The following is an email a Jewish friend of mine sent from “Christmas Jesus” to his children on the occasion of Christmas Day. Their family has a “Hanukkah Harry” tradition, but this year Harry’s cousin “Christmas Jesus” send the kids a letter that purports to explain the “real” history and meaning of the holiday.
Hey boys and girls… okay, boys and girl… Okay, boys and lady and dude. Is that better?
Well, as you know, the world seems to think today is my birthday. They’re wrong, but for most of them, their heart’s in the right place. Or maybe not, but Hell, who am I to judge, right?
Instead of griping over the fact that this was the Persian Sun God’s birthday, or any of that, I figured I’d take this day as an opportunity to remind all the Jewish boys and girls about the real history and the real meaning of Christmas…
Yes, this is important stuff for Jews to know, if for no other reason than because our history has been intertwined with that of Christianity, for better or for worse. We have “karma” in a sense, that needs confronted and resolved with Christianity. Whether most of us know it or not, this is important stuff.
Oh and yeah, that’s right, I’m Jewish too! You probably heard that from you dad, or from my cousin Holiday Harry (hey, with a name like “Christmas Jesus,” you’ve gotta figure I’m related to Holiday Harry… we come from a bit of an eccentric family).
First, let’s start with the history of Christmas… Take your time, read it and weep… Or maybe not weep, but the point is now you know…
Well, for the Christian Church’s first three centuries, Christmas wasn’t even in December. Hell, it wasn’t even on the calendar at all.
When observed at all, the celebration of my birthday was usually lumped in with what Christians called the Epiphany (onJanuary 6th). This was one of the Church’s earliest established feasts. Some Church leaders even opposed the idea of a birthday celebration for me (or for their conceptualization of me). The Christian Church Father Origen (c.185-c.254 CE) even declared that it would be wrong to honor me in the same way Pharaoh and Herod were honored.
Clement of Alexandria (c.150-c.215 CE) disagreed though. He favored May 20th but noted that others had argued for April 18, April 19, and May 28. Hippolytus (c.170-c.236 CE) championed January 2. November 17, November 20, and March 25all had backers as well. A Latin treatise written around 243 said that March 21th was the right date. Why? Because they thought God made the sun on that day.
Going back to ol’ Polycarp (c.69-c.155 CE), who at least met my son – er, I mean “disciple” (I forgot, the world thinks I never had kids), John… Well, Polycarp at least met John, or “Yochanan” – remember, we’re Jewish. We just went by goyische pronunciations when working in cities like Sephoris which were mostly Greek speaking. Today they call that area “Nazareth” but in my day it didn’t have that name, contrary to popular belief. Still, I got assigned the name “Jesus of Nazarthe,” because some schmucks wrote short stories about me way after the fact.
Anyway, Polycarp didn’t learn a lot from my son. For his part, he followed the same line of reasoning to conclude that my birth and “baptism” most likely occurred on Wednesday, because the sun was created on the fourth day. As for that baptism? It was just tevillah, immersion, miqvah-ing into the Essene Jewish community. Essenes were hardcore. If you weren’t an Essene, they didn’t care if you came from a Jewish family or not, you weren’t Jewish yet. All Jews had to convert to Essene Judaism, as did non-Jews… Because everyone was a non-Jew to the Essenes… Except for Essenes. The Essenes were good people though. The Talmud called them the “Chassidim Rishonim”, the “FIRST Chassids”. You should ask your dad about them as you get old. On the real though kids. I eventually had some differences with those guys, coming down more with the Theraputea sect of my old stomping grounds in Egypt, but I digress…
December 25 didn’t get picked until 273 CE. December 25 already hosted two other related festivals: Die Natalis Solis Invicti, the Roman “birthday of the unconquered sun”, and the birthday of Mithra, also called Mithras by the Romans. Mithra was the Persian “Sun of Righteousness” whose worship was popular with Romans. Ever heard Christians say “we are washed in the blood of the lamb”? Well that comes from Mithraism. Converts to the religion, would stand beneath a grate, while a bull was hung overhead. His stomach would then be sliced open and his blood would pour over the initiate. Thus, they would be “bathed in the blood of the bull.” Paul drew on this imagery as he marketed his new religion of Christianity to the “Theosebes” class who didn’t want to get snipped and become full Jews. That too is another story. Maybe ask your pops about it sometime.
