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[A much longer version of this article is available as a booklet, “Whose Child is This?,” from the Store at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com]
Is it true that the modern Christmas day commemorates the birth of Yeshua ben Yosef, a Jewish rabbi? Yes, of course, Yeshua (who the world knows simply as “Jesus”) did not create Christianity, nor did he create the “Christmas season.” The winter solstice celebrations were already well established during his time. Jesus, however, might have commemorated Hannukah, an event which took place some 150+ years before his birth, and Passover.
So where do all the symbols of the Christmas season come from, if not from Jesus?
Some pre-1000 B.C. historical records indicate that Nimrod, a great warrior who lived in ancient Babylon two centuries after The Great Flood, married Semiramis. When Nimrod died, Semiramis claimed that Nimrod was resurrected out of a tree stump in the form of an evergreen tree. She stated that Nimrod would visit his tree every year on his birthday -- which was December 25 -- and leave gifts upon the tree. This ancient celebration was complete with mistletoe, holly wreaths, and yule logs!
The Nimrod celebration, in those pre-1000 B.C. days, was closely associated with the fluctuations of the solar year. The midwinter fires of ancient Europe were to celebrate the increased length of each day, which eventually became the "Festival of Lights" as celebrated in Europe.
During the time of the Roman Empire, the people believed in and worshipped Mithra, born on December 25 by Astarte, his virgin mother. Mithra, who was called "The Unconquered Sun," was regularly identified by the worshippers of the sun, since his nativity fell on the same day as the sun festivals.
Numerous cultures had similar religious beliefs, from the Egyptians to the Mayans, and many other cultures. Osiris, Quetzalcoatl, and others, all follow similar patterns with a resurrected savior whose birthday was the winter solstice (or a few days before or after the solstice).Keep in mind that all those celebrations of the solstice had been going on for at least 2000 years prior to the historical birth of Jesus.
Some historical records suggest that Jesus was born sometime in September of the year 4 or 6 B.C. No one knows for certain. However, Christians of the first few centuries A.D. did not celebrate the birthday of Jesus. Although the currently adopted versions of the Bible provide no means of precisely determining the birthdate of Jesus, historians know with certainty, using several points of reference, that it was not on the winter solstice.
When the Christian emperor Constantine I came to power in the 4th Century, he Christianized the “pagan” (followers of Mithra) Romans to adopt the newly-"popular" religion of Christianity. And to make this change easier, Constantine established December 25 as the day to celebrate the coming of the "Son of God" instead of the "sun." Many Old Religion customs were carried over from the "birthday-of-the-sun" celebrations, and blended into the "Son-of-God" (that is, Christmas) celebration.
In the 5th Century, an addition was made to the Christmas celebration. Nikolaos of Myra was an historical 4th century Bishop in the Catholic church of Asia Minor (modern Turkey). He became known as Saint Nicholas, and was well known for the gifts that he gave to newly married couples during the already established Christmas season. Soon, whenever someone received a mysterious gift, it was attributed to Saint Nicholas. St. Nicholas' name -- by the usual changes that occur in all spoken languages -- eventually degenerated into "Santa Claus."
Here are the meanings of some of the other common Christmas symbols.
The Sun. The star of our solar system -- which we call "sun" -- has been used by humankind for many purposes: measuring time, a source of warmth, and a venerated "god." Without the sun's light, there'd be no crops, and thus no animal life, no transpiration, no evaporation, no photosynthesis, no chlorophyll, etc. etc. In sum: no light, no "life" (as we know it). By analogy, then, the sun epitomizes light. Specifically, it represents the Eternal Consciousness, or what most people call "God".
The Solstice. During the winter solstice (usually December 21), the Earth's northern latitudes receive the least amount of sunlight of the year. The "esoteric meaning" of Jesus' birth at this least-hospitable time of the year is that The Christ comes to reaffirm to Mankind that there is a way out of the darkness, there is a way to the light again, there is a path back, out, up. It is only after about 4 days after the solstice that the sun begin to move northward again from a point on the horizon. That is the origin of the “birth” on December 25 in so many cultures.
Birth in a Stable: Jesus' birth in the ignominy of an animal stable symbolizes that each of us IS born into an "animal" existence here on Earthsurface. Another correspondence to the manger is that the pituitary body is situated in a "manger"-like bony depression in the skull, called The Turkish Saddle. According to some metaphysical authors, the pituitary is the seat of our Divinity, (dormant in nearly all of us). Thus, the allegory of the birth in the stable also represents the awakening of our own Divinity.
Wreath: The Wreath symbolizes the circle, an ancient symbol. One level of meaning is the cycle of the seasons, with the winter solstice being the end of a cycle as another begins, over and over again. In fact, the various meanings of the circle are vast.
Evergreens: Evergreens represent eternal life. That is, enduring the "death" of this dark season, the evergreen trees remain alive.
Giving gifts: The gift-giving aspect of Christmas has interesting roots. I've already mentioned the origin of Santa Claus. Many people believe that the roots of the Christmas gift-exchange lie in the three royal astrologers (Magi) who brought gifts to the child in the manger. They didn't exchange gifts among themselves, but they gave unique gifts to the Christ child. One way that we can practice this Real Gifting is to thoughtfully make (or purchase) gifts with the spiritual nature of a specific person in mind. Then, personally hand the gift to that person and tell them why you are giving that to him or her. Though this may seem awkward at first, it will elevate all your gifting (AND your gift-receiving).
Hanukkah: Hanukkah has come to be associated with the Christmas holiday season, even though it commemorates an entirely different event. Yet Hanukkah may have more in common with Christmas than at first meets the eye.
Hanukkah is an eight-day commemoration, recalling the recapture in 165 B.C. of the sacred Temple in Jerusalem by a small tribe of Jewish warriors. The Temple had been taken over by Syrian Greeks, who were using it for their own rituals. When the Jews recaptured it, they found that the Temple had been desecrated and there was only a one-day supply of the sacred oil for the eternal light, which is supposed to burn continuously. Miraculously, the small bit of oil burned for eight days until a new supply of oil could be obtained (which was found in the rubble of the Temple). The eight-branched Menorah symbolizes these eight days. In essence, Hanukkah commemorates the triumph of Light over the Darkness, which is exactly what Christmas and ALL the winter solstice events are intended to commemorate.
Again, Hanukkah commemorates the triumph of the Light over the Dark. The 5 sons of Mattathias represent the 5 physical senses, that is, the "sons" of our body-mind. The desecrated temple symbolizes our bodies desecrated by our envies, our angers, our hates, our lusts, and our baser desires. The esoteric meaning is that we must drive out the sense-illusoriness of material "reality" if we are to retake control -- to rededicate -- our own Temple and allow the eternal Light to triumph within us. And the "sacred oil" for that Light is found -- Phoenix-like -- in the rubble of our own desecrated Temples, if we only Seek it.
These have been but a few examples of the enrichments I've discovered as I've sincerely looked for the esoteric meanings of each exoteric symbol. With such searching, we can trace the entire cycle of the life of Jesus, and see each event as a practical symbol.