Monday Musings for Monday December 17, 2012
Volume II, 41/93
The Night of Yalda, A few words about Christianity, and King James Bible
By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*
The month of December portends four events carefully choreographed by aligning stars to produce a cosmic feast. The first event, of course, is Christmas on December 25. The other events are winter solstice, December 21, the longest night of the year and shortest day of the year; and Hanukkah, the festival of lights which this year began on December 8. The fourth event, to some of us equally important, is the birth of Ludwig Van (not Von) Beethoven on December 16.
Although not a religious holiday like Yom Kippur, Hanukkah is about rededication to the will of Yahweh. Reading religious holy books including Zoroaster’s Avesta; Hindu’s sacred and magnificent book, Bhagavad Gita; Moses’ Torah, Christians’ Bible, especially Paul’s letters in the New Testament; and Islam’s Qur’an, one becomes acutely aware of commonality of the message of these books: love, duty, responsibility, redemption, promise and possibilities for all humans, for all children of God. Here are some thoughts on some of these matters:
December 21 is the longest night of the year. In Mede and Persian history and Zoroastrian tradition, it is a holy night, “Night of Birth”, the birth of Mithra, the God of illumination and salvation. The birth of Ahura Mazda.
Persian poets have written extensively about the night of Yalda (Shab-e-Yalda). Here is a stanza from Baba Taher Oryan (950-1019), the mystical Persian poet who roamed the mountains of Hamadan naked
“Shab-e-Yalda is the longest night of they year,
To have more time to read and learn…
To have more time to worship….
To have more time to reflect…
To have more time to connect with the beloved and
To have more time to nurture one’s soul…”
We know that Plato wrote extensively about the soul, Zoroastrianism, and the night of Yalda…
May you have a fruitful and joyous Yalda night.
II-A Few Words about Christianity: Commercial vs. Spiritual
Christmas as a religious observance and Christmas a secular event may co-exist, woe unto the cynics and to the intolerants. In ancient days of Egyptians, Persians and Romans, they celebrated the winter solstice called the Saturnalia which ran December 17 to 24. They closed offices and exchanged gifts. This is the time when the sun reaches its lowest point and begins to climb, once more, in the sky. In its earliest days, Christianity did not celebrate the Nativity at all. Only two of the four Gospels even mention it. Instead, Easter was the most important day in the Christian year. In 325, when the Church fathers convened in Nicea, they focused on this issue and decided that Easter should fall on the Sunday following the first full moon of the spring, making it a moveable feast. In 354, the year Saint Augustine of Hippo was born, Pope Liberius decided to add the Nativity to the Church calendar. So, it was he who decided to celebrate the birth of Christ on the fixed day of December 25. It was not until the 1800s that commerce got a hold of Christmas and resurrected the ancient gift giving of the Roman Saturnalia. In 1828, for example, the American Ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett, brought the plant poinsettia to the US. It has been associated with Christmas ever since. We have room to celebrate the secular feast of Saturnalia, winter solstice, on the 25th of December. To get us closer to God, eternity and spirituality, observe the mystical and holy phenomenon of the