MULTICULTURAL SOCIETY CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS?
- Our Pagan Christmas (Published by the National
Secular Society in 1977)
Foreword by Barbara Smoker
- Excerpts - ROMAN HOLIDAY & CHRISTIANS
- – with a foreword by Barbara
appendix of an exerpt from Charles
Bradlaugh' article 'Who Was Jesus Christ?"
It is worth reminding
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.
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
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.
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.
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
CHRISTIANS TAKE OVER
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
neither know the hour, nor
day, nor month, nor year of Jesus's
generally agree that he was not born on Christmas
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
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
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
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
(i. 13). Luke says Zorobabel's son was Rhesa
(iii. 27). The Old Testament contradicts both, and gives Meshullam 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
prior to the Christian era.
Was Jesus Christ man or myth? His story
being fable, is the
a reality? That a man named Jesus really
lived and performed
special actions attracting popular
attention, and thus became
centre for a hundred myths, may well be
true; but beyond this
there of solid fact?
CHARLES BRADLAUGH (1833-91)