15.12.16

The Ancient Greek Roots of "Christmas"

Christmas is the most important, and perhaps the most treasured, celebration of Christianity filled with joy and love. Every country celebrates with different customs that have deep roots within history and tradition. We can find a variety of similarities in the commemoration of the birth of Christ and Dionysus between ancient and contemporary Greece. If we look at the ancient Greek history and the traditions within, we will see that some of our customs have their roots in ancient Greece.



In December, the Ancient Greeks celebrated the birth of Dionysus, calling him “Savior” and divine “infant.” According to Greek mythology, his mother was a mortal woman, Semele, and his father was Zeus, the king of the Gods. The priest of Dionysus held a pastoral staff as did the Good Shepherd. On December 30, ancient Greeks commemorated his rebirth.
Bust of Dionysus

The most well-known custom throughout the Christian world are the Christmas carols that have roots deriving from ancient Greece. Specifically, Homer — during his stay on the island of Samos, along with a group of children — composed the carols. In ancient Greece, carols symbolized joy, wealth and peace, and the children sang the carols only in the homes of the rich. Children would go from house to house, holding an olive or a laurel branch adorned with wool (a symbol of health and beauty) and different kinds of fruits. The children brought the olive branch to their homes and hung it on the doors where it remained for the rest of the year.
Read about the Twelve Days of Dionysus
As with Jesus, December 25th and January 6th are both traditional birth dates in the Dionysian myth and simply represent the period of the winter solstice. Indeed, the winter-solstice date of the Greek sun and wine god Dionysus was originally recognized in early January but was eventually placed on December 25th, as related by ancient Latin writer Macrobius (c. 400 AD/CE). Regardless, the effect is the same: The winter sun god is born around this time, when the shortest day of the year begins to become longer.

"Macrobius transfers this feast to the day of the winter solstice, December 25."

The ancient Church father Epiphanius (4th cent. ) discussed the birth of the god Aion, son of the Greek goddess Persephone or Kore ("Maiden"), at the time of the winter solstice. In this regard, Christian theologian Rev. Dr. Hugh Rahner (139-140) remarks:

We know that Aion was at this time beginning to be regarded as identical with Helios and Helios with Dionysus...because [according to Macrobius] Dionysus was the symbol of the sun... He is made to appear small at the time of the winter solstice, when upon a certain day the Egyptians take him out of the crypt, because on this the shortest day of the year it is as though he were a little child.... Macrobius transfers [this feast] to the day of the winter solstice, December 25.

Dionysus is thus equivalent to Aion and was also said to have been born of Persephone, the virgin maiden. Esteemed mythologist Joseph Campbell (MI, 34) confirms this "celebration of the birth of the year-god Aion to the virgin Goddess Kore," the latter of whom he calls "a Hellenized transformation of Isis," the Egyptian mother goddess who was likewise called the "Great Virgin" in inscriptions predating the Christian era by centuries.

Birth of Dionysus
Dionysus was a descendant of Zeus and mortal woman Semele. He is actually the only god of mortal mother and his birth was unique as well. It all started when Hera disguised in Semele`s maid and gave her advice to make Zeus swear an oath to answer a single question.bacchus and nymphs of Nysa It was all a plot to kill Semele because Hera suspected her having a relationship with Zeus. And when Zeus came and swore that he would answer any question, Semele asked him to reveal his true identity. Zeus had no choice but to answer and when he shifted to his true nature, the room, they were in, was overwhelmed with lightnings and killed pregnant Semele. 
Attic Red Figure Krater by The Altamura Painter,ca 460 B.C., National Archaeological Museum of Ferrara
Dionysus stands on the lap of Zeus after being birthed from his father's thigh. Zeus is seated on a stool with a deer-skin drape and holds a thyrsos (pine-cone tipped staff)--the usual attribute of his son. The infant holds a wine cup (krater) in one hand and a vine in the other. Aphrodite stands to the left with two blooming flowers. On the right Eileithyia, goddess of childbirth, raises her hand as midwife of the birth.

The king of the gods then immediately sent for his loyal servant Hermes to help with saving the child. Hermes stitched the child into the thigh of Zeus who helped him grow a bit more before releasing him. When Dionysus was born, he was, like many other illegitimate infants, harassed by Hera and her minions. Those who helped Dionysus had to be moving him constantly to keep his whereabouts a secret. And it was Hermes once again who finally found him a safe shelter with a group of mountain nymphs, away from the eyes of many. 

Dionysus spent his childhood with these nymphs and invented the process of growing grapes and making wine. However, his childhood did not last long because Hera found out about his location and he was forced to move again. His path guided him around the world.

Virgin Birth
According to the most common tradition, Dionysus was the son of the god Zeus and the mortal woman Semele. In the Cretan version of the same story, which the pre-Christian Greek historian Diodorus Siculus follows, Dionysus was the son of Zeus and Persephone, the daughter of Demeter also called Kore, who is styled a "virgin goddess."

In the common myth about the birth of Dionysus/Bacchus, Semele is mysteriously impregnated by one of Zeus's bolts of lightning--an obvi­ous miraculous/virgin conception.

Concerning Dionysus's epithet "twice begotten," in the third century Church father Minucius Felix (Commodius, XII) remarked to his Pagan audience:

Ye yourselves say that Father Liber was assuredly twice begotten. First of all he was born in India of Proserphine [Persephone] and Jupiter [Zeus]... Again, restored from his death, in another womb Semele conceived him again of Jupiter... (Roberts, IV, 205)

"The virgin conceived the ever-dying, ever-living god of bread and wine, Dionysus."



