Since earliest times the inhabitants of the Northern countries have observed that there is a period during the year when the days begin to lengthen and the cold begins to strengthen. This event is the Winter Solstice, the turning point when winter having reached its zenith, has also reached the point when it must decline again towards spring. Thus, December 21st is the shortest day of the year.
It was on or about December 21st that the Ancient Greeks celebrated the Bacchanalia or festivities to honour Bacchus the god of wine. In Ancient Rome the Saturnalia of festivals in honour of Saturn, the god of time, began on December 17th and continued for seven days. Both festivals ended in drunkenness, obscenity and disorder. The Druids observed this season in their great roofless temples at Stonehenge and Avebury in England. Torches were lit and strange pagan ceremonies were enacted in honour of the Sun god and to cut the Mysterious Mistletoe to which they gave god-like powers. Even the Ancient Egyptians celebrated this mid-winter in honour of Horus, the son of Isis, born at the close of December.
The Ancient Germanic tribes celebrated the pagan feast of the 12 Night from Dec. 25th to Jan. 6th. The conflicts between the active forces of nature were represented as battles between the gods and plants. The winter was the Ice-Giant, cruel and unruly, and darkness and death followed him. The Sun god and the South Wind were symbols of light and life. At last Thor, the god of the Thunderstorm riding on the wings of the air hurled his thunderbolt at the winter castle and demolished it.
In Scandinavian countries, great fires were kindled to defy the Frost King. The followers of Mithra, throughout the Northern countries, called this period sol invictus representing the time of the victory of light over darkness. Mithra, for them, was not only the Sun god, but the Mediator between mankind and the Supreme Being. His birthday was celebrated on the 25th of December. Sunday, the seventh day of the week (for seven was his number) was consecrated to him, and known as the Lord’s Day long before the Christian Era.
The roots of the Christmas observance, therefore, go deeply into the folklore of the early pagan traditions. What we may read of Christmas in ancient days finds its flower in the past and present customs of Western Civilization. We should clearly understand one important fact. Christmas is not the actual date of the birth of Jesus (p.b.u.h), but a compromise with paganism. The Gospels say nothing about the seasons of the year when Jesus was born. On the other hand, they do tell us that shepherds were guarding their flocks in the open air. Hence, many of the early leaders of the Church considered it most likely that the nativity took place either in the late summer of early Fall.
This and countless facts point to the conclusion that Christmas (Dec. 25th) actually has nothing to do with Jesus (p.b.u.h.) and Mary (p.b.u.h.), the humble of servants of Allah who abstained from the world and submitted entirely to their lord. Christmas has actually incorporated into itself all the pagan festivals; Greek, Roman, Druid, German, Scandinavian, etc., and given them new meaning. The wild revels of the Bacchanalia, the Saturnalia, and the Twelve Nights survive in a milder form in the merriment that marks the season of Christmas today.
“Christmas gifts themselves remind us of the presents that were exchanged in Rome during Saturnalia. In Rome, it might be added, the presence usually took the form of wax tapers (candles) and dolls – the latter being in turn a survival of human sacrifices once offered to Saturn. It is a queer thought that in our Christmas presents we are preserving under another form one of the most savage customs of our barbarian ancestors! The shouts of ‘Bona Saturnalia’, which the Roman people exchanged among themselves are the precursors of ‘Merry Christmas!’ The decorations and illuminations of our Christians churches recall the temples of Saturn, radiant with burning taper and resplendent with garlands”
Today, when Christmas is mentioned, most people immediately think of Santa Claus. The image of Jesus, the son of Mary ((Peace be upon them) is secondary and sometimes lost in the merriment and materialism. The prices in the market place go up and we find that people are spending thousands in order to buy gifts for their friends and neighbours. Most Christians fall into debt that can last for the greater part of the year.
The problem that comes during the Christmas season for Muslims and non-Christians is that there are a number of contradictory symbols. Some of these symbols reveal an animistic religious base but others appear to be monotheistic. At the top of all of them is Santa Claus. One might then ask ‘What do pagan festivals have to do with the innocent, loveable Santa Claus?’
“Actually, in every one of these festivals, the leading figure was an old man with a large, white beard. In the Bacchanalia, the chief god was not actually the young Bacchus, but the aged, cheery and decidedly disreputable Silenus, the chief of the Satyrs (Half man, half animal figures of Greek mythology) and the god of drunkards. In the Saturnalia, it was Saturn, a dignified and venerable old gentleman, the god of Time. In the Germanic feasts it was Thor, a person of patriarchal aspect, and a warrior to boot.” So, although the main figure of the Christian festival was supposed to be Jesus, the child-god born to an innocent woman, the pagan ways of the past were too strong in the hearts of the Christians to be easily dismissed. The earlier gods were replaced by Saint Nicholas, an austere Christian Bishop who was born in Turkey in the 4th Century A.D., and became the patron Saint of children throughout the Western World. The name Saint Nicholas has now been abbreviated to Santa Claus and even his image has changed, but one fact remains crystal clear; this merry, mystical figure that flies through the air in a reindeer-drawn sleigh is the re-incarnation of a pagan deity that is very much alive today in the minds of men.
WHY DOES SANTA COME DOWN THE CHIMNEY?
“The early Germans considered the Norse Hertha or Bertha, the goddess of domesticity and the home. During the winter solstice, houses were decked with Fir and Evergreens to welcome her coming. When the family and the serfs gathered to dine, a great alter of flat stones was erected and here a fire of Fir bough was laid. Hertha descended through the smoke, guiding those who were wise in Saga to foretell the fortunes of those persons at the feast. We learn from this story of Hertha and the reason why Santa Claus comes down the chimney instead of in at the door.”