Well, December 25th was a big hit. The winter solstice already fell just a few days earlier to, and this was the Die Natalis Solis Invicti and the birthday of Mithra. Why? Because December 25th was when the sun began to “return” from the three day period of darkness following the solstice… Sounds a bit like the crucifixion story, doesn’t it?
Christians first celebrated Christmas on December 25 in 336 CE, in the decades following Emperor Constantine mandating Christianity as the empire’s official religion. He did this because he hallucinated a cross in the sky whilst killing a bunch of people. Interesting character, that Constantine. But we do have him to thank for the earliest written record of there being established Jewish communities in Germany. That’s an important piece of historical information if you ever get into a debate with weird “Khazar Conspiracy” theorists.
Eastern Christianity still held on to January 6th as the date for both my birth and Essene initiation. They forgot the pesky details about Essene Judaism though, but like I said, for most, their hearts have always been in the right place.
The Armenian Church still celebrates my birth on January 6, but the rest of them got with Constantine’s program and adopted December 25th. You win Mithra.
Now about that “meaning” of Christmas thing… Christians like to assert that a Church bishop said in 320 CE, “We hold this day holy, not like the pagans because of the birth of the sun, but because of him who made it.”
Is that true? Did a “fourth century bishop” really say this? Probably not. That is, Christians probably just made the quote up, because I sure can’t find any historical record of who originally said it. But with that said, this IS what most Christians feel. Yes they think creepy weird shit about me. They should not think that I’m God or the son of God – no more than they are or you are, in a general, metaphorical sense – but the Rambam did say something important to consider about them, and I leave you with this to consider…
The Rambam rules unequivocally that Christians are idol-worshipers (Hilchos Ma’achalos Asuros 11:7; See also Rambam Hilchos Avodah Zarah 9:4, and Hilchos Teshuvah 3:8 for a similar ruling). He was a bit hardline, as you’ll find out reading his works, and most liberal Jews disagree with him these days. Anyway, while he did call Christianity `avodah zarah (which I tend to agree with on at least an emotional level), he also said that Christianity was part of Ha’Shem’s plan, leading us forward to the Messianic Era.
In his legal opus Hayad Hachazaka, the Rambam said that thanks to Christianity and Islam “the world has become full of the ideas, concepts [and discussion] of the Mashiach, the ideas of the Torah and the ideas of the mitzvot, so that these have spread to faraway islands and to many dim hearted nations, and they now discuss these ideas and the mitzvot of the Torah.” All of this, he explained, is part of Ha’Shem’s plan to lead us towards the Messianic Era.
It’s hard to imagine a time before Christianity and Islam. Many people like to think that without these religions, the world would be at peace. Like that John Lennon song: “Imagine no religion” as though things were peaceful before religion.This was far from the case. Before Islam, Arabia was a place where people ripped the guts from their still living enemies and ate them. It was a place where baby girls were buried alive in the sand because people didn’t want “too many” of them. Before Christianity came to Europe it was even worse than what we know from European history. All of those psychotic myths from Roman and Greek mythology? Those were relatable to the listeners. If that doesn’t give you an idea of how fucked up Europe was in those days then I don’t know what to tell you… And those were the CIVILIZED parts of Europe. Many other places were just pure cannibal apocalypse zones. Just forget about it.
Like it or not, Christianity, and thus Christmas, has brought out a lot of good in people… more good than bad. The bad in Christianity was the bad in humanity which was there before and is there in spite of Christianity more than because of it. Most Christians never really get the “essence” of their religion, but then again, neither do most Muslims or Jews. At least on this one day, even if it is really Die Natalis Solis Invicti and not my birthday, they act more like I wanted them to act than on any other day.
Alright, now get out of here kids. Go do something fun and enjoy the fact that you’re not in school, and Happy Die Natalis Solis Invicti and “Merry Christmas” to my fellow Jews!
Now for the big reveal: the kids’ dad is working on his PhD, and has a BA and MA in Near Eastern Religions and History. Great letter, but I’m figuring these kids had it figured out pretty early on.