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The Christmas Tree's Origins in Iranian Culture
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Spenta



Joined: 04 Sep 2003
Posts: 1829

PostPosted: Wed Dec 24, 2003 1:40 pm    Post subject: The Christmas Tree's Origins in Iranian Culture Reply with quote

The Christmas Tree is Iranian in Origin


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http://www.iranian.com/History/2003/December/Christmas/index.html

Happy Yalda

We decorate a small Sarve not necessarily for Mitra, but in memory of my ancestors

By Ash Farhang
December 23, 2003
The Iranian

A chance meeting some years ago with an Iranian scholar who, as fate has it, now lives in Helsinki, Finland, introduced me to an aspect of Iranian history, which to this date is nothing short of a love affair with my ancestors. Though long forgotten, they deserve to be remembered for what they truly were. For this enlightenment, I am forever indebted to this friend.

At this particular time of year, I would like to share something with you that I think speaks volumes of plagiarisms and outright thefts of many Iranian thoughts and customs. I feel sure that many of you are aware of this, but circumstances have made it difficult to assert the facts or to remind your colleagues and compatriots of them.

When my children were growing up and were still at home, as parents, Christmas was a difficult time for us. Like all other Iranian children, ours could not quite understand the lack of enthusiasm during this particular holiday.

I am inclined to think that this, among many others, may have been the main contributing factor for their feeling that their parents were "different". They wished we would make the same efforts at Christmas as other parents, but because our hearts were not in it, everything we did seemed either artificial or pretentious, which made us in their eyes even more "different".

However, the chance meeting changed all that with the result that a small amount of research produced many sweet historical facts. Had I known this when my children were small, I would have happily, gladly, and most proudly celebrated this particular holiday season as one of our very own. And I would not have had all those uncomfortable feelings at Christmas with or without a tree.

Yalda (winter solstice) is an ancient Iranian word and appears in many of Prophet Mani's writings. The word refers to a new Beginning from which the Arabic words milaad, tavalod etc. were derived. Mitra (or Mithra) the early Iranian Prophet, considering Light as the essence of existence and life, believed in its sanctity. The Sun as its most obvious manifestation was revered and some out of pure ignorance concluded that Mitra worshiped the Sun.

Whether she did or not she was believed to have been born by divine gesture on December 21st, the longest night of the year, specifically to begin the struggle and triumph of "Light" over "Dark" by having longer and longer days following the longest night of the year.

Mitra's birthday was celebrated for a total of 10 days up to and including the First of January. It is not an accident that half way through the celebrations, namely December 25th, was chosen as Jesus' birthday and January 1st as the first day of New Year.

Remember that Romans, prior to Christianity, practiced Mitraism and only out of political considerations, in the year 376, they converted to the new religion that had started within their own territory. They were not too happy about their main philosophy and religion having been imported from their main and only competitor, namely, the Persian Empire, they converted expeditiously.

According to one source, the Iranians celebrated this day as early as 2,000 BC. Zoroastrians after refining and discarding some of the mythical and "heretical" aspects of Mithraism, retained Yalda (The Birth), and additionally encouraged celebrations of Noruz and Mehregan among many others.

Ancient Iranians celebrated Yalda by decorating an evergreen tree, the Sarve. The Sarve, Rocket Juniper (what a name!), also known as the cypress tree, being straight, upright, resilient and resistant to the cold weather (all signs of strength and upright of character) was thought appropriate to represent Mitra, the omnipotent and ubiquitous deity.

The younger girls had their "wishes" symbolically wrapped in colorful silk cloth and hung them on the tree as offerings to Mitra with an expectation, no doubt, that their prayers would be rewarded (remnants of this traditions can still be seen in Iran at remote villages where some young girls tie colorful bundles to trees to answer to their "wishes") . Thus the tradition of decorations of the tree with lights and gifts on or beside the tree was born.

