At this time of year especially, we hear many stories. We hear stories of a jolly old white bearded man named Santa Claus who brings gifts to little children all over the world in one night while flying through the air on his magical sleigh led by eight, and sometimes nine, tiny reindeer. We hear stories of a man named George Bailey who lives to see the truth that no person is a failure whose friends love and support him, especially while in his deepest need. We hear stories of a grumpy old man named Scrooge, who learns the true meaning of Christmas to share joy and love freely and in abundance, as his friend Jacob Marley told him, “mankind was my business.” And we hear the story of the birth of a baby boy named Jesus, also known as Emmanuel, meaning, “God with us,” who was born of a virgin in a lowly stable because there was no room at the inn for his mother Mary to give birth to him. We hear of wise men following a magical star marking the site of his birth, and kings bearing gifts to the divine child. It is a beautiful story poetically illustrating the birth, the dawn of Light at a time when the Earth reaches its darkest time, when the winter solstice occurs as the time at which the sun appears at noon at its lowest altitude above the horizon, and usually occurs on December 21 to 22 each year.
After that time, around December 25th, the sun begins to “return” northward above the horizon, “rising again,” as the son of God is said to have have risen after death. It is the literal return of longer, warmer days of light, foreshadows the coming of spring, and the return of life. This is why Easter occurs with the vernal equinox. Equinox means “equal time,” and it marks the time in which there are equal periods of day and night. It marks the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere, and is the promise of longer, warmer, more properous days to come. It is indeed the time of celebration and “resurrection.” This is the true “reason for the season,” and we can see the beautiful poetic metaphors in these myths that Christianity used symbolically in the account of the life of Jesus Christ. Still, what these stories illustrate is of natural phonomena – the pattern of the sun and its movement in the sky, not anything of “transcendent” or “spiritual” significance, such as the birth of a savior god to a virgin. The original myths recognized natural phonemona upon which humanity depended and still depend upon to survive. That being said, we all know we have periods in our lives when we feel “dead and buried,” only to “rise again” when things turn around for us. Still, these are metaphors for life on Earth, as living people in the here and now, not life within an imaginary “spiritual realm” completely separate from Earthly life. So we can see the son is really the sun, as Jesus was another manifestation of the sun gods who were worshiped by the Pagans. Indeed, Christianity competed with rival Pagan religions at the time of its ascent to being eventually recognized as the official state religion of the Roman Empire.
Who were these Pagan gods? Well, Attis was a son of the virgin Nana. His birthday was celebrated on December 25th, and he was sacrificed as an adult in order to bring salvation to mankind. He is said to have died about March 25th, after being crucified on a tree, and descended for three days into the underworld. On Sunday, he arose, as the solar deity for the new season. His body was symbolically eaten by his followers in the form of bread. For Christians, this story sounds like that of Jesus, as indeed it is the same myth, told about two-hundred years before the supposed birth of Jesus Christ. Worship of Attis began in Rome circa 200 B.C.E.
Dionysus is another savior-god whose birth was observed on December 25th. He was worshipped throughout much of the Middle East as well as in Greece, and had a center of worship in Jerusalem in the 1st century B.C.E. Some ancient coins were found in Gaza with Dionysus on one side and JHWH (Jehovah) on the other. In later years, his flesh and blood were symbolically eaten in the form of bread and wine. He was viewed as the son of Zeus, the Father God. Once again, the Christian symbolism is everywhere, but its source is of another Pagan origin.
There are numerous other examples from the Egyptian god Horus to the Zorastrian divinity Mithra, who both share similar characteristics with Jesus Christ, such as birth to a virgin, and a birthdate of December 25th. The point is, Christian symbolism and the origins of their stories have their roots in many traditions, from Paganism, Judaism, and even Buddhism. Buddha was also said to have been born of a virgin, so the notion of Christ’s virgin conception being unique and unheard of before his time is simply not correct. All of these stories, including that of Jesus Christ are myths, which does not mean the stories are not true. It means these stories are not factual. True stories speak to universal truths all of humanity can recognize such as life and death, rebirth, suffering, and triumph over hardship. That has nothing to do with whether or not a story is factually correct, as we have discovered before.
While investigating this, I have been asking myself the question of what the essential difference is between God, Jesus Christ, and Santa Claus. It seems to me there is not as much difference as many would think. While some may laugh out loud at this notion, I think we need to look much more carefully at this question than we may initially be inclined, especially if we are Christians. Let us look at some similarities together:
* Santa is a white bearded nice guy.
God is often portrayed as a white-bearded nice guy.
* Santa knows if you’ve been bad or good.
God in his omniscience knows if you’ve been bad or good.
* Santa rewards you with presents if you are good, and gives you nothing if you are bad.
God punishes the sinners and rewards the righteous.
* Santa possesses magical qualities such as flying reindeer and the amazing ability to deliver gifts to all the little children in the world in one night.
God possesses magical qualities such as parting the red sea, creating humankind from dust, impregnating a virgin with his seed, and turning a person into a pillar of salt. Jesus also possesses magical qualities such as the ability to raise the dead, turn water into wine, heal the sick, etc.
The point is, both of these conceptions are nearly the same and equally unbelievable as factually correct stories to any rational thinking person. Why is it God’s actions have “credibility” and so-called “believability” while Santa’s do not? Do we buy in to stories of God because his supposed actions appear in an ancient book, backed by earthly authority through the institution of the centuries-old church that somehow, some way, shield these stories from questioning and criticism? Nobody but little kids believe in Santa Claus. Everyone knows he is make believe. But millions of people believe God and Jesus are not imaginary, but real beings intervening in our lives today. The double standard is an astounding one, and what is more astounding is how we fail to see our hypocrisy and contradiction in applying this double-standard. I find it laughable how people will say Christmas is not about the mythical Santa Claus, but about the “real” God and the birth of his son Jesus Christ. They are all equally mythical. That is the point. Neither is more nor less “real” than the other. They are all mythical characters symbolically representing truths of humanity which transcend time and space, and any egotistical notions of one’s particular myth being “right” with all others being “wrong.”
Those adults who tell the Santa Claus story at least see the story for what it is – a myth. Religious people are much less honest because they take their particular myth from their own religious tradition at face value, as literal fact, while failing to see their stories as equally mythical as everyone else’s religious myth. Would it not be more honest and beneficial for humanity to simply view religious myth for what it is – poetic metaphors… stories such as “Star Wars,” “Lord of the Rings,” and “Harry Potter,” which illustrate universal truths within humanity instead of stories to be believed in as literal fact? Stories such as “Star Wars” do not create wars with rival fans of “Harry Potter.” Why is this? Because everyone knows these stories are mythical and symbolic, not to be taken literally, and while one may be a fan of one or both, everyone knows it is not worth killing each other because we may have disagreements about which story is true and which is false. All are true. None are factual.
As we have discovered before, it is our own arrogance and narcissistic egotism which is responsible for all of these notions of our personal “righteousness” over everyone else. As long is it is our god, our myth, our notion of reality others accept, we are content. Does it make sense to blow each other up, to persecute, coerce, and murder others in defense of the so-called “righteousness” of our beliefs? If the entire point of all religions is to point us to truth, to peace, to love, and to kindness – the true spirit of Christmas, then the defense of personal beliefs is obviously not the way, nor the truth, nor the life… and by their fruits… we shall know.