THE CHRISTMAS TREE AND THE YULE LOG
In just about all times and continents, we find records of the worship, at some former period, of a tree as a divine object. The Pagan Scandinavians called their greatest and most famous tree (the Ash tree) Yggdrasil. Nobody had ever seen it, but everybody believed in it. It was supposed to have been so big that it had three roots, one in heaven, one in hell, and one on earth. According to Scandinavian mythology, when the roots of Yggdrasil are eaten through, the tree will fall over and the end of all things will have arrived. The Anglo-Saxon Druids adopted this mythology and during Christmas period chose Yule log which they blessed an proclaimed that it should be ever burning. This custom has survived and the Yule log is burnt throughout England. The origin if he sacred tree may have been developed in Ancient Egypt and other older societies.” Egypt had one in the palm, which puts forth a shoot every month. From Egypt the custom reached Rome, where it was added to the other ceremonies of the Saturnalia. But as palm trees do not grow in Italy, other trees were used in its stead. A small fir tree, or the crest of a large one was found to be the most suitable because it is shaped like a cone or pyramid. This was decorated with twelve burning tapers lit in honour of the god of Time. At the very tip of the pyramid blazed the representation of a radiant sun placed there in honour of Apollo, the sun-god to whom the three last days of December were dedicated.”
“Some people believe that the word “Holly” is a form of the word “Holy” because of the association of these evergreens with Christmas. This is not the true derivation, however. Holly is merely a variation of Holin, Hollin, or Holm. The name Holme is now used for a kind of oak. This tree was admired by the Druids who believed that its evergreen leaves attested to the fact that the sun never deserted it. It was therefore, sacred. It was also believed to be hateful to witches and is therefore, placed on doors and windows to keep out the evil spirits.”
This is only a glimpse at the incredible amount of distortion and paganism that has been incorporated into the Christmas doctrine and disseminated throughout the world in the name of love, giving, and the purity of the Virgin Mary and Jesus (Peace be upon them). Somewhere along the line when the Christians were being tortured and killed in Roman coliseums, somebody made the decision to make it easy for the northern people to accept these teachings. So what comes about is an adaptation and a change so that you actually have the Christmas ceremony which once represented Pagan images of nature, images based upon the worship of the sun, or the worship of the created things, now in the monotheistic religion.
It is interesting to note that as late as 1647, Britain’s Puritan Parliament had Christmas ceremony banned as pagan. St. Nicholas appeared in early European folklore as another character, sometimes known as Beowulf , or Nick or Nikker. He was said to be a demon or the evil spirit of the north. Descriptions of him show him when humanoid as an aged creature with a flowing white beard. By The 16th century, the term had become more specific, the Chrisitianized:”Old Nick” or even “St. Nicholas” meant the devil proper. In the Bible, Isaiah 14:13, the devil’s throne was in the north. Satan presided over the winter’s darkness. So the character representing evil for the northern Christians was transferred into the figure of Santa Claus. He was often covered with red fur or driven in a sleigh by winged snakes.
If Santa Claus now is flying all over the world giving gifts to children what happened to the labour of their mother and the father? Why is Santa Claus coming down the chimney? That is because there was a belief in ancient Scandinavia that a goddess of flames would come into the home. And so this confusion now is all put together on the Christmas occasion and people have forgotten about Isa (p.b.u.h).
In the Islamic understanding, Isa or Jesus (p.b.u.h), the son of Mary (p.b.u.h)was a very humble person who possessed only one or two changes of clothing. He used to walk bare foot most of the time. He renounced the life of materialism and wanted people to move away from focussing on gold and silver. He encouraged the Children of Israel to have spirituality and to remember the Creator. According to most Christian and Muslim theologians, the actual birth of Jesus the son of Mary (p.b.u.h) was in the summer. In a Qur’anic chapter called Maryam ( Quran 19:16-40), there is a detailed discourse on Mary (p.b.u.h). She is depicted as a very pious individual who spent most of her life fasting. When the angel Gabriel told her that she would have a son, she couldn’t believe it. He informed her that it would happen by the power of God who would breath his spirit into her she would become pregnant; and she did. She went out of the city to a remote area. In the Quran, 19:24-25, Allah (swt) sent the angel to tell her that water will come under her and then to shake the palm tree and rutuban janniyya, the ripe dates, will fall down from the tree. The Arabs knew that the ripe dates come in the summer time. Even the Christians agreed with this because, according to their traditions, the shepherds were putting their flocks outside. And in the area of Bethlehem and Nazarath this could only be done in the warm weather.
Therefore, it is basically agreed upon that Jesus (p.b.u.h.) was a humble, simple, non- materialistic person who was born in the summer. What is happening now is a cleverly contrived mixture that is moving more towards the celebration of immorality and materialism than piety and God-consciousness.
Allah has revealed in the Blessed Qur’an , Surah An-Nisaa (157-9), the following verses:
…And because of their sayings: We killed the Messiah Jesus son of Mary, Allah’s messenger, but they killed him not nor crucified him. It appeared so to them. And lo, those who disagree concerning it are in doubt thereof; they have no knowledge thereof save pursuit of a conjecture. They killed him not for certain. But Allah took him unto Himself. And Allah is ever Mighty, Wise. There is not one of the People of the Book but will believe in him before his death, and on the Day of Resurrection he will be a witness against them.
In Surah Al Ma’idah is the following:
The Messiah, son of Maryam is but an Apostle; Apostles before him have Indeed passed away. And his mother was a truthful woman. They both used to eat food. See how We make the communications clear to them, then behold, how they are turned away. Say: Do you serve besides Allah that which does not control for you any harm, or any profit? And Allah is the All Hearing, the All Knowing.
Say: O followers of the Book! Be not unduly immoderate in your religion, and do not follow the low desire of people who went astray before and led many astray and went astray from the right path.
Shaykh Abdullah Hakim Quick