As you may know, Pope Leo, in the fourth century (A.D.376), after almost destroying the last temple of Mitra (Mitraeum) in his campaign against Mitraism and in the good old Christian tradition, "If you can't claim it, imitate it and call it your own," proclaimed the 25th of December as Christ's birthday and January 1st (not March 21st as was the norm) as the first day of New Year.

Again in the same Euro-Christian tradition of not identifying the source, Luther, the famous German reformer, in the 18th century (1756, I believe), having learned of the Yalda Tree tradition, introduced the Christmas tree to the Germans. However, as Sarves were not much known in Germany, nor indeed in much of Europe, the chosen tree became a genus of pine, abundant in Europe.

So now with or without the children at home, we decorate a small Sarve with a star (Mitra's) on top and many presents all around, not necessarily for Mitra, but in memory of my ancestors for my children and grandchildren.

Please, therefore, decorate a tree at this joyous time, call it by its true name -- Yalda Tree -- and celebrate it as your own and don't feel ambivalent when your children wonder if we celebrate the occasion. So Happy Yalda and the greetings of the season to all of you; no matter what your religion.

Note

This article is a revision of the earlier "Merry Mitra".


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Slight correction to the above, Saint Bonafice is credited with introducing the Christmas tree. Martin Luther put a candle on the tree which was an existing pagan Germanic tradition.

Some additional info about the Cypress tree Symbolism in Iran

One of the most venerated visual symbols of Iranian art is the tall Cypress tree, found in many Zoroastrian tapestries and reliefs, also found in much of the religious art from Pre-Islamic Iran. The Cyprus is an ancient symbol of male virility and fertility in Iran. It symbolises health, virility and long life. Even after Islam, the symbol survived in miniatures, carpets and tapestries, it can even be seen in Saffavid art. It is a very important visual symbol in all Iranian arts.

Interestingly enough the Parsis of India (Zoroastrian descendants of the Persians who escaped the Islamic invasion and settled in India) have a very interesting story about the Paisley. According to them the Paisley was born after the Islamic invasion of Iran, when the tall proud Cypress of Iran was then depicted as bent over crying, which is basically the shape of the paisley. The Parsis used the Paisley symbol to show their sorrow over the invasion of Iran by Arab/Islam and their life in exile. The symbol then spread to the rest of the Indian and Iranian arts. Today the paisley continues to be a prominant symbol in most Persian and Indian arts, and the tall cypress is seen in Parsi religious art, and it survives in Iran in the form of tribal carpet and tapestry patterns, alongside Zoroastrian art.

The tall Cypress is also often depicted on either side of a Faravahar as guardian pillars in many zoroastrian art works. In carpet and tapestry design it is depicted with a central composition and framed with a border, or it is mixed with other plant and lower symbols in an all over composition.

Zarthustra himself is puported to have planted a cypress which became the biggest and oldest ree in Iran which in turn was then cruelly cut down by Abbasid caliph Mutawakki.

Cypruses are a very common symbol on older and more antique carpets and rugs of Iran.

If I was to pick a visual symbol that would best define the thousands of years of culture in Iran it would most likely be the tall cypress. It symbolises many traditional favorite beliefs such as love of nature, virility, health, strength, courage, long life, and the remarkable survival of the culture despite the many invasions and attempts at its elimination.
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stefania



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PostPosted: Wed Dec 24, 2003 2:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I am not religious but i celebrate christmas eating,dancing and exchanging gifts..

But now that i knew that the X-mas trees was of iranian descent....well.... i love it !!

viva the Persian Tree!!
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Spenta



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PostPosted: Fri Dec 26, 2003 1:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

http://www.faithfreedom.org/Articles/Mithraism31223.htm


[size=14]Christianity or Mithraism [size]

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http://members.aol.com/MercStG/Index.html

It is surprising that Christianity was to become the international religion, when one considers that the already well-established religion of Mithraism was a natural challenger for that title. Up until the time of the Emperor Constantine, it was the latter religion which was more popular within the framework of the Roman Empire, and Christianity was regarded as being only one sect amongst numerous other sects. It was only when Constantine decreed that Christianity was to be the state religion, that Mithraism, together with a host of other religions and sects, was put into the melting pot, and ideas of that religion, most suited for the Christian purpose, were absorbed into the new state-approved religion.

