Christmas – Origin

The holiday of Christmas as a symbolic origin story has a lot of history behind it from different cultures. And inspite of that, no matter the culture or the epoch in the center there is the timeless struggle between the Good and the Evil, Light vs. Dark, the worship of the winter solstice or rather, the stopping of the growth of the night, the light stagnation, and the “victory” of the light or the growth of the day (see also: “Fire- Symbol”) ; The Cycle – End and Beginning; at peace with the old and looking into the future.

Christmas is not only a belief and a symbol, but also a confession of inner peace, as well as of the family hearth, the gifts and the “day of the year when we do good”.

Below in the article I chronologically state, as far as possible the festivity  of Light dating to the 6th Century BC. The focus is more on civilizations and empires rather than tribes and alliances (except the Slavs, who made a major contribution to the formation of symbolism in later church times).
For another article there will be even more introspective “staring” at the astrological peculiarities and perceptions of the ancient peoples.

Short summary: 1. Zoroastrianism; 2. Chronium; 3. Mithrianism; 4. Saturnilia; 5. Christmas-Colada; 6. The Nordics and the Yule Holiday; 7. Other symbols …; 8. Christmas in modern times; .9 Conclusion.

Enjoy Reading! 

Zoroastrianism

We will begin the exhibition with the oldest monotheistic religion – Zoroastrianism.
It embodies the dualism of Good and Evil with Ahura Mazda the God of Light and his counterpart Angra Maynu, the creator of Evil.

Under the rule of Artaxerxes the Second, Ahura Mazda is summoned as in a trinity – his emanations Mithra (from which the cult of Mithrianism is derived) and Alam Napat.

In the closest adoration of Ahura Mazda are The Seven DeitiesSpenta Maynu (Holy Spirit), Vohu Main (good thought), Arta Vasita (truth), Hshatra Vaira (authority; “God’s kingdom”), Spenta Aramaiti (piety), Haurwat (unity, unity), Amertat (immortality, immortality).

The symbol of the religion is a disc with wings with three rows of feathers, a tail with three rows of feathers, and the figure of the preacher Zoroaster. The three lines of the pen respond to the principles of “good thoughts, good words, good deeds”, and the three lines of the queue are the antithesis “bad thoughts, bad words, bad deeds”. According to the choices of a person who can be light or dark, there is a hint of responsibility for the choice and its consequences.

Zoroastrianism influences the Bible and its main and popular religions and one of them is Christianity that takes up the idea of dualism, the search for wisdom, the immortality of the soul through good deeds. Through Christianity all this is achieved through Christmas, especially in the prayers of Christmas Eve.

Kronia

The predecessor of Saturnalia. An Athenian feast celebrating the name of Kronos – the Father of Time. The festival was held in July-August in honor of Cronus, around Ionia and the month after the festival in the region was called Kronion. It is also considered a harvest holiday  just like Saturnalia later.
According to Roman playwright Acius there are certain actions to celebrate the holiday:

“In almost every field and city, they are gladly feasting on banquets and everyone is waiting for their servants. Slaves and free, rich and poor all dined together playing games like kyboi, astragaloi, and pessoi board games. Freedom from work and social egalitarianism rejoiced in the days of the mythical Golden Age, when Kronos was still ruling the world. In the Golden Age, the earth spontaneously supported human life, and because labor was unnecessary, slavery did not exist: “it is a period of complete harmony in which hierarchical, exploitative, and predatory relationships did not exist.”

“Kronia was a time to temporarily forget social restrictions. The slaves were released from their duties and partook in the festivities with the slave owners. The slaves were” allowed to riot through the city, shout and make noise. “

Mithraism

At the left is Mithra with a halo, 4th century

At the same time in which Saturnalia is celebrated for the first time, then the cult of Mithra was gaining popularity. The cult is shrouded in mystery, but what is known is that it worships Mithra the emanation of Ahura Mazda – the deity of Light and Mithra as the emanation of Light (something that can be seen in the symbolism of Christ as an emanation of the Christian God).
Mithra shows Light as Good and lack of Light as Bad. The Seven Degrees of Initiation include the five planets, the Sun and the Moon and in the discovered temples are inscribed  the 12 constellations as basic and thematic as one can find in the Persians.
The portrayal of Mithras and Sol Invictus is completely identical (more details for Sol Invictus below in the chapter on Saturnalia).
The Mithra cult is widespread throughout Europe so its influence is only reinforced by the symbolism that comes mainly from the East.

