Did you know that Christmas has origins in ancient Greece, in a period that precedes Christianity by a 1000 years? The celebration of Christmas and the symbol of Jesus has many similarities to the celebration of Dionysus. Much like Jesus, the god Dionysus was born of a mortal mother and a top god, in this case Zeus. Ancient Greeks celebrated his birthday on December 30.
Even Christmas songs, a.k.a carols, originated in ancient Greece. These are joyful songs that were composed by Homer when he stayed with a group of children on the island of Samos. The only caveat is that these songs weren’t sung at the end of December, but in October and November during the celebration of another holiday called Pyanopsia. Despite this difference, we can still see that the holidays are close enough in time for their traditions to be integrated in the holiday of Christmas.
Also, decorating of a tree with garlands has origins in Ancient Greece. Instead of pine, however, it was the olive tree branches called “eiresioni” that were decorated. This practice too was during the Pyanopsia celebration.
All in all, the Christian religion has adopted and adapted existing ancient Greek holidays for its own purposes. This is not surprising: it is easier to repurpose an existing holiday which people already like, than to invent a brand new one.
So, why do we celebrate Christmas? Let’s call things by their true name. Should only Christians have a claim on this holiday? Wouldn’t it be better if the holiday was called by a neutral name, and was only about joy and presents, but nothing else? Those who want to add their own meaning to it, like the celebration of the birth of Christ, can do so without monopolizing the core holiday. For instance, did you know that Newton was born on Dec 24? For some of us (like me), the Newton’s idea for the scientific method is a higher cause for celebration, than the idea of “offering the other cheek” (an idea with many flaws, but that’s for another article).