It’s that time of year again, the holiday season, and so if you live in North America it’s likely that you’ve seen at least one example of the sentiments expressed above. You’ve probably seen signs on lawns while driving around your neighbourhoods, or banners hung while you did your shopping, and most likely post after post while exploring the internet. It is time again for the Christians’ annual drive to convince us that they and their religion are the source of our winter holiday, and that without their improbable claims and irrational organizations there would be no winter holidays. This time of year we begin to hear about how without Jesus there would be no December celebration, and no cause for the day of merry-making, gift giving, and enjoyment of family and friends which so many of us secular and theist, enjoy. The fact is, however, that “the Christmas season” has very little to do with Christianity at all and in fact most of the things we would consider to be “Christmas-y” have nothing at all to do with Jesus.
This campaign to make the season about the Christian messiah is, of course, not a new thing. We in North America and some other places even call it “Christmas” now, but it wasn’t always so. In fact, historically speaking the advent of “Christmas” is a relatively recent thing compared to the true “reason for the season” which is the celebration of the Winter Solstice.
The solstice is the time when the sun appears at noon at its lowest altitude above the horizon, it is the shortest day of the year, and traditionally the first day of winter. Observing the solstice is a tradition which predates Christianity by thousands of years, at least. Some scholars actually say that the observation, in some form, of the solstice, may date from as early as the Neolithic period of the Stone Age. Observances of the solstice have been practiced by almost every culture on the planet including the ancient Egyptians, Persians, Romans, Greeks, a host of Celtic pagan societies, and several Asian cultures including the Chinese.
So there has always been a winter celebration toward the end of December and the solstice has always been a major festival in most cultures, a day of celebration, feasting and reflection. In light of this fact is it so remarkable that a theology would choose to try to attach their deity to it? Of course not, what better way to make converts comfortable with a new religion than to maintain a tradition they already have? Even if it is slightly altered. Not only is it not surprising, it’s not unique. Many religions have attached their mythological protagonist to the solstice. Here are several besides Christ whose adherents have all claimed December 25th as the birth date of their god: Horus (Egypt) Osiris (Egypt) Attis of Phrygia ( Phrygia and Greece) Krishna (India) Zoroaster (Persia) Mithra (Persia/Rome) Heracles (Greece) Dionysus (Greece) Tammuz (Babylon/ Sumer) Adonis (Greece) Hermes (Greece) Bacchus (Greece) Prometheus (Greece) Beddru (Japan) Odin (Scandinavia) Salivahana (Bermuda)
The fact of the matter is that the invention of “Christmas” was a carefully thought out and executed piece of propaganda by one of the early Church’s masters of propaganda the Roman (and pagan) Emperor Constantine in 336 AD. December 25 was chosen for the simple, but important reason that it coincided with the supposed birth of Mithras, a Persian god who was adopted by Rome, a god worshipped strongly by the vast majority of Roman soldiers at the time. By making this upstart Christ figure as much like the existing Mirthras as possible Constantine made his worship more palatable to his people in general and his soldiers specifically. The soldiers were, after all, the source of the Emperor’s power, and so had to be kept happy and comfortable.
In fact most of the “Christmas” traditions you think of associated with the holiday have absolutely nothing to do with Christ or the religion named after him. As a child you likely heard that the reason we give gifts at Christmas is to commemorate the gifts presented to the infant jesus in the manger by the three wise men. Well, right from the start that story is a corruption of the bible story since the three wise men weren’t even in the stable where jesus was supposedly born. According to Matthew 2:11 an unspecified number of “magi” visited him in a house at some unspecified time after his birth and presented him with gifts.
The fact is the practice of giving gifts at the solstice, as well as decorating homes with trees, wreaths, mistletoe, and other greenery all come from pagan traditions which predate Christianity by centuries. Christianity is a relatively modern graft onto a far more ancient pre-existing festival. Christmas as it exists today is a bastardized amalgamation of Christian dogma, pagan, traditions and (in most cases) western commercialism. Saying that Christ is “the reason for the season” is the same sort of arrogance as claiming that all that exists does so just so that our tiny spec of a civilization could come into being. At it’s purest and simplest here is the truth:
The following a a piece of a Facebook conversation I had recently with a theist arguing for the historicity of the bible. I got caught up in other things at the time and didn’t respond to it but some of the things in it have been gnawing at my brain for a couple of days now so I’ve decided to respond to it here.