A map with the sites of temples of Mithra in the Roman Empire

Saturnalia

The god Saturn in Roman mythology is described as generous, wise, of agro-culture, periodic renewal and freedom. According to myth Saturn ruled in lands where there was only peace, prosperity and no slaves. This suggests the influence of religious observance since the Persian Empire where for the first time in human history a human rights decree was issued in the empire itself and slaves were released.
Ancient authors acknowledge the loan from the Hellenic Cronos (a Titan of Time) and so Saturn becomes a deity of Time. He also rules the Capitol – The Seven Hills of Rome. It is noteworthy that the basis is the figure 7, which is also found as Zurvan’s 7 qualities of Zurvanism (derived from Zoroastrianism; Avesta). And Zurvan is considered to be the patron saint of “infinite time and space” (from the Avestan zruvan-, “time”).

Coin from 104 BC, from the backside is Saturn with a chariot of four horses

According to Roman legend, God Saturn gathers the races of satyrs and nymphs and gives them laws. It was the golden age of man and peace reigned. Later  the myths about dwarves and forest spirits will be met with the Nordics and finally in the updated version of Santa’s elves.

The holiday is described as a bustle of the rich. Eating, drinking, gifts (food, money, clothes) were given and even the rich invited the slaves to the table (they belonged to the class familia from which derives “Dining with your family at Christmas”). Information comes to us from several sources that were predominantly in the middle or upper classes of Roman society. Lucius’ words speak for themselves:

“Seriousness is buried during the week, no work is allowed; drinking and getting drunk; noise and dice play; pointing to kings and slaves with slaves.”

It clearly shows the transfer of tradition from Cronos to Saturn, but it is also worth noting that the Persian Empire in its golden age covered the lands of the Balkans (Greece, Bulgaria, Romania) issued the world’s first human rights decree allowing the different cultures not to be touched in their belief system, even though the empire had an official religion and also freeing the slaves from Babylon. Thus Zurvan (Time) and the description of Saturn as a deity of the Golden Age in distant lands freeing the slaves acquiring a clearer contrast to the origin of these beliefs and worship.

At the same time, sacrifices are made in the temple of Saturn, by clergymen covered with togas and a hood on their heads, according to Greek tertip. It is explained that both the garment and the rite go from the Hellenes to the Romans, from Kronos to Saturn. Around or on the day of Saturnalia munera is applied to the temple of Saturn – offering dead corpses of gladiators in honor of Saturn’s connection with The God of the Underworld Dis Pater.

Sol Invictus, silver disc, 3rd century

The Mishnah and Talmud describes the pagan holiday of Saturn, which is in the Winter Solstice, and 8 days after that is celebrated Calenda (where the word “calendar” and “Christmas” are derived from, having its root in the Avestan language as “wheel, cycle“). That marks the closing of an old cycle and the opening of a new cycle after the “birth” of Light (the growth of the day). The number 8 is impressive for another reason as is the back of the coin in honor of Saturn is  depicted a cavalry with 8 legs (4 horses) and later we will encounter the influence of the Nordic myth and the horse of Odin (Sleipnir) with 8 legs, which also forms the image of the white-bearded old man and his 8 reindeer (9th Rudolph, added much later in our present time).

In 274 AD, the solar cult of Sol Invictus (“Invincible Sun”) was established, which included several solar deities and was celebrated on December 25 – Jupiter, Mars, Hercules, Apollo and Sylvanus. Here one can also see the overlay of Saturnalia and Sol Invictus on a period of Winter Solstice which was later transferred to Christianity and the depiction and birth of Christ – with the typical halo of light, as Sol Invictus depicts (the halo of light can be seen as a phenomenon around the Sun and Moon at different weather conditions).

Koleda-Kolyada

Deity Kolyada, ilustration Andrey Mazin

Kolyada is a Slavic deity of light. The origin of the word is most likely from Gōlā (Hindi) – circle, wheel, orb. It celebrates the light, the Sun and the completion of the old and the beginning of the New Cycle. Kolyada is thought to precede the Viking Yule-Holiday and since the Slavs came from northern Asia one can see the influence of the old empires in this region for sun worship and the solstice.

