In modern Iran, today or rather tonight, is celebrated as a major holiday, an ancient tradition that significantly predates Islam by many centuries. It is the celebration of the birth of Mithras, the central figure of the ancient religion of Mithraism. As the neocons both in and outside Congress agitate for saber rattling rather than an emphasis on diplomacy, it is worth examining our common holiday tradition roots that we share with Iranians, recognizing that we share traditional and religious celebratory origins.
Some forms of Mithraism, which originated in India as part of Hinduism, and which may have roots as well in Zoroastrianism, date to 1400 B.C. None of our religions are quite as original as we like to suppose them to be.
It is the celebration of the longest nights of the year, and the beginning of the celebration of the birth of Mithras on December 25th, the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti. The Biblical and other historical details (like the taxation part of the Christmas story), including the astronomy that coincides with the documentation of the appearance of the Star of Bethlehem, puts the more likely date for the birth of Christ in the spring, somewhere between March and April. The shift to mid-winter appears to have been a few hundred years later. While links to Saturnalia have been postulated, those appear to have provided traditions that were incorporated into the celebration of Christmas, once celebration changed to the winter solstice, but it appears more that the change in date was driven by competition with the popularity of the Mithraic religion among Romans.
The date of the birth of Christ was fixed in the 4th century. Before that, various dates were assigned to Christmas, including the 6th of January, the 25th of March and the 25th of December. The earliest reference to the date of December 25 comes from Theophilus of Antioch (A.D. 171-183). Hippolytus (c. 202) comments that Jesus was born in Bethlehem on that December date, a Wednesday, in the 42d year of the reign of Augustus. In 245 Origen objected to having a birthday celebration for Jesus. The first certain mention of Dec. 25 is in a Latin chronographer of A.D. 354, first published entire by Mommsen.' It runs thus in English: "Year 1 after Christ, in the consulate of Caesar and Paulus, the Lord Jesus Christ was born on the 25th of December, a Friday and 15th day of the new moon." Here again no festal celebration of the day is attested.The Catholic Encyclopedia actually puts the formalization of the celebration in the 6th century, under the Codex Justinian.
As noted by about.ancient/classicalhistory.com:
Mithraism, like Christianity, offers salvation to its adherents. Mithras was born into the world to save humanity from evil. Both figures ascended in human form, Mithras to wield the sun chariot, Christ to Heaven. The following summarizes the aspects of Mithraism that are also found in Christianity.
"Mithras, the sun-god, was born of a virgin in a cave on December 25, and worshipped on Sunday, the day of the conquering sun. He was a savior-god who rivaled Jesus in popularity. He died and was resurrected in order to become a messenger god, an intermediary between man and the good god of light, and the leader of the forces of righteousness against the dark forces of the god evil."
In that context, both of the following videos seem remarkably apt, as much as any Christmas Carol.