Persian Roots of Christian Traditions

Common beliefs and myths that bind people across the globe


Persian Roots of Christian Traditions
by Ramona

I just discovered that a short article I wrote eleven years ago about Yalda and the Persian origins of Christmas has widely found its way into many articles and videos across the net and around the globe.

I'm glad that my research has proven so fruitful in unravelling the historical, symbolic and mythic bases behind the Persian people's celebration of the birth of Mithra, "the Sun-God" or god of love, which eventually led to the celebration of the birth of the "Son of God" in Western traditions.

While Christians around the world are preparing to celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25th, the Persians are set to tribute one of their most festive celebrations on Dec. 21st, the eve of winter solstice, the longest night and shortest day of the year. In Iran this night is called SHAB-E YALDAA, also known as SHAB-E CHELLEH, which refers to the birthday or rebirth of the sun.

In the East more than in the West, lifestyles have often remained more in tune with nature. This integration of natural rhythms into life cycles is especially true in ancient Persia and has survived the ages. YALDAA, like other major Persian celebrations, is focused on the changing of the seasons. It is as ancient as the time that people organized their lives around the precession of equinoxes.

The most eminent festive affair is NOROOZ, the Iranian new year, which occurs with the spring equinox, around March 21st. It is no wonder that astrology was first inaugurated in ancient Babylonia, a part of the Persian Empire. Yet YALDAA is chiefly related to MEHR YAZAT; it is the night of the birth of the unconquerable sun, Mehr or Mithra, meaning love and sun, and has been celebrated by the followers of Mithraism as early as 5000 B.C.

Is it a mere coincidence that Christmas and YALDAA are so close in time and similar in nature? I suggest that Christmas may have its origins in the ancient Persian Mithraic tradition of worshipping the sun-god.

According to the Bible, the man Jesus Christ was actually born on January 6, and the celebration of his birthday on December 25th, may in fact be born out of the Persian Mithraic influence. In the old Persian mythology, Mitra (Mithra, Mehr), the God of love, friendship, and light, the sun-god, was miraculously born from a rock by a river or stream on this longest night of the year.

In his fifth volume of the collected works, Symbols of Transformation, Carl Jung, the famous Swiss psychiatrist who broke away from Freud, has extensively discussed the influence of Mithraism on Christianity and has portrayed its images and symbols. He quotes Franz Cumont's The Mysteries of Mithra, p. 149, modified:

"Perhaps no other religion has ever offered to its votaries, in so high a degree as Mithraism, opportunities for prayer and motives for veneration. When the initiate betook himself in the evening to the sacred grotto concealed in the solitude of the forest, at every step new sensations awakened in his heart some mystical emotion. 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 (para. 109)."

In praise of the Mithraic sun-god, Jung states:

"The sun. . . is the truly "rational" image of God, whether we adopt the standpoint of the primitive savage or of modern science. In either case Father-God from whom all living things draw life; he is the fructifier and the creator, the source of energy into our world. The discord into which the human soul has fallen can be harmoniously resolved through the sun as a natural object which knows no inner conflict . . . It shines equally on the just and the unjust, and allows useful creatures to flourish as well as the harmful. Therefore the sun is perfectly suited to represent the visible God of this world, i.e., the creative power of our own soul, which we call libido, and whose nature it is to bring forth the useful and the harmful, the good and the bad. That this comparison is not just a matter of words can be seen from the teachings of the mystics: when they descend into the depths of their own being, they find "in their heart" the image of the sun, they find their own life-force which they call the "sun" for a legitimate and, I would say, a physical reason, because our source of energy and life actually is the sun. Our physiological life, regarded as an energy process, is entirely solar (para. 176)."

With the advent of regional battles between ancient Persians and Romans, a majority of the Roman soldiers who lamented their brutish ways, came to find reverence for the Mithraic devotion to nature and beauty. They exalted Mithra's illustrating of slaying the bull, representing sacrifice of the animal instinct in order to find the path to the divine. Soon, Mithraism spread its wings from Persia to the ancient-civilized world in Rome and many European countries. Consequently, in Europe as in Persia, the 21st of December was celebrated as Mithra's birthday.