In another account, Jupiter/Zeus gives Dionysus's torn-up heart in a drink to Semele, who becomes pregnant with the "twice born" god this way, again a miraculous or "virgin" birth. Indeed, Joseph Campbell explicitly calls Semele a "virgin":

While the maiden goddess sat there, peacefully weaving a mantle on which there was to be a representation of the universe, her mother contrived that Zeus should learn of her presence; he approached her in the form of an immense snake. And the virgin conceived the ever-dying, ever-living god of bread and wine, Dionysus, who was born and nurtured in that cave, torn to death as a babe and resurrected... (Campbell, MG, 4.27)
Semele immolated by the sky-god father-figure Zeus, who takes the divine child Bacchus (Bernard Salomon, Metamorphose figurée, 1557)

This same direct appellation is used by Cambridge professor and anthropologist Sir Dr. Edmund Ronald Leach:

Dionysus, son of Zeus, is born of a mortal virgin, Semele, who later became immortalized through the inter­vention of her divine son; Jesus, son of God, is born of a mortal virgin, Mary… such stories can be dupli­cated over and over again. (Hugh-Jones, 108)

Using the scholarly Greek term parthenos, meaning "virgin," in The Cult of the Divine Birth in Ancient Greece (95) Dr. Marguerite Rigoglioso concludes: "Semele was also likely a holy parthenos by virtue of the fact that she gave birth to Dionysus via her union with Zeus (Hesiod, Theogony 940)."

These learned individuals had reason to consider Dionysus's mother a virgin, as, again, he was also said to have been born of Persephone/Kore, whom, once more from Epiphanius, was herself deemed a "virgin," or parthenos. In this regard, professor emeritus of Classics at the University of Pennsylvania Dr. Donald White (183) says, "As a title 'Parthenos' was appropriate to both Demeter and Persephone..."

Persephone and Hades; Attic red-figured kylix, c. 440-430 BC.; Vulci, Italy (Photo: Marie-Lan Nguyen)The fact that Persephone is associated with parthenogenesis, the scholarly term for "virgin birth," lends credence to the notion that Dionysus was virgin-born. As related further by Rigoglioso in Virgin Mother Goddesses of Antiquity (111):

Persephone's connection with the parthenogenetic pomegranate is attested in text and iconography. In speaking directly about the Eleusinian Mysteries, Clement of Alexandria (Exhortation to the Greeks 2:16) informs us that the pomegranate tree was believed to have sprung from the drops of the blood of Dionysus…

Although Dionysus is depicted as being the product of a "rape" by Zeus, the story is little different from the impregnation of the Virgin Mary by Yahweh without her consent, especially in consideration of the identification of Dionysus's very blood with parthenogenesis. In this regard, Rigoglioso also states, "I contend that Persephone's eating of the pomegranate was the magical action that instigated her ability to conceive parthenogenetically."

Also, in the museum in Naples has been kept an ancient marble urn showing the birth/nativity of Dionysus, with two groups of three figures on either side of the god Mercury, who is holding the divine baby, and a female figure who is receiving him.

This depiction resembles the gospel story of "wise men" or dignitaries, traditionally held to number three, approaching Joseph, the divine child and Mary.

The Christmas tree
The Christmas tree symbolizes the eternity of life, because it is aging and it loses therefore the youth of. The tree but Christmas not located, I for one, as xenikin habit as reputedly generally, but partly as an ancient a Greek . It encompasses remains of famous "Iresioni" and "iketirias" of the ancient Greeks, and even the ancient Athenians. 

They were not the true Iketiria branch olive, from which Ekrem fleece wool, and brought him who wanted to beg him God in a group, for apallagin the site by Dinah Whose evil, eg disease, swine fever, cholera or identical. For the most, however, the evastaze Iketirian man, who wanted to put forward of under the protection god and top authority to conduct at revelations against powerful people or princes. " ("Legacy of the Ancient World", newspaper "Ethnos", 31 Dekem.1937) 

The Christmas tree first appeared in Germany at the end of the 16th, but until the early 19th century it was widely prevalent - placed only in churches. The tree as a Christian symbol, symbolizes happiness hidden to man the birth of Christ. Gradually the tree began to fill with various useful mainly edible shoes and later clothes and other everyday items (which was the ancient Greek temples) symbolizing the offer of Divine Gift. In modern Greece the custom introduced by the Bavarians with the decoration in the palaces of Othon in 1833. 

After the Second World War the tree with colorful balls came in all Greek houses. Of course large impressive and mythological event "Agiovasili" with sleigh who drive the flying reindeer. Neither this as you understand, could not be taken from Ancient Greece. As mentioned before, the month of December, the Greeks celebrated Dionysus and Apollo-Sun luminophores pretending to be on the flying chariot, to share the light. 

The chariot was sleigh, horses were reindeer and the "gift" of light was handing out to people ... became literally "gift splitting". Finally, the cutting of the New Year cake evolved from ancient Greek custom of festive bread, which the ancient Greeks offered to the gods in large rural festivals like thalysia and Thesmophoria.

Santa Claus
Santa Claus, who travels around the world on Christmas Eve delivering gifts in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer, is another impressive similarity. A similar tradition also existed during the celebration of Dionysus in ancient Greece who resembled light. Then, the chariot transformed into a sleigh and horses transformed into reindeer.

New Year’s cake
The New Year’s cake is also the evolution of an ancient Greek custom. Our ancestors used to offer Gods the “festive bread” during the rural festivals, like the Thalysia or the Thesmophoria.


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