What’s the world coming to?! Someone in institutional Christianity has debunked several Christmas myths, and that person is probably the most powerful one of the bunch – Pope Benedict XVI. The PR for his book “Jesus of Nazareth – The Infancy Narratives” says he’s even challenging Christmas traditions by looking at the early life of Jesus. http://www.cnn.com/2012/11/22/world/europe/vatican-pope-jesus-book/index.html
I do applaud the pope, but tepidly. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a Christian myself, and there seems to be several good corrections. Two the pope points out:  The Gospels do not support the presence of animals at Jesus’ birth — a detail apparently added in later centuries.  The Christian calendar is actually based on a blunder by a 6th century monk, who Benedict says was several years off in his calculation of Jesus’ birth date. These are Scripturally and historically accurate corrections, but while the pope swipes away a few specks of inaccuracy from Catholics, he still leaves a plank in Christianity’s eye (Luke 6:41) by not coming forth with the entire truth. Not only is the year of Jesus’ birth several years off, but so is the month and day. Before going into when Jesus was born, I’d like to first investigate how we came to celebrate a Christian Christmas in the first place.
In many ways I don’t blame the pope, because the entire truth has been buried in the sands of time for generations, and Christians have been caught in its own snare ever since it assimilated Mithra’s Winter Festival” into the ecclesiastical calendar in 379 AD. “It is a snare for a man to devote rashly something as holy, and afterward to reconsider his vows” (Prov 20:25).
Please allow me to try to clarify. Historically speaking, the first recorded evidence of Christmas taking place on December 25th isn’t found until the time of Constantine in AD 336, except it wasn’t called “Christmas.” BTW – The word for Christmas is from late Old English Cristes Maesse, the Mass of Christ, and is first found in the 11th century.
“Christmas” in 379 AD was Mithra’s Winter Festival celebrated on the ancient winter solstice of December 25th before the Roman shift in time. It was called “The Nativity,” or “The Nativity of the Sun,” or “The Nativity of the Unconquered Sun,” and it celebrated the birthday of the sun god Mithra – the Persian version of the Babylonian sun god Tammuz. Maybe the pope should check out his own library, because The Catholic Encyclopedia admits, “The Nativity of the Unconquered Sun, celebrated in the 25th of December, has a strong claim on the responsibility for our December date.”
Truth be told. Christmas has two immediate predecessors if we are looking at Western Civilization and into the season as well:
- Today’s Christmas Season was formerly the mid-December to January 1st pagan celebration of Saturnalia in Rome (January Kalends are included for simplicity’s sake).
- Today’s Christmas Day was originally Mithra’s Winter Festival, which was called “The Nativity,” “The Nativity of the Sun,” or “The Nativity of the Unconquered Sun.”
I’ll cover Saturnalia and the origins of the Christmas Season in another article. For now, let’s concentrate on how Christianity received its first re-gift of Christmas by church officials grabbing Mithra’s Winter Festival in 379 AD.
The cultic mysteries of Mithras (worship of Mithra) were imported into Rome around the 2nd century AD by legionaries, who served in the eastern portion of the Roman Empire. When Rome conquered Persia, many Romans liked merging their “modern” Western culture with the more ancient practices of the Orient. History records that Mithraism was an important aspect of Roman spiritual life until as late as the 5th century. Mithraism’s feast day was Sun-Day and declared to be on December 25th by Emperor Aurelian, who declared that day not only the birthday of Sol, but Mithras in 379 AD.
But how did Mithraism become so popular in the fourth century? Prior to Aurelian, we discover that the Roman Emperor Constantine was the most famous worshipper of Mithraism in the Empire.
In AD 312, Constantine was said to have a “conversion” through a battle-eve vision of the cross at the MilvianBridge, which was not reliably recounted until 325 AD. I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that this was the same year of the church-altering Council of Nicaea in which Constantine had a larger-than-life presiding influence.
After 312, historical evidence shows that Constantine continued to pay public honors to the S-U-N. For example: Constantine minted a coin. On one side was embossed a virtuous image of the emperor himself. The other side displayed the image of a man with the whole world in his hands and sunbeams radiating from his face. The first inscription encircling this “glorious” image was Sol Invict Commite (committed to the invisible sun). The other clarified Constantine’s commitment to this invisible sun: Sol Invictus Mithra. Constantine was a worshipper of the invisible sun Mithra, following in the footsteps of his supposedly Christian father, who ruled under the protection of Sol Invictus or Apollo in Gaul and Britain. The pagan sun god (two of his names Sol and Mithra) continued to be honored on Constantine’s coins until 321 AD – the same year the Christian Sabbath was moved from the seventh day to the first day of the week.
Christian scholars have exercised much in trying to explain Constantine’s attempt to immortalize himself as the reincarnation of Apollo (or Sol) with a statue wearing a rayed crown of the sun god after his supposed conversion. He placed his image on a pillar high above all the other gods in the Forum in Constantinople. Lightning struck the statue, and the burnt column is still standing but without Constantine’s charred graven image.
Another monument to Constantine’s sun worship practices exists in that in many Roman churches — including the Church of San Clemente in Rome — still contain well-preserved Mithraeums (i.e., underground temples where Mithra was worshipped in their vaulted burial crypts). In his book Pagan Christianity? Frank Viola also reveals, Evacuations of St. Peter’s uncovered a mosaic of Christ as the Unconquered Sun. Never mind the fact that Constantine had the Vatican built atop the hill where the Mithras cult worshipped the sun, according to Penne Restad.
Constantine’s original piety was associated with the sun, and pagans would have recognized their own solar cults in the church’s practice of orienting their cathedrals to the east, worshipping on “Sun-Day,” and celebrating the birth of the deity at the ancient winter solstice (midwinter). It had become common practice in the 5th century for worshippers entering St. Peter’s Basilica to turn at the door, put their backs to the altar inside the church, and bow down to worship the rising sun. (Please refer to Ezekiel 8:6, 16 to see what God thinks of this practice.)
Copyright Nov 24, 2012 – Author: Robin Main.
Most references to the things I write on this blog can be found in my book SANTA-TIZING: What’s wrong with Christmas and how to clean it up (available on amazon http://www.amazon.com/SANTA-TIZING-Whats-wrong-Christmas-clean/dp/1607911159/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1353692179&sr=1-1&keywords=SANTA_TIZING).