Most Christmas celebrators assume that the most loved of all Christian holidays always has been just that: a Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus. But Jesus was probably not born on December 25th.
In fact, no one really knows when Jesus was born [if he even existed in the first place].
This is known to actual Christian scholars. Based on the information found in the bible, Jesus was likely born sometime in the fall.
“The word for Christmas in late Old English is Cristes Maesse, the Mass of Christ, first found in 1038.”
So, if this is true, then why do we celebrate Jesus’ birth on December 25th? The answer will tell us a lot about the rise and spread of Christianity, and even may show us why this the religion of choice in much of the world today.
Perhaps Jesus was not born on December 25th, but back before the rise of the Christian religion, a bunch of other pagan gods’ births were celebrated around this date.
The reason is that the winter solstice occurs a few days before, on the 21st. The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year, so to celebrate the ‘birth’ of a new year where days finally started getting longer again, it only makes sense that multiple gods were ‘born’ around this time.
The first of these eventually became the subject of legend in which a supernatural figure would visit an evergreen tree and leave gifts on December 25th. His name was Nimrod, and his legend was celebrated long before Jesus ever walked the Earth.
In Ancient Babylonian tradition, Semiramis was the Queen of Heaven. Legend states that at the untimely death of her husband Nimrod, an evergreen tree grew overnight from a tree stump.
The Queen claimed that Nimrod would visit the tree and leave gifts every year on the anniversary of his birth, which was (you guessed it) December 25th (read more here).
In his classic work The Two Babylons, Alexander Hislop describes the Babylonian origins of Christmas:
“Long before the fourth century, and long before the Christian era itself, a festival was celebrated among the heathen, at that precise time of the year, in honor of the birth of the son of the Babylonian queen of heaven. It may fairly be presumed that, in order to conciliate the heathen, and to swell the number of the nominal adherents of Christianity, the Roman Church, giving it only the name of Christ adopted the same festival.
“This tendency on the part of Christians to meet Paganism halfway was very early developed; and we find Tertullian, even in his day, about the year 230, bitterly lamenting the inconsistency of the disciples of Christ in this respect, and contrasting it with the strict fidelity of the Pagans to their own superstition.”
Hislop goes on to say that:
“Christmas was originally a Pagan festival is beyond all doubt.”
Birthday of the Twins
Osiris (Au-Sar) died on the solstice, according to legend. With the assistance of Nepthys (Nebt-Het), his wife Isis (Au Set) created a Djed Pillar (artificial penis) and impregnated herself.
For the three days following, the children gestated in Isis’ belly, and on December 25th, she gave birth to twins Merul and Bast, who were the reincarnation and resurrection of their father.
The green tree is the symbol of Osiris, who is the green-skinned god of vegetation and fertility. Colored lights represent Isis, goddess of magic and divine light. Green and red are the traditional candle colors of Bast and Merul.
By the time the Romans legalized the observance of Christianity sometime in the 4th century, most of the myriad religions in the empire already celebrated the birth of their gods on December 25th.
Leading up to this day was the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia, the annual commemoration of the temple of Saturn. Saturnalia lasted for a week, from December 17th to the 23rd.
This holiday was characterized by feasting, singing, gift-giving and of course, general debauchery for which the Romans were infamous. Priests of Saturn would sport evergreen wreaths as they proceeded through the pagan temples.
Later this and other holidays traditionally celebrated around this time were consolidated into one on December 25th. Then in 350 AD, Pope Julius I declared the birth of Jesus to be this day as well. This made conversion to Catholicism an easier process for pagans.
The above are just a small subset of pagan yule celebrations. The following are just a small sample of other pagan gods which were celebrated around the solstice: Mithras, Horus, Attis, Dionysus, Tammuz, Hercules, Perseus, Helios, Jupiter and Apollo.
When the Roman Catholic church finally decided to make the 25th of December a Christian holiday, they were simply adopting a long standing holiday celebrated in many pagan traditions, and even kept many of the symbols of pagan celebration.
We talked about the evergreen tree of the Babylonians, but the decor of the tree (pole, balls, tinsel) represented male fertility (phallus, testes, semen). Also, the above example of the circled wreath of Saturnalia represented female fertility.
For this reason, lesser-studied aspects of the bible contain warnings against such symbols. For example, in Jeremiah 10: 1-4, God warns:
Hear what the LORD says to you, O house of Israel. This is what the LORD says: “Do not learn the ways of the nations or be terrified by signs in the sky, though the nations are terrified by them. For the customs of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. They adorn it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter.”
This is something that the Puritans understood. Most Americans would be surprised to learn that this religious group banned Christmas trees because they realized the pagan roots of this symbol.
So, go celebrate Christmas this year, and think of Nimrod, Isis, Saturn, and all the other gods (OK, go ahead and think of Jesus too, if you must).
When you find joy in watching your children hang symbols of male and female reproduction about your Christmas tree, you’ll be thankful that the knowledge you received here have made you quite the free thinking Cosmopolitan!
The following video outlines even more pagan origins of Christmas. Check it out: