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  • Our Pagan Christmas (Published by the National Secular Society in 1977)                                 Foreword by Barbara Smoker
  •  – with a foreword by Barbara Smoker and appendix of an exerpt from Charles Bradlaugh' article 'Who Was Jesus Christ?"

It is worth reminding ourselves (or reading for the first time) of what R J Condon had to say with this extract from his wonderful little book, 'Our Pagan Christmas'.

Our Pagan Christmas Foreword by Barbara Smoker

  "IF You don't believe in Our Lord, you obviously can't have anything to celebrate at Christmas! So why do you send Christmas cards? Why have a Christmas-tree? Why a special Christmas dinner instead of corned beef or fish-fingers?! "

     Those of us who make no secret of our rejection of Christian beliefs  are often subject to jibes of this kind unless we are also, like Bernard Shaw, anti-Christmas ascetics, eager to do a normal day's work on Dec- ember the 25th, avoiding the company of revelers and keeping to our vegetarian diet and alcoholic abstinence. Most of us do not aspire to such Shavian ascetism. Though concerned to appear consistent, we would hate to feel excluded from the general jollification. With the aid of this little book, we can boldly join in the feast without losing face!

     For in these pages, so ably researched and lucidly written by R. J. Condon for the National Secular Society, we have the unassailable historical facts to justify us and help us prepare confident rejoinders to the taunts of Christians who would exclude us from the feast of friendship and the "Christmas spirit" of empathy and alcohol.

However, the book has more serious aspects than simply enabling the non-Christian to join in the Christmas revels with a clear con- science. Its concise, factual information also enables the average busy reader to see in its true perspective the doctrinal Christian insistence on the historical Jesus. And it is on this bogus doctrine that an immeasurable amount of rigid authoritarianism, social injustice, and human misery has depended for almost -two thousand years.

     Although the historical facts have appeared in many previous publications, this seems to be the first booklet of its kind for the general reader on the popular subject of Christmas. As long as the facts remain unfamiliar to the public at large, there is certainly an educational need for such a publication in this popular style, at this popular price.

     At the same time, it gives us a good opportunity to reprint some apposite extracts from an essay of biblical criticism ("Who Was Jesus Christ?") by the 19th-century founder of the National Secular Society, Charles Bradlaugh. These extracts appear as an appendix to the book- let. The final sentence gives Bradlaugh's conclusion that there is no historical substance in the Gospels beyond a possibility that an actual man was the focus for the mythology. R. J. Condon, however, does not accept even this as a serious possibility, since there is no acceptable evidence for an historical Jesus, and the mythological development can be adequately accounted for (and, indeed, more easily ac-
counted for) without a human life being brought into it at all.

     Christianity's take-over of our pagan mid-winter festival, to the extent of actually claiming a monopoly in it, is an expression of the privileged position of institutionalised Christianity that prevails in the western world, and by no means least in irreligious Britain. Christianity's usurping of Yuletide may seem a relatively unimportant  feature of this, but it plays its part in reinforcing that position of privilege.

     Schoolchildren, for weeks before the feast, are immersed in the Christian Nativity story, in their morning assemblies, their singing lessons, their projects, compositions, and drama. They hear little or nothing about the festival's universal frame of reference and its truly ancient origins. This, to say the least of it, is hardly fair on the non- Christian children in our multi-cultural society (the Jews and Muslims as well as the little atheists and agnostics)-and is thus, contrary to the theoretical cohesiveness of the Christmas spirit, in practice divisive

      The Nativity myth, with its pagan heritage of rejoicing, helps to keep us happy under the yoke of Christian privilege-fiscal privilege through charity status, disproportionate broadcasting time, and, above all, the anti-educational, self-perpetuating privilege of indoctrinating children, both in the State school system and in the thousands of State-subsidised church schools that segregate children according to their denominational backgrounds. The social effects of this segregation can have highly disastrous consequences, as we have seen all too clearly in Northern Ireland.

     Ironically enough, if anyone ought to abstain from the seasonal celebrations of the fourth week of December on grounds of credal consistency it is, as R. J. Condon shows, the believing Christian! The pantomime, the Christmas tree, candles, mistletoe, holly, feasting on special kinds of meat, the mince pies and the flaming sunshaped Christmas pudding-all were pagan in origin and symbolism, and all were anathema to the Fathers of the Church. But that is not
all. Even the Christian Nativity scene is originally pagan-representing the rebirth of the Sun-god on earth, born of a virgin at midnight on the 24th of December, laid in the manger of a stable, and visited by three gift-bearing kings or magicians.

     It is not, perhaps, a bad thing that human beings are less consistent than they like to think, and no one resents -the way that Christians now join wholeheartedly in celebrating the universal pagan festival from which they alone stood aloof during the first dozen generations of Christianity. But it does seem a bit much that they should

    Yes, the word "Christmas" is, of course, Christian. But it was unknown before the eleventh century. And, anyway, what does it mean? It means the day on which the Mass is celebrated in honour of Christ's birthday-which makes it no more appropriate to Protestant sects that have ousted the Mass than to non-Christians. Even the modern (19th-century) custom of sending greetings to now claim sole rights in it's secular custom, has been seized upon as another opportunity for Christian propaganda; so, year after year, clergymen actually denounce the depiction of such traditional secular subjects as snow- scenes with robins, in favour of the supposedly Christian Nativity scene.

    As a counterblast to this wholesale Christian take-over of Yuletide, I introduced a range of "Heretic Cards" in 1973, and the success of this enterprise prompted the executive committee of the National  Secular Society to urge their colleague Dick Condon to write this little booklet for publication by -the NSS at a price that would allow people to buy extra copies for enclosure with cards sent to selected friends and relatives.

     For some years, R. J. Condon has been contributing articles to The
Freethinker (the periodical published in association with the National
Secular Society since 1881) on the pagan origins of "Christian" festivals. So we knew he was our man. And we were not mistaken. I have read his typescript with delight-storing up facts for conclusive use - in repartee when chivvied, as usual, next Christmas.

President, The National Secular Society BARBARA SMOKER 1971-1996

Exerpt from 'Our Pagan Christmas' by R.J. Condon

Had we lived at the period assigned to the birth of Jesus and wished to observe the various modes of celebrating the already ancient feast, no better place could have been chosen for the purpose than Rome, then the capital city of a great empire. People from many countries lived in Rome, and in the generally prevailing religious tolerance they followed their native forms of worship. Whatever credal differences they might have had, a fortnight or so before the end of December would have found almost everyone preparing for a great festival, the Saturnalia, which lasted from the 17th to the 24th of December. During this period of revelry slaves changed places with their masters, and all manner of licence was permitted. The holiday concluded on December 25th with a greast feast, the Brumalia, when parties were given and presents exchanged.

In the Roman calendar December 25th was called Natalis Solis Invicti, the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun. That was when the sun, three days after reaching the lowest point of its annual course through the heavens, once more began to rise higher in the sky, the first indication that winter would come to an end and that the animal and plant life on which humanity depended for its existence would flourish anew. So everyone celebrated, and above all it was an occasion of religious rejoicing.

The Persian sun-god Mithra had a large following in Rome, particularly among the military. At midnight, the first moment of December 25th, the Mithraic temples would be lit up, with priests in white robes at the altars, and boys burning incense, much as we see in Roman Catholic churches at midnight on Christmas Eve in our own time. Mithra, his worshippers believed, had come from heaven to be born as man in order to redeem men from their sins, and he was born of a virgin on December 25th. Shepherds were the first to learn of his birth, just as shepherds are said (according to "Luke", alone among the evangelists) to have been the first told of the birth of Jesus. At sunrise, the priests would announce: "The god is born" Then would come rejoicing, followed by a meal representing the Last Supper which Mithra ate with his disciples before his ascension into heaven.

The Egyptians who lived in Rome would also have been celebrating at this time. Horus, they said, was born of a virgin as the saviour of mankind. In the Egyptian temple would be found a crib or manger, with a figure of the infant Horus lying in it, and a statue of his virgin mother Isis standing alongside, not at all unlike the Christmas cribs in our own churches.

The Greeks of Rome, too, would have been paying respect to the figure of a child-god. In Greece itself the festival was held on January 6th. That was when the virgin goddess Kore gave birth to Dionysus, one of whose names was les or Jesus. For 400 years the Greek Church celebrated the Nativity on January 6th, as the Armenian Church still does.

The Roman gladiators, war-captives from Germany, would have been celebrating Yule, the northern European mid-winter festival. Yule, or the Wheel, signified the turning point of the year, when the sun was checked in its downward movement and began to roll back, like a wheel. The wheel was a universal solar symbol.

Even the Jews would have been making holiday. Their Chanukah, or Feast of Illuminations, fell on Chasleu 25th. Chasleu or Kislew was the Babylonian month Kisilimu, approximating to December, the Jews having adopted the lunar calendar of Babylonia during their captivity in that country. Chanukah is supposed to have been instituted in 165 B.C. by Judas Maccabeus as a joyful feast in honour of his victory over the Syrian King Antiochus IV, who had set up a pagan altar in the Jewish Temple and sacrificed swine upon it, on the sun's birthday. According to the Jewish Encyclopaedia, however, Chasleu 25th had long been a Jewish winter solstice festival.


The Christian Church, when it began, stood aloof at the festive season, and as late as 245 A.D. we find Origen protesting against the very idea of celebrating the birthday of Jesus as if he were an earthly king. Moreover, the birth of Christ could hardly have been fixed on so notorious a day as that of so many pagan sun-gods. But Christianity would soon adopt much from the pagans, though not without pointed remarks from the latter. Not until the fourth century, however, would the Church be powerful enough to silence its rivals and brazenly announce that henceforth the birth of the true Sun of Righteousness would be celebrated on the day of the Natalis Solis Invicti. Not that the Christians were averse to joining in the fun. Far from it, as the third-century Church father Tertullian ruefully testifies in his work On Idolatry:

By us, who are strangers to Sabbaths, and new moons and festivals once acceptable to God, the Saturnalia, the feasts of January, the Brumalia and the Malronalia are now frequented. Gifts are carried to and fro, New Year's Day presents are made with din, and sports and banquets are celebrated with uproar. Oh, how much more faithful are the heathen to their religion, who take care to adopt no solemnity from the Christians.


Selected extracts from Charles Bradlaugh's Essay, "Who Was Jesus

Christ? "


 We neither know the hour, nor day, nor month, nor year of Jesus's birth; divines generally agree that he was not born on Christmas Day, and yet on that day the anniversary of his birth is observed. The Oxford Chronology places the matter in no clearer light, and more than thirty learned authorities give a period of over seven years' difference in their reckoning. The place of his birth is also uncertain. The Jews, in the presence of Jesus, reproached him that he ought to have been born at Bethlehem, and he never replied "I was born there"
(John vii, 41, 42, 52).
 Jesus was the son of David, the son of Abraham (Matt. i.), from whom his descent is traced through Isaac-born of Sarai (whom the writer of the epistle to Galatians (iv. 24) says was a covenant and not a woman}--and ultimately through Joseph, who was not only not his father, but is not shown to have had any kind of relationship to him, and through whom therefore the genealogy should not be traced. There are two genealogies in the Gospels which contradict each other, and these in part may be collated with the Old Testament genealogy, which differs from both. The genealogy of Matthew is self-contradictory, counts thirteen names as fourteen, and omits the names of three kings. Matthew says Abiud was the son of Zorobabel (i. 13). Luke says Zorobabel's son was Rhesa (iii. 27). The Old Testament contradicts both, and gives Meshullam and Hananiah, and Shelomith, their sister (I Chron. iii. 19), as the names of Zorobabel's children. The reputed father of Jesus, Joseph, had two fathers, one named Jacob, the other Heli. The divines suggest that Heli was the father of Mary, by reading the word "Mary" in Luke iii. 23, in lieu of "Joseph", and the word "daughter" in lieu of "son", thus correcting the evident blunder made by inspiration. The birth of Jesus was miraculously announced to Mary and to Joseph by visits of an angel, but they so little regarded the miraculous annunciation that they marvelled soon after at much less wonderful things spoken by Simeon.
 Jesus was the son of God, or God manifest in the flesh, and his birth was first discovered by some wise men or astrologers, a class described in the Bible as an abomination in God's sight. These men saw his star in the East, but it did not tell them much, for they were apparently obliged to ask information from Herod the King. Herod in turn inquired of the chief priests and scribes; and it is evident Jeremiah was right if he said, "The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means", for these chief priests either misread the prophets or misquoted the Scripture, which is claimed to be a revelation from God, and invented a false prophecy (Matt. ii. 5, 6; cf. Micah v. 2) by omitting a few words from, and adding a few words to, a text until it suited their purpose. The star-after the  wise men knew where to go, and no longer required its aid-led and  went before them, until it came and stood over where the young  child was. This story will be better understood if the reader will 
walk out some clear night, notice a star, and then try to fix the one  house it will be exactly over. The writer of the Third Gospel, silent  on the star story, speaks of an angel who tells some shepherds of the  miraculous; but this does not appear to have happened in the reign  of Herod ...

Who was Christ? Born of a virgin, and of divine parentage? So 
too were many of the mythic Sun-gods and so was Krishna, whose 
story, similar in many respects with that of Jesus, was current long 
prior to the Christian era.

Was Jesus Christ man or myth? His story being fable, is the hero 
a reality? That a man named Jesus really lived and performed some 
special actions attracting popular attention, and thus became the 
centre for a hundred myths, may well be true; but beyond this what is 
there of solid fact?