The Origin of Christmas

By: Dr Swami Gitananda

What is the origin of Christmas? Where did it all start? Who is to be blamed?


Blame it all on the Hindus. It’s time we took the blame rather than all the credit.

It just so happens that the Hindus have been around for a long time. They’re rather an old member on the family tree. So intent were they on study and realization of spiritual and material things that the UPANISHADS, the ancient scriptures of India, report their conclusion that “there is nothing new under the sun.”

Many of the customs and rituals associated with most of the world’s religions and holidays originated in India, going through various changes in the societies which adopted them. For instance, the origin of Christmas gift-giving and the originator of such gifts are both of Hindu origin …

In the KATHOPANISHAD, we have the story of the Brahmin Vajasravasa who fathered a son called Nachiketas, which is Sanskrit for Nicholas. The boy dies and goes to the abode of Yama, Lord of Death where he lingers for three days while Death is away. When Yama returns he is embarrassed to discover that he had kept a Brahmin waiting. He grants the boy three boons, or favours, and the boy returns to life again bearing gifts for his father and family.

Sant Nachiketas (Saint Nicholas) is depicted driving a chariot-like sledge loaded with the boons and gifts for the good of mankind. His vehicle is pulled by reindeer that are able to fly, and he distributes all of the ratnas, or celestial gifts to mankind, including the knowledge of life after death.

The western story of St. Nicholas grew up many millennia later around the life of a father of the early Christian Church in Asia Minor who gifted a dowry for three ugly daughters of a poor parishioner. Later, St. Nick was a “good guy” who went around blessing little children on December 6th each year. “Bad” little ones were soundly caned by a blackamoor who accompanied the old saint. The American super-tale was created by the Reverend Samuel Clement Moore when he wrote “Twas The Night Before Christmas.”

This is the winter solstice and the season when mankind dreads the loss of heat and light; when ancient man lit his fire, he also lit it for the Gods in hope that they would return the warmth and the day-light.

Their yule fire was an ancient offering to the sun. First candles, and then electric lights replaced the fire. Modern electric lights like their earlier counterparts, also represented the planets in our solar system, and for the mystic Yogi, represented the chakras of the inner cosmos. The fir tree represents the spine and the cranial nerves upon which the chakric lights resplendently appear.

At this time of year, Hindus are celebrating the Festival of Lights, Muslims and Jews their own period of Id and Chanukah, while in many other cultures the “season of light” is also acknowledged. Regardless of the origin of Christmas, let us all strive at this time of year for that Light that illumines all worlds.

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