Mithraism, the religion followed by those who worshipped the sun god Mithra, originated in Persia about 400 BC, and was to spread its Pagan ideas as far west as the British Isles. In the early centuries of the Christian era, Mithraism was the most wide-spread religion in the Western World, and its remains are to be found in monuments scattered around the countries of Europe, which then comprised the known civilised world.

Mithra was regarded as created by, yet co-equal with, the Supreme Deity. Mithraists were Trinitarian, kept Sunday as their day of worship, and their chief festivals were what we know of as Christmas and Easter. Long before the advent of Jesus, Mithra was said to have been born of a virgin mother, in a cave, at the time of Christmas, and died on a cross at Easter. Baptism was practised, and the sign of the cross was made on the foreheads of all newly-baptised converts. Mithra was considered to be the saviour of the world, conferring on his followers an eternal life in Heaven, and, similar to the story of Jesus, he died to save all others, provided that they were his followers.

For three centuries both religions ran parallel, Mithraism first becoming known to the Romans in 70 BC, Christianity following a century later, and it wasnít until AD 377 that Christianity became sufficiently strong to suppress its former rival, although Mithraism was to remain a formidable opponent for some time after that, only slowly being forsaken by the people. It was only the absorption of many Mithraist ideas into Christianity which finally saw its downfall.

The big turning point was brought about by the Congress of Nicaea in AD 325. Constantine, a great supporter of the Christian religion, although not converting to it until the time of his decease, gathered together 2,000 leading figures in the world of theology, the idea being to bring about the advent of Christianity as the official state religion of Rome. It was out of this assembly that Jesus was formally declared to be the Son of God, and Saviour of Mankind, another slain saviour god, bringing up the tally of slain god-men to seventeen, of which Mithra, together with such men as Bel and Osiris, was included.

Just as Nicaea can be regarded as the birthplace of Christianity, so too it can be regarded as the graveyard of what we imagine Jesus taught. From that time onwards, Christianity was to absorb the superstitions of Mithraism, and many other older religions, and what was believed to have happened to earlier saviour gods, was made to centre around the Nazarene. The coming of Christianity under state control was to preserve it as a religion, and was the death knell of all other sects and cults within the Roman Empire.

Had Constantine decided to retain Mithraism as the official state religion, instead of putting Christianity in its place, it would have been the latter that would have been obliterated. To Constantine however, Christianity had one great advantage, it preached that repentant sinners would be forgiven their sins, provided that they were converted Christians at the time of their Passing, and Constantine had much to be forgiven for, He personally did not convert to the new religion until he was on his death bed, the reason being that only sins committed following conversion were accountable, so all sins committed by a convert, prior to conversion, didnít matter, and he could hardly have sinned too much whilst he was lying on his death bed. Mithraism could not offer the same comfort to a man like Constantine, who was regarded as being one of the worst mass-murderers of his time.

The Emperor Julian, who followed Constantine, went back to Mithraism, but his short reign of only two years could not change what Constantine had decreed. His defeat, and death, at the hands of the Persians, was used by the Christians as an argument in favour of the new, against the old, being looked upon as an omen that Christianity had divine approval. If Julian had been spared to reign some years longer, the entire history of international religion would almost certainly have been different.