“The point is that people are evil by nature, mixing whatever they want to believe about the world good or bad. We all need to push on purpose (and I would argue divine intervention) to be decent people or by default we end up justifying our own selfishness. Next…the criteria for historicity. 1- Supporting docs. 2-Conflicting docs. 3- time after event info is recorded. The bible not only meets this standard but is the best example of the ancient world. Go look it up, I’m not writing as much as you guys. Homer, Alexander the great’s biography, Julius Caesar and so on…all considered rock solid with anywhere from 10 to 643 supporting docs and written 400 to 1000 years later. The new testament alone has over 24000 supporting docs and were written 15 to 40 years after the fact and some by eye witnesses. I’ll even give you 70 – 100 years if you want because that’s a common claim but the writings clearly talk about life in Jerusalem before the destruction in 70 AD. Either way, to doubt the historicity of the bible is to do so based on an irrational bias and not on scientific historicity (partially quoting EM Blaiklock). Historians around the world don’t seem to have the problems you’re having with the bible. In fact, it has been said by many that if the bible was considered a secular writing, this discussion would never come up. As far as extra biblical sources there are plenty. Some you have named (good job) but there are many others talking about the life, death and even the Resurrection and the expansion of Christianity as if it is common knowledge. Some were considered enemies of Christianity You know what we don’t find are writings disputing these events though. “
First off the major problem with the opening of this comment would seem to be obvious, if people are evil by nature, as this comment’s author states, and we are the creation of a god who created us in it’s image then it follows that an evil god created us as evil beings on purpose. While I’m sure this isn’t the position the author would take, it would explain quite a lot about the measurable effects of Christian Theism on the history and sociology of the world. If you assert that god is real, and god is perfect the idea that god is evil does fill in quite a lot of the logical holes that pop up when you propose that god is real, benevolent and perfect.
That wasn’t my major problem with the comment though, that was just an interesting aside. The major problem is with the argument for historicity. The author’s criteria for historicity are correct. He’s also correct when he says there is a huge amount of extra-biblical writing regarding Jesus, the New Testament, and the spread of Christianity. Where the problem is is that he’s making this an argument for the veracity of the biblical account based on these things. The problems with these assertions are huge. First, there are no first hand accounts of the events laid out in the bible. They were all written at at least second hand years after the events in question. Second, the extra-biblical accounts of Christ are all at least a century after the fact. Most of them are simply reporting rumors and talk, and most importantly just because a non-biblical source mentions that there was talk of a person called Jesus who’d built a following and was credited with miracles doesn’t mean that that author is saying that the talk is true. Third, corruption by the christian church of extra-biblical accounts specifically to create the image of historicity. Almost every extra-biblical account of Christianity from Josephus on has had allegations of interpolation by later Christians. When combined with the fact that Christians spent hundreds of years and millions of man hours hunting down and destroying “heretical” documents is it any surprise that there are no period documents “disputing these events”?
Finally, comparing the historicity of Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar to that of the bible is just madness. Both Alexander and Julius Caesar were well documented humans who (and this is the important part) are credited with completely human and probable (if extraordinary) accomplishments. Comparing the terrestrial accomplishments of exceptional human beings with the catalogue of magic myth and superstition laid out in the bible is insanity. If there were an account of Julius Caesar taking a spear in the chest, pulling it free and then summoning lightning to destroy his enemies I would require a great deal more evidence than I do to accept the history as it is laid out. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The amount and quality of evidence needed to be convincing is directly related to the extraordinary nature of the claim. If I read a single account of Queen Elizabeth travelling from London to Cairo in an airplane I’d be willing to accept it. If I read the same account but the airplane was replaced by a flying horse I’d be less likely to accept the story, regardless of how many authors mentioned the fact that the original account existed or talked about the growing masses of people who’d accepted the account.
This comment embodies, to me, the very worst aspects of Christian Apologetics. It combines a touch of factual statement and understanding of reality with the usual religious supposition, distortion and faith to create an argument that on it’s surface seems rational, well considered and probable.
I appreciate the fact that this isn’t my best post to date, I apologize to the reader but I just had to get this out of my head. Thank you so much for your patience. I promise better in the future.
Radiometric dating of the sun tells us that it is roughly 5 billion years old.(http://solar-center.stanford.edu/FAQ/Qage.html) Therefore the sun is roughly half a billion years older than the earth.
Eratosthenes in 240 BC. The earth was generally considered to be spherical in both the Hellenistic and Roman periods of antiquity and yet the myth of the earth being flat was not entirely dispelled until Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe (1519-1522) Proof the earth is round and pillar-less: http://visibleearth.nasa.gov/view_cat.php?categoryID=1484
and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew Chapter 5.