (this became known as a Yalda tree in Persia). Later, Tammuz died, having been gored to death by a wild hog. But, she lived on and added more intricacies to the story, so that eventually, there were celebrations commemorating the sun god on the first day of every week, as well as the Equinox’s, the Soltice’s and the half way points.
Since the most recent question I received was about a Christmas Tree, I went looking tonight for the information I’d previously found regarding the Yalda tree – variations on the archaeological find in the image above seem to be common Persia – the tree seems to have an integral part to play in the life & culture. On The Apadana stairway in Perspolis, Gift-bearing delegations are broken up at intervals by similar trees to the ones depicted above. In looking around tonight, I actually found more than I had in the past.
Most of what you will read below is written by people of Persian decent, who are quite proud of what they see as their culture’s impact on the world (and it is quite substantial). The Christian reader may find some of their conclusions entirely blasphemous, especially if they hold Christmas as being based on Sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone). (I have to say, I cringed at prayers to the sun god…) However, let me remind you that the celebrations of the birth of a god on the winter equinox far pre-date the celebration of Christmas as Jesus’ Birth by Christians. Let me also remind you that “Christmas” is not based in Scripture, except that pagan sun worshiping practices were condemned in Scripture and Jeremiah 10 may very likely be speaking of “Yalda” superstitions, idols and practices.
So, the first article is from “The Persian Civilization World” (main website found here: http://persia.edublogs.org/ ) Their stated goal is:
“In this site we try to provide a mainframe of few significant historical and cultural aspects of the Iranian Civilization that have tremendously and positively influenced the entire world.”
One such significant Historical aspect they point to is the History of Christmas, found here: http://persia.edublogs.org/files/2009/03/article-christmas-is-an-old-tradtion-from-persia-a.pdf
I’ll let you read the article, it’s quite interesting… and will just leave you with the author’s summary:
“Lets now come to an end of this interesting subject with another wise sentence from Professor Parviz Varjavand, saying: If someone asks you Do you know what is the reason for this season? answer The birth of Mehr/ Mithra/ Jesus and light . So Merry Yalda/Yule/Yuletide/Jul/Joulu/ Christmas and Happy every New Year.”
The following website has a recopy of writings on the subject – some I’d read other places, some where new to me, but, given the dark background is a bit hard to read. However, if you’d like to read several essays in one place, it’s here: http://vcn.bc.ca/oshihan/Pages/YaldaE.htm
The website’s goal is “To Promote the rich and glorious ancient Persian (Zoroastrian) culture”
The second from the last essay was taken from this newsletter – is easy on the eyes compared to the above link,
it leaves me with a pit in my stomach…
and it’s the author’s conclusions which lead me to say –
“It’s a matter of integrity… and it greatly impacts our Christian influence on the world around us!!!”
One of these was 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”
several paragraphs later…
“The Mithras cult was affected by earlier religious traditions. Anyone studying mythologies in historical perspective knows that any particular god might have numerous connections across time and space. The Sumerian fertility goddess Inana becomes the Babylonian Ishtar becomes the Greek Aphrodite and the Roman Venus. Inana grieving for her husband Tammuz, who had died after being gored in the groin by a bull, follows him to the netherworld. There are differing stories but in one she achieves his resurrection; in another, the resurrection of both is accomplished by the god of wisdom Enki, on the third day.”
The author concludes,
“So too, the beliefs that produce the holiday. The babe born of a virgin, in a stable, heralded by an angelic host, visited by Magi (Persian Zoroastrian astrologers) following a star, targeted for death by an evil king. None of this would have struck the average Roman as entirely original, but the vague familiarity of the stories may have lent them credibility. It appears that the Christian movement, highly diverse in the first few centuries, was able to incorporate narratives and practices from other traditions into itself that gave it a comparative advantage by the early fourth century. In 313 Emperor Constantine legalized and patronized the faith. Soon thereafter an already formidable empire-wide administrative apparatus merged with state power, and heresies and paganisms were outlawed and largely suppressed. But Christianity continued to incorporate new influences such as the above-mentioned Christmas practices. Few Christians (or others) nowadays know of Mithras, but today much of the world unwittingly celebrates his birth.
My wife and kids and I as usual have up a beautiful tree, honoring not only what’s allegorically worthwhile in the Jesus story but in the host of innocent paganisms that fell victim to official Christianity. I’ve always seen the tree, intruding as it does into the inner sanctum of the Christian home, as paganism’s quiet revenge. So here’s a glass of wine, raised in honor of the hero of the day, transforming eucharistically even as I partake. Happy birthday, Mithras! As the days grow longer and the nights grow shorter, we thank you, Sun God, for the miracle of photosynthesis you performed to bring us this sacred tree. We thank you for the promise of springtime, which we have faith will arrive without fail, as the landscape predictably dies and resurrects year after year. And we thank you for shining century after century over our delusional imaginations.”
Again, my response is:
“It’s a matter of integrity… and it greatly impacts our Christian influence on the world around us!!! We have to be true to Scripture, and to the story & details told there, and make no apologies or excuses to it – wrestling with translation and context when things seem to clash, contradict or not make sense to our thinking. However, why do we think holding to half truths and traditions created by men will help us ‘win souls’… particularly the highly intelligent questioning souls? No, It makes us look like fools.”