The Slavs worship the deity by coming to save humanity from corruption. It is reported that the belief of him has been in a 8500-year-old period from the past until now, having gathered 60 followers and started teaching them Vedic knowledge.

The Persian Empire is known for not forbidding foreign belief-systems in its territory despite the official Zoroastrian religion. This gives influence and exchange from religions and peoples within the boundaries of the empire and it can be easily observed that even before the Zoroastrian religion, tribes were the primary tribute to the Sun.

The feast is considered to be named after the deity and in the old Orthodox Church language which precedes all Slavic languages and is the main branch of the Slavic languages, is preserved as Kolyada (Колѧда).

In all Slavic peoples it occurs in the following forms: Kolyada (Ukrainian), Kalyada/ Kalada (Belarusian), Kolyada (Russian), Koleda (Polish), Koleda (Bulgarian), Kolede (Macedonian), Koleda/ Kolede (Serbian), Kaledos/ Kaleda (Lithuanian) in Bosnia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia – Koleda.

The Nordics and the Yule-festival

The vikings had their own holiday in this time of year called Yule. Etymologically Yule is derived from the words:  geol, ǣrra ġēola and æftera ġēola. In their core is old German, Norwegian, Dutch and Swedish under the forms of – *jeχʷla-, jiuleis;  jól, jol, ýlir; jul. 

The origin of the words are not quite clear, but it is worth noting that the German, Nordic, Celtic and Gothic languages ​​are from the Indo-European languages, from which both Avestan and Persian come to life and in Zoroastrianism the Winter Solstice and homage to the emerging light of Yalda. They sound almost identical, have similar understandings of light, fire, and holiday time, as well as being from the same family of languages and the Vikings later appear on the stage with already enough time to be influenced and already been spread.

Yule is celebrated at the Winter Solstice and the main dish is “Yule’s Pig” (Yule-hog) – symbolized by the hog Freya rides.

Thor and his goats and chariot, 1832

Sometimes the homes are decorated with goats representing the symbolism of Thor’s two faithful goats which pull his chariot out of in the sky.
In fact, by the 19th century the myth was that goats used to come and give presents to children and in Finland Santa Claus is still called Julebukking, literally meaning “Christmas Goat”.
Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr – Thor’s goat myth in the poetic Edda composed in 13th-century
Loki and Thor once descended from the sky with a chariot drawn by the two goats and came down to a village farmer. Thor invites the farmer to a feast as he prepares the two goats into a meal. After eating Thor puts the  two goats’ skins in front of the fire and tells the farmer’s child to throw the bones over the skins. In the morning they are revived and ready to do their work to haul the chariot.

For the Vikings the Yule-Holiday is strongly associated with Odin who is called “Yule’s Father” (Santa). At this time of year one can see Odin riding his 8-legged horse through the skies visiting people at their homes. He later appeared to the Danes in this belief calling him “Sinterclass” (Santa Claus – Modern English), which also gave gifts to people.

The Yule-Father

It can also be seen that Odin’s ravens are transformed in the messengers giving him information for the naughty and the good children to whom to bring presents.

Odin also participated in the “Big Hunt” which was at that time of year and involved: Wotan (Odin), Knecht Ruprecht, Krampus, Berketold and Holda.

Krampus is half-goat, half-demon, who punishes children if they are bad. His adversary and protector of good is St. Nicholas, for whom historically little is known and even some folklorists believe that he has pre-Christian roots.
Krampus and St. Nicholas (later as mentiond is Sinterclass) are assimilated into Christmas festivals. The Christian Church describes Krampus as wearing chains symbolizing his attachment to the Devil whose chains strike him for dramatic effect. This is where the bells of modern Christmas bells come from (“Jingle bells, jingle bells, Jingle all the way!”).