Under Emperor Jovian, who followed Julian, the substitution of Christianity for Mithraism made further progress, and old Pagan beliefs, like the Virgin Birth, Baptism and Holy Trinity, became generally accepted as the basis of the state religion. The early Christian idea of Unitarianism was quickly squashed in favour of Trinitarianism, and those who refused to accept the Holy Trinity were put to the sword, the beginning of mass slaughter in the name of religion, which was to go on for centuries.
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 27, 2003 3:53 am    Post subject: Christianity or Mithraism Reply with quote

I have been enjoying your site and do not wish to intrude. I find your discussion of Mithraism very interesting. Although it is clear Constantine had a hand in introducing some aspects of Mithraism into Christianity, I think many of the Christian contacts with Persia were much more ancient.

The Christian gospels describe John the Baptist, possibly an Essene, as one early contact between Jesus and older traditions and the other is the wise men from the east. If they were Persians, it would seem to indicate that earliest Christians considered their religion in allegiance with Persian religious traditions. This clearly predated Constatine by hundreds of years. Of course, Christianity was a Jewish sect and drew most heavily on the Jewish writings. The Jews certainly had historical reasons to support Persian traditions.

Many Christians consider Constatine a source of much error which has led to much evil done in the name of Christ. They are trying to rid the religion of the violence, antisemitism and the political clergy which Roman converts seem to have had a hand in introducing into Christianity. Many of the strongest proponants of religious freedom are conservative Christians who have no use for Constantine's innovations.

Reading your posts I was hoping some of you were Muslims or ex-Muslims who had chosen liberty over Islamism. Is the desire for freedom really strong in Iran even among the Muslims? How can someone who is an outsider know? It sounds almost too good to be true. I remember when the Mullahs took power, I had an Iranian friend who was very happy about it at the time. I have no idea how he feels now, but suppose he is still in the United States enjoying freedom.
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 27, 2003 10:30 am    Post subject: Earthquake Reply with quote

I see the death toll from the earthquake is rising. I want to extend my sympathy to those who have lost family and friends in the terrible tragedy.
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 27, 2003 4:30 pm    Post subject: Re: Earthquake Reply with quote

American visitor wrote:
I see the death toll from the earthquake is rising. I want to extend my sympathy to those who have lost family and friends in the terrible tragedy.


Much of my family lives in the area = but they are not injured.. thank goodness are all alive.
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Spenta



Joined: 04 Sep 2003
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 27, 2003 7:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank-you Amercian Visitor.

Edward Zsekely who was the first to translate the Essene Gospel of Peace also translated the Avesta (holy book of Zoroastrianism) the ancient religion of Persia. He has cited many similarities between the beliefs, practices and even the ancient diet of these 2 groups.

Many Jewish scholars have pointed out the influence of Zoroastrianism on Judasim especially in the book of Daniel. Daniel's tomb by the way is in Iran.

The Magi who visited Christ were Zoroastrian priests, Magi is plural of Magus, priest or holy man in Zoroastrianism and ancient Iran. They used astrology to predict the birth of Christ.

Christianity remained strong in Iran, even after the Arab Islamic invasion. Because of the early tradition of Zoroastrianism, Persians were very tolerant of other religions, which is why Judaism, Christianity and even Buddhism thrived in Iran. This diversity survived in Iran after the Arab Islamic inavaders were kicked out until the time of Holakoo the Mongol king of Ilkhanid dynasty who forced many to convert to Islam. Holakoo's conversion to Islam had political purposes such as unifying vast territories under Mongol rule and legimtising that rule. How real was it, I don't know considering Holakoo continued to practice elements of Mongol shamanism and was even buried that way. Prior to him over 50% of the population in Iran were not muslims.

The next wave of forced conversions came with the Safavid Dynasty who forced the entire nation to convert to Shiite Islam, even though the founders were Sufis who dabbled in Buddhism. Once again a political move, since the Safavid kings were in constant war with the Suni Ottoman empire to the west and the Sunni Timurid dynasty to the East. They used Shiite Islam to unify the many warring factions in Iran (many rebelled against them) and to get them to fight the Sunni enemies who considered Shiite's as heretics.

