Nowadays many Persians (Iranians) celebrate Christmas. It is a very cherished celebration which you can see in many streets in Iran. There are many ancient churches in Iran which are active and open to the public for such a celebration. Christians celebrate Christmas in Iran peacefully. Christianity has been officially confirmed by the government of Iran. Christians have also some representatives in the parliament of Iran. Many Muslims also celebrate Christmas in Iran. Obviously Muslims in Iran celebrate Christmas more than Christians. This is because Christmas is a time to have fun but who knows it is a Persian celebration not a Western one?
While Christians in different parts of the world celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25th, Persian people celebrate one of their most festive celebrations on Dec. 21st. It is the longest night and shortest day of the year (Yalda Night). In Iran and other parts of Persia such as Tajikistan and Afghanistan, this important night is called Shab-e-Yalda, or Shab-e-Chelleh. Such a night shows the creation of the sun. It shows Persian people knew astrology in the ancient world.
In the eastern part of the world, public lifestyle has often remained in harmony with nature. This integration is especially prominent in ancient Persia and has survived the ages. YALDA, like other main Persian celebrations, is based on seasonal changes. YALDA is as ancient as the time that civilizations organized their time around seasonal equinoxes.
According to the Bible, Jesus Christ was born on January 6th. The celebration of his birthday on December 25th is related to the Persian Mitra. In the Persian literature, Mitra (Mithra, Mehr) means love to God and the sun. Mitra was created from a rock by a stream or river on the longest night of the year (Yalda).
Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist has discussed the impact of Mithraism on Christianity as follow:
“Perhaps no other religion has ever offered to its votaries, in so high a degree as Mithraism. When the initiate betook himself in the evening to the sacred grotto concealed in the solitude of the forest. The stars that shone in the sky, the wind that whispered in the foliage, the spring or brook that hastened murmuring to the valley, even the earth which he trod under his feet, were in his eyes divine, and all surrounding nature evoked in him a worshipful fear of the infinite forces that swayed the universe.”
Jung also says:
“The sun. . . is the truly “rational” image of God, whether we adopt the standpoint of the primitive savage or of modern science. ”
In our Persian religion, praying has been also set around sunrise and sunset. Therefore praying shows the importance of the sun in Western Asia and Central Asia. This is because our source of energy and life is the sun.
The Persian-Roman relationships are deep in the history. This is what Iranians (modern Persians) always say to each other. With the advent of regional wars between ancient Persians and Romans, most Roman soldiers found reverence for the Mithraic devotion to nature and beauty. They considered Mithra’s illustration of killing the bull, as a sacrifice for God. Soon Mithraism spread its wings from ancient Iran to Italy and other parts of Europe. As a result, in Europe as in Persia, the 21st of December was celebrated as the birthday of Mithra. Therefore Christmas began with Mithra. Praising Mithra was honored as the patron of loyalty to the sun and kings in Rome.
Early Christians took the symbol of Mithra and linked it to Jesus Christ’s birthday. In the fourth century A.D., due to some mistakes in calculating the leap year, the birthday of Mithra shifted to 25th of December. In 274 A.D., the Roman emperor Aurelia declared December 25th as the birthday of the sun. He declared this day as a day of festivities. Later, the Roman Church established the commemoration of the birthday of Jesus Christ, the “sun of righteousness,” on the same date. Until that time the birthday of Jesus Christ was celebrated on January 6th. The religion of most of the Romans and many Europeans was also Mithraism.
Later in the era of Zoroaster, three Zoroastrian priests saw a star in the sky and predicted the birth of Jesus Christ. From Qom city in Iran, they went to Jerusalem to cherish the baby. Three men on Christmas trees show the three Zoroastrian priests. This is also likely to be a reason why Jesus Christ is so respected in the Persian culture.
Zoroaster spread his heavenly religion in Persia long after Mithra. His territory included the Seleucid, Parthian and Sassanian periods in ancient Persia. Zoroastrians ruled the Persian Empire in the 6th century B.C. They continued to have a prominent religious influence on the emperors of Persia and were still powerful at the time of Jesus Christ. Zoroastrians are still in Iran and follow their heavenly religion peacefully. Nowadays Iranians cherish them as their Persian roots.
After modifying some of the aspects of Mithraism, Zoroastrians retained YALDA. The YALDA festival refers to the competition between the good forces of light against darkness. In Zoroastrian religion, fire is an important religious symbol. It refers to the power of lightness and warmness to keep people alive.
Nowadays those Christians who celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, light fireplaces and candles, decorate trees with lights, stay late, sing and dance, serve special foods, visit relatives and friends, and celebrate this holy moment with their family members and friends. This is a Persian tradition. The story of the sun and light comes from Mithraism and then Zoroastrianism in Iran (Persia). The joint root of Christmas and YALDA is an example of common beliefs that we share between East and West. We cherish our Persian roots and celebrate Christmas because it is Persian by nature. It is the Festival of Mithra.
Christmas in Tehran, Iran
Christians in a religious ceremony in Iran
Christmas shopping in Tehran, Iran
A beautiful and open cathedral in Isfahan, Iran
Mithra is scarifying a bull for God.