Early Christians took this very ancient Persian celebration of Mithra, the sun-god, and linked it to Christ's birthday. But in the 4th century A.D., because of some errors in counting the leap year, the birthday of Mithra shifted to 25th of December and was established as such.

Hence, in 274 A.D., the Roman emperor Aurelia declared December 25th as the birthday of the unconquered sun ("natAlis solis invicti"), which at the winter solstice begins to show an increase of light; he declared this day as a day of festivities. Later, the Church of Rome established the commemoration of the birthday of Christ, the "sun of righteousness," on this same date. Until that time the birthday of Jesus Christ was celebrated on January 6th. But the religion of most of the Romans and many people of the European continent was still Mithraism. Pope Leo in the fourth century, after almost destroying the temple of Mithra in 376 A.D., in his campaign against Mithraism -- and in the good old Christian tradition, "If you can't claim it, imitate it" -- proclaimed the 25th of December as Christ's birthday instead of January 6th, a date, by the way, which is still celebrated by the Eastern Orthodox Church and Armenians.

It is also noteworthy that Epiphany, or the "Feast of the Three Holy Kings" on January 6, commemorates the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, the Magi. The Magi, who were known astrologers, saw a newborn bright star in the sky and predicted the birth of Christ. From the religious city of Qum in Iran, they set out to Jerusalem to greet the infant Christ as the newly born king of the Jews, offering him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Originally, the Magi had been disciples of Zoroaster, who spread his new religion in Persia long after Mithra. Their name is the Latinized form of Magoi [Herodotus I, 101]. They were a priestly caste during the Seleucid, Parthian and Sassanian periods in ancient Persia. Later, parts of the Avesta, the holy book of Zoroastrians, including the ritualistic sections of the Vendidad, probably derive from them. As a sacred and powerful caste, Zoroastrians ruled the Persian Empire in the 6th century B.C.; they continued to have a dominating religious influence on the subsequent kings of Persia and were still powerful at the time of the birth of Christ.

The connection of the Magi with astrology and their Persian origin is all that is known of the Magi ("wise men" in most English Bibles, "astrologers" in the new English Bible). In early Christian art the Magi usually wear Persian clothes (e.g., the Catacombs of Priscilla in Rome, 2nd century). In the Syriac tradition those names are Persian and they are connected with Persian religious history.

Zoroastrians, after refining and discarding some of the mythical and "heretical" aspects of Mithraism, retained YALDAA, a Soryani word meaning "the birth." The ceremony is traced to the historical combat myth between the good forces of light against the evil forces of darkness. This longest night with evil as its zenith is considered ill-fated by this ancient Persian religion. From this day onward, the good forces of light triumph as the days grow longer and give more light.

This celebration comes on the eve of the Persian month of "DAY," the first month of winter, also the name of the pre-Zoroastrian Creator-God, more commonly known as "Saturn" in the West. In Persia, DAY was praised and revered as the most powerful God of creation and light, from which we have the English word "day" (the period of light in 24 hours). In the Roman world, the Saturnalia, from December 17 through December 24, became a time of merry-making and exchange of gifts, in honor of the Roman God Saturn.

Ancient Zoroastrians believed that AHURA MAZDA (the good God) created light, day and sunshine as representations of order and "the ahurAic," or good. The day is a time of work, harvest and productivity. They also believed that AHRIMAN (an equally powerful, but evil god) created "the night", a time of darkness, cold, hidden secrets and wild predators. Observing the cyclical changes in the length of days and nights, engendered a belief that light and darkness, or day and night are in continuous battle. The triumphant light brought about longer days, whereas the victory of darkness produced longer nights.

It was believed that the greatest battle between the forces of good and evil was fought on SHAB-E YALDAA, the night before winter solstice. Since the first night of winter is the longest and from that night onwards, the days get longer while the warmth and light of the sun increases, the night of the winter solstice was recognized and celebrated as the time of the sun's birth or rebirth by Aryan tribes in Iran, India and Europe.