The eight legged horse of Odin, which is later the inspiration behind Santa Claus’s reindeers

Other Symbols – Mistletoe, Christmas Tree, The Fireplace, The Star

The Mistletoe in today’s Christmas is for health and if two people find themselves underneath it, they should kiss.
This symbol comes from the myth of Baldur (Odin’s son), who is killed by Loki with an mistletoe around his spear. Baldur is revived later and Freya (Goddess of Love) covers/hides the spear. The myth is popular with the Celts who spread this belief in the western countries of Europe (later transmitted only to colonial America and continues to this day in the United States).

The Christmas Tree is a major factor in contemporary Christmas for every home. It reaches us through Yule-Tree  symbolizing the Yggdrasil – the Tree of Life according to Nordic mythology. It was originally covered with candles, hence the updated version of the light bulbs. These lights and other ornaments indicate the Sun, Moon and stars staring into the wisdom of the Tree of Life. Sacred gifts to Attis and Dionysus were offered under the tree.

The Fireplace as a backdrop for a “typical Christmas” comes to us from the Nordic holiday Yule-Log. Most likely German paganism, in which the action is to let a large piece of wood to burn during the Christmas Festivals. Traditionally the log was from oak symbolizing the Tree of Life according to the Druids, and the mystery of burning was to give the Sun power to start growing the day after the solstice.

The Star as described above denotes the sun. As in the Christian myth of the Three Kings or the Three Wise Men who followed the Star of Bethlehem to offer their gifts to the Infant (the Nativity Christ). In fact, the correct translation is the “Three Magi” (from the magi comes “magician”) – the magi were a priestly cult from Persia. They were astronomers, astrologers and scientists dealing with mysteries and science. The Three Magi welcomed the “birth” of the Sun – Christ.

Christmas in Present time

After the Second World War, the world was temporarily divided into the West and the East. The warring parties use ideology and influence, respectively holidays, as a form of propaganda. In the West – Santa Claus and in the East (USSR – all 16 republics) – Ded Moroz (Дядо Мраз – which is literally “Grandpa Cold“).

Ded Moroz, artist: Victor Vasnezov (1885)

As we have written so far, Santa is not a contemporary “fabrication of the West” as it is still thought by the old generation but it has deep pagan roots for a very long time.

Ded Moroz is no exception, although he became popular in the 19th century through the production of Alexander Ostrovsky’s “Snow Maiden” play and later during socialism.
Ded Moroz is the spirit of winter and cold in the Slavic beliefs long before their Christianization, and Snezhanka is his assistant often called in the past Whirlwind. He is also considered a snow demon. The Ded Moroz celebration has been shifted on New Year’s Day and is considered its main patron.

In other nations, Ded Moroz is commonly referred to as: in the Bashkir Qish Babay (literally: “The Old Man of Winter”), in the Tatars of the Qites Babay (Kish Babai) of the same meaning. By Nenad Yamal Iri (“Yamal’s Grandfather”). At Yakut Chiz Kahn (Master of the Cold).

Certainly the Slavic people influenced the later vision of Yule-Fader (Odin) and is most clearly seen through the Danish Sinterklass, which seems to be a symbiosis between the snow demon and the Viking deity.

The illustration from Thomas Nast

The latest coloring of ancient symbolism in modern times Santa is not much different. Like Ded Moroz, he was popularized among the masses when in 1862 cartoonist soldier Thomas Nast gave his interpretation as a little elf creature. He continued to paint it for another 30 years changing the color of his coat and “Coca-Cola” used advertising posters for his drink around the 1920s using Thomas Nast’s illustration.

From 1931 to 1964, “Coca-Cola” updated Santa’s vision with illustrator Haden Sunblom taking his main inspiration from the poem “Visiting St. Nicholas” (Clark Moore, 1822).

It turns out that Santa and Ded Moroz are parallel interpretations of roughly the same solstice holiday story with one representing the sunrise and the other the harsh winter conditions; day and night, and if they were to be merciful a harmony could be achieved.
Their common connection in their updated versions is the reach of the Normans and Slavs, influenced by the vision of St. Nicholas.

Conclusion

The final conclusion can be said with certainty that at the center of the Christmas festivals is the Light and the victory of Light to Darkness. Ancient astronomers and astrologers emphasized the importance of solstices and equinoxes and no matter how long since then, Christmas has maintained its character for thousands of years in honor of the Sun – The God of Light.

Cosmic observatory of the Thracians, village Staro Zhelezare