Forced conversions continued into the 19th century under the Qajar dynasty. Many Zoroastrian families converted to Islam to stay alive, not pay the outrageous Islamic poll taxes, and also to pass on wealth to their children. Needless to say, Iranians still celebrate the Zoroastrian New Year till this date (the official New Year of Iran) rather than the Islamic one, and they also observe other Zoroastrian feasts and events throughout the year. Zoroastrian belief survives in the popular saying of Good Thoughts, Good Words and Good Deeds which is the basic practice of the religion. I think these realities attest more than anything else to the forced conversions. Today, many young Iranians are converting back to Zoroastrianism inside and outside of Iran. Inside Iran conversions are secretive because they carry a death penalty. Many Iranians inside and outside Iran have also renounced Islam. I know entire families of exiled Iranians who have renounced Islam. I myself have no faith, belief or even respect for Islam or its teachings which I find as misanthropic, hateful, racist and sexist.

Islam has proven, and will continue to unless it changes radically, to be its own worst enemy. As for religion, like they say its true to the poor, false to the wise and useful to the powerful. Faith is ultimately a private matter, between an individual and their creator.

Ultimately the history of religion is politics. With Islam it was mostly genocide, war, oppression, politics etc. Polticial Islam is nothing new, Islam has always been political.
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 27, 2003 8:37 pm    Post subject: Zoroastrianism Reply with quote

spenta,

I appreciate your post very much. You have given me new insights into my own religion. All my life I have known of the wise men from the east who Christians celebrate yearly, but didn't realize just how close Zoroastrian and Christian beliefs are. Christians believe God handed down the doctrines through prophets, and it certainly makes sense that some of them were Persians. I didn't know Daniel's tomb is still in existence. Is this well verified historically?
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 27, 2003 8:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yes.
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Spenta



Joined: 04 Sep 2003
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 27, 2003 10:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Many Iranian Jewsih families who live in the vicinity refuse to leave Iran because they consider themselves as the descendants of the guardians of the tomb of Daniel, and responsible for its safekeeping. It is a major pilgrimage site for muslims, christians and Jews. It is as historically well verified I suppose as any other tomb/pilgrimage site.

If you ever get a chance read the Avesta, it is one of the most beautiful, inspiring and also loving scriptures. Its very short, and the format is a conversation between Zarthustra and Ahura Mazda (God/Lord of wisdom). On some level the format is very similar to the Conversations With God series.
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 28, 2003 5:32 am    Post subject: Daniel Reply with quote

My wife is interested in Daniel. She asked me where his tomb is located. I suppose a visit is out of the question until the Mullahs are out of power. I wish you the best of luck in your endeavor to gain freedom.
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redemption



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PostPosted: Tue Dec 30, 2003 11:35 pm    Post subject: Re: Daniel Reply with quote

American visitor wrote:
My wife is interested in Daniel. She asked me where his tomb is located. I suppose a visit is out of the question until the Mullahs are out of power. I wish you the best of luck in your endeavor to gain freedom.


The day will come my American friend.. have no fear..
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stefania



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PostPosted: Wed Dec 31, 2003 9:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Spenta wrote:
The Magi who visited Christ were Zoroastrian priests, Magi is plural of Magus, priest or holy man in Zoroastrianism and ancient Iran. They used astrology to predict the birth of Christ.



Really???? Here everyone says that they were from Arabia!!
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Spenta



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PostPosted: Wed Dec 31, 2003 5:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

They are wrong. Many older texts in Europe also get it right. Today there are many Christian groups that get it right also, and have identified them as Persian Kings, or Persian astrologers and occassionally Zoroastrian priests.

The latest thing in the US is nativity scenes in which they are depicted as African Americans Rolling Eyes I guess the ethnic identity of the 3 wise men, or Magi, is up for grabs eh?
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Spenta



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PostPosted: Wed Dec 31, 2003 5:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote



Portrait of the nativity in a church in Iran

More info on the Magi etc. here:
http://www.farsinet.com/wisemen/magi.html
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