In the fourth century, the Romans and Persians celebrated the birthday of their sun god, Mithras, during the last week of December. The sun "dies" at the winter solstice, its lowest position in the sky in the northern hemisphere. Three days later, on December 25, the celebration of the "birth" of the sun takes place.
The Catholic Church felt this celebration by a rival pagan religion threatened the existence of Christianity so they decided to conduct a festival of their own during the last week of December which would force a competition with the pagan festivities.
Even though the Catholic Church believed the actual birth of Jesus Christ was in the spring, they chose December 25 as the official birthday and thereby began a tradition of holding Christ's Mass during a time frame where it would interrupt the pagan celebrations.
Over time, "Christ's Mass" eventually became "Christmas" and December 25 became known thereafter as the day Jesus Christ was born.
A man named Nicholas was born in Turkey in 280 AD. He was very pious from an early age and devoted his life to Christianity. He eventually became a Christian priest and later became a bishop.
Nicholas had a reputation as a kindly, wise soul who was generous toward the poor. He was a rich young man who didn't like to be seen giving gifts. He traveled the country helping people, always at night after the children were asleep.
The most famous story about Nicholas is when he learned of a poor man who had no money to give to his three daughters on their wedding day. Nicholas dropped bags of gold into the stockings the girls had left to dry by the fire. Ever since, children have hung stocking by the fireplace in hopes that old St. Nick would drop by and fill the stockings with goodies.
Turkey was part of the Roman Empire at the time. In 303 AD, the Roman Emperor, named Diocletian, demanded that all of his subjects worship him as god.
Nicholas would not allow his conscience to betray his religious convictions so he refused to worship the Emperor, landing him in prison. Conditions were harsh, including torture, but the 23-year-old Nicholas held to his beliefs.
In 313 AD, when Constantine became the new Emperor of the Roman Empire, he released Nicholas and other Christians from prison. Nicholas returned to his post as Bishop of Myra, where he continued his good deeds.
Constantine later became a Christian and convened the Council on Nicaea in 325 AD. He appointed Nicholas as a delegate to the Council, the purpose of which was to create statements of beliefs and canons of doctrinal orthodoxy, thereby contriving a unity of beliefs for ecumenical (worldwide) Christendom.
Nicholas died on December 6, 343 AD.
In 394 AD, Roman Emperor, Flavius Theodosius, banned all pagan rites. This decree ended the practice of worshipping the sun god, Mithras.
In 800 AD, Nicholas was officially recognized as a saint by the Eastern Catholic Church. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, the patron saint of children, the patron saint of Sicily, Greece, Russia and other countries.
In the 1200s, France began to celebrate December 6 as Bishop Nicholas Day.
By the end of the 1400s, St. Nicholas was the third most beloved religious figure, after Jesus and Mary. There were more than 2,000 chapels and monasteries named after him.
Holland kept the legend of St. Nicholas alive in the 1500s, as Dutch children would place wooden shoes near the fireplace to be filled with treats. The Dutch spelled St. Nicholas as Sint Nikolaas. The name later became corrupted to Sinterklaas. Eventually, the English version of the name became Santa Claus.
And that's how all of the Christmas nonsense evolved.
St Nicholas was a man of strong convictions, having spent many years in prison merely for holding to his religious beliefs. Such courageous moral fortitude, whether or not one agrees with such beliefs, is a divine example of an individual soul remaining steadfast in a world of petty tyrants who demand the right to enforce their version of heaven on Earth.
Ironically, the pagan worship of the sun god included such notions as Mithras being born of a virgin in a cave on December 25. His birth was attended by shepherds. He was considered to be a master and a teacher. He traveled with 12 companions, performed miracles and promised immortality to those who believed in him. Upon his death, he was buried in a tomb and rose again after three days on March 25 (Easter).
The religion of Mithraism preceded Christianity by approximately 600 years.
Religion is a curious thing.
Quote for the Day -- "Bah, humbug." Ebenezer Scrooge
Bret Burquest is an award-winning columnist and author of four novels. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a dog named Buddy Lee and where Wiccans frolic on the Winter Solstice. His blogs appear on several websites, including www.myspace.com/bret1111