Fires and lights, symbols of AHURA MAZDA, warmth and lasting life have always been associated with the winter equinox. To remain safe from AHRIMAN'S harms, in the evening of SHAB-E YALDAA, bonfires are lit outside the homes, while inside family and friends gather in a nightlong vigil around the KORSEE, a low, square table covered with a thick quilt overhanging on all sides. A brazier with hot coals is placed under the table, in the center. All night, families and friends sit on large cushions on the ground around the KORSEE with the quilt over their laps. They arrange a special sacred space wherein the elders tell stories and fairytales or read poetry to the younger generations. The oldest member of the family says prayers, asks sun "yazat" to bless them, thanks God for the previous year's crops, and prays for the prosperity of next year's harvest. Then with a sharp knife, he or she cuts through a thick yogurt or watermelon, giving everyone a share. The cutting symbolizes the removal of sickness and pain from the family.

Snacks are passed around throughout the night. It is virtually obligatory to eat pomegranates with angelica powder (GOLPAR) and AJEEL-E SHAB-E YALDAA, a tasty mixture of nuts and dried fruits as a symbol for solving problems, translated as "opening one's problems" or "knots." Eating nuts is said to keep illness at bay until the spring. The fruits are meant to bring more fruits and prosperity in the coming spring and onwards. More substantial fare for the night's feast include eggplant stew with plain saffron-flavored rice; or rice with chicken or fish; thick yogurt, as well as sweets made with carrots and saffron (HALVAA-E HAVEEJ).

The foods themselves symbolize the balance of the seasons; watermelons and yogurt are eaten as a remedy for the heat of the summer, since these fruits are considered cold or SARDEE; while HALVAA, the saffron and carrot sweets, is meant to overcome the cold temperatures of winter since they are considered hot or GARMEE. Throughout the night of festivities, the family keeps the fires burning and the lights glowing to "help" the sun in its battle against darkness.

Ancient Persians also decorated an evergreen tree called SARVE. The SARVE or "Rocket Juniper" - also known as the cypress tree, being straight, upright and resistant to the cold weather, was known as a symbol of enduring hardship, thus appropriate for celebrating Mithra. The younger ones had their "wishes" symbolically wrapped in colorful silk cloth and hung them on the tree along with lots of offerings for Mithra in the hopes that he would answer their prayers.

Again in the same tradition, Luther, the famous German reformer, in mid 18th century (1756), having learned of the YALDAA SARVE, introduced the Christmas tree (pine) to the Germans. As cypress trees were not widespread in Germany, as indeed in most of Europe, the chosen tree became a variety of pine which was abundant in Europe.

In summary, it is not just Mithra's birth time which entered Christianity. There are many similarities between the Mithraic and Christian traditions. Nowadays all Christians who celebrate the birth of Jesus, light fireplaces and candles, decorate trees with lights, stay up all night, sing and dance, eat special foods, pay visits, and celebrate this festive occasion with family and friends.

Christmas and YALDAA are just another example of the many common beliefs, customs, symbols, stories and myths that bind people of different nations and religions across the globe.

Let us honor these manifestations of the collective unconscious, so that we may be the keepers of light, love, friendship and peace among the peoples of the world. Enjoy your Christmas holidays, in its true spirit of love, gratitude, compassion, giving and forgiving, knowing that it may have its origins in an ancient tradition which, as Carl Jung says, links us back to "the creative power of our own soul."

As our own reveared teacher and great Persian poet, Molana Jal'aluddin Balkhi Rumi suggests,

"Open up your hidden eyes and return to
the root of the root of your own Self."

Ramona Shashaani


more from Ramona

Ramona: either you or your

by alimostofi on

Ramona: either you or your sources are quite plainly wrong in too many areas. I wish I had the time to clarify in detail for you, the various points you raised in your last comment .

Ali Mostofi





by Ramona on

At the time that astrology was first discovered in Babylonia, there was no differentiation between astrology and astronomy. People were trying to make some sense of both the positions and the meanings of the stars, their relationship to harvest and actual events.

