In this article, I am trying to demonstrate the connection of Iranian celebration of Yada to the celebration of Christmas.
About a few thousand years ago, when Iranians and Indians still lived together, they venerated a common god by the name of Mithra. The night of his birthday was the winter solstice which later on after the advent of Christian calendar was considered the 25th of December. It is also named the night of Yalda.
Yalda is a Syriac word which means birth, so, the night was called yalda; the birth of Mithra, the god of sun, love, and contracts.
The Yald night is the darkest and longest night of the year. But, the optimistic point is that from the next day, the sun stays a second more in the sky and the days become longer. So, Iranians consider this as a triumph of the light over the dark, the day over the night and the good power over the evil ones. They celebrate this night by family getting together, reciting of poetries, playing music, and having fruits and mix nuts until the dawn.
How did the idea travel to the west?
It is well known that between 500 BCE until 500 CE, there were a few super powers in the world: Persian, Greek and later Roman empires. Persian empires contained a vast territory that the west of it was Africa and the east India. These super powers had conflict of interests and subsequently, they started a series of wars which are known as Greco-Persian wars (499-448 BCE) and Roman-Persian wars (92 BC - 627 AD).
The highlight of these wars is the conquering of Iran by the Alexander of Macedonia in 332BCE. After the death of Alexander, his successors lived in Iran for almost 200 years. They got mingled with Iranians and they exchanged culture, arts, architecture, faith and the like. This exactly happened with Romans as well. Mostly the Roman soldiers who lived in Iran during the reign of Parthians (247 BCE – 224 CE) converted to the religion of the host country which was a renewal of Mithraism. And when they moved back to their homeland, they took their new faith with them and promoted it in Rome where the Christianity had already been introduced and had followers.
For about 100 to 200 years, Christianity and Mithraism lived parallel of each other in Roman Empire. Mithraism was the religion of high ranking military and upper class citizens whereas Christianity was the religion of the lay and regular people.
Finally, at the time of Constantine the Great in the year of 313 BCE, Christianity got the upper hand and triumphantly was announced the official religion of Roman Empire. But, the other faith could not be disappeared over the night. Therefore, the head of the churches decided to adopt, appropriates some of the elements of the previously rivaled faith into the new official religion. And they did it successfully. Some of those elements are:
Selecting Sunday as a holly they. (There is no reference to Christ as the symbol of sun.)
There is an amazing similarity between the Mithra’s hats with Pope’s. The name of the pope’s hat is even “Mitre.”
And last but not least, the time of the birth of Jesus which according to professor John Barton of the University of Oxford, there is no scientific proof that Jesus was born on December 25th. Also, there is no document that shows the day or even the month of his birth. Considering his birth in the last days of December which are the longest and the darkest nights of winter, he again stated that most probably, it was adopted from the traditions before Christianity or even from Paganism.
Happy Yalda, Merry Christmas!