About 150 BC, the greatest astronomer of the time, Hipparchus discovered the procession of the equinoxes and declared that the western edge of Aries was the "First Point in Aries" which has come to mean the start of the astronomical and astrological (but not calendar) year. This has had a lasting effect on astrologers.

Apparently being more concerned with the meaning rather than the position of the zodiac, astrologers still make their calculations based on the positions of the stars when the spring equinox was at the beginning point of Aries, as it was over 2000 years ago.

It was only during the "age of reason" in 17th century England and Europe that Francis Bacon rejected astrology as a part of scholastic metaphysics rather than empirical observation. Astronomy was distinguished as a science while astrology was deemed as basis of psychology and a divination form.

Therefore, distinguishing the procession of the equinoxes from astrology at the time that ancient Persians started to celebrate Yalda is inappropriate. And associating the winter solstice with the Mithraic nature driven "belief system" of celebrating the birth of the Sun-God is a natural conclusion.

Jamasp was an Iranian philosopher in the time of Zarathustra and a Grand Vizier of Gushtasp during the 5th century Sassanid dynasty. As previously stated, the Zoroastrian priests were associated with astrology. But he wasn't a "famous astrologer" who predicted "the coming of the Savior for the age of Pisces." The three magi are known as the ones who predicted the birth of Jesus.

But most scholars believe he was not born on Yalda as alleged. He may have been "conceived" on the "Roman winter solstice" on December 25th. Some say he was born in Springtime while others claim he was born in the fall. But the truth is that nobody knows the exact birthdate of the central figure of Christianity. The only significance of his birthdate has to do with Winter Solstice and birth of the Sun which is a pagan tradition.

Finally, it is true that "Day" is related to the deity Saturn, also known as Zurvan. Zurvanism is a now-extinct branch of Zoroastrianism that held the divinity Zurvan as its primordial creator deity, the god of "infinite time". December 21st and 25th both fall during the astrological planetary rulership of Saturn/Zurvan and time of Capricorn, not Libra as alleged.




by alimostofi on

Two points I tried posting from my phone but did not work.  So here we go again.

Firstly, the main reason for this celebration, like the other three seasonal ones is the interplay of light and the astronomy of the Earth.  It can be measured, and it is outside any belief system.

Secondly religion was involved when the deliniation that was discovered by famous Astrologer Jamasp about the coming of the Saviour for the Age of Pisces, fell on Yalda and Bethlehem.  There were those who believed that Christ was born in Mehr or Libra and that he was conceived on the birth day of light, or Yalda. Cheleh or forty weeks is linked to that.

Finally, the word "Day" links to the "Deity" via "Deius" or as the first day of the sign of the most important planet Saturn.  The symbol for Saturn looks like the Christian cross. And the symbol for Capricorn is a twisted form of the word "Day" as written in Persian. Saturn happens to be strongest in Libra. 

Ali Mostofi




Persian Celebration of Light

by Ramona on

The following is an interesting presentation on youtube which illustrates the points made in this article.

"Yalda Persian Celebration of Light -The Origin of Christmas & Hanukkah":


May there be pomegranate red
love in your heart,
Pistacio-like smile on your lips,
Sweet taste of melon in your mouth,
Your life as long as the night of
winter solstice,
And your suffering as fleeting as the wind.

(Loose translation of a Persian Saying)

¸.•*¨*•♫♪ ░H░A░P░P░Y░
(¯''•.¸**¸.•''¯) ¸.•*¨*•♫♪ ░H░A░P░P░Y░
(¯''•.¸**¸.•''¯) H░O░L░I░D░A░Y░S



Babylonians, Persians and Christians

by Ramona on

Dear Michael,

You are right about the fact that Babylonia existed independently of Persia at least 1500 years before it became part of the Persian empire. Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon in 539 BC. Devoted to Zoroastrianism, he believed that his religious duty was to bring about the eschatological promises of Zoroastrianism through active warfare. If the universe was an epic struggle between the forces of good (Ahura-Mazda) and the forces of evil (Ahriman), it was Cyrus' ambition to personally bring about the victory of Ahura Mazda as his prime religious duty.

Even though he introduced Zoroastrianism to all the peoples he conquered; he did not force them to convert. For Zoroastrianism recognized that all the gods worshipped by other peoples were really gods; some were underlings of Ahura-Mazda and some were servants of Ahriman. Cyrus saw as his mission the tearing down of religions for evil gods and the shoring up of religions of gods allied with Ahura-Mazda.

As one aspect of the religious eclecticism of Zoroastrianism and Cyrus's intentions, the conquest of Babylon in 539 BC led to the immediate freeing of the Hebrews who had been exiled in Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. Cyrus claimed to have been visited in a dream by Yahweh, the god of the Hebrews. Aligned with Ahura-Mazda, Yahweh demanded to be worshipped in the land of Judah; Cyrus freed the Hebrews with the specific intent that they reintroduce the proper worship of Yahweh in the Temple at Jerusalem. The Hebrews, however, took several Zoroastrian ideas with them; although these religious ideas simmered and brewed as unorthodox ideas among common people, they would eventually resurface with a vengeance in Christianity.

Though astrology originated in ancient Babylon (present-day Iraq) in the 2nd millennium BC, initially it was omen based, which means that priests and astrologers were interested in knowing how the movement of the planets corresponded with events that affected the kings and their kingdom. The study of stars and constellations was used to predict times of famine and war as well as times of plenty and peace. These omens slowly gave rise to the astrological principles and methods that later developed in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

When Babylonia became part of the Persian empire (the biggest empire known in the history of mankind to this day), astrology spread to the Persians, initially through members of the priestly casts of Zoroastrians, known as the magi (latin plural for Persian mogh). The question of how the Magi predicted the birth of Jesus is another story.

As for a more complete review of how Mithraism affected Christianity, I highly recommend the following article entitled "Mithra, the Pagan Christ."


As you know, this years' winter solstice miraculously fell at the time of the total eclipse of the full red moon, a rare event which has not occured in almost 400 years, signalling a new beginning in overcoming the dark night of the soul by going within and extracting the gold hidden in the darkness, in order to truly celebrate the light of the birth of the sun.

Hope you had a meaningful Solstice.

Happy Holidays,



Roots of Christmas

by radius-of-the-persian-cat on

Dear Ramona,

Thank you very much for your interesting essay about the Persian Roots of the Christmas celebration. Obviously, one can speculate about a conversion of rites and traditions from older religions into newer ones. And in particular the christian religion was extremely "innovative" (or shall I say clever) to transform traditions from pre-existing religions into their own ones (in order to facilitate the people to change their faith). I always thought that in the first instance they tried to match Christs birth to the jewish Chanukka. Later, when europe was baptized, they again explained the pagan germans that their traditional "Light-Feast" (like the persian YALDAA at the winter solstice) can be considered a pre-Christmas. So there are plenty of interpretations, but I will always believe that this is a celebration of the rebirth of the sun, that most people in the northern hemisphere experienced as wonder and big relief. It was just "decorated" by the different religions with their own stories. But it is not that one faith "invented" this tradition of celebrating something around winter solstice, and then some other religions have "stolen" it. I think it developed independently in many different cultures.

The difference between "modern" Christmas (24/25. of december) and the "orthodox" (6th of January, holy three kings) is simply due to the gregorian calendar reform in 1582.

About Babylon beeing part of the persian empire I"d like to make some comments. Babylon was capitol of Baylonia in the 2nd millenium BC during Hammurabis era. It was later occupied by the Assyrians and Hethitians and experienced its cultural peak at around 650 BC as part of the Chaldean or Neo-Babylonian empire (when the world famous Ishtar-Gate and the procession-street where buildt under Nebudkadnezar 2). It came under the Achaemenid Empire (which expanded of nowadays Iran and around the eastern mediterranian) at about 500 BC and later under the Partians empire. The later two empires can be called Persian, thats right. But Babylonia, Assyria and Hethitia were earlier empires, and although they might have expanded over parts of the Iranian plateau, they can not be called persian. 

Greetings   Michael (Radius-of-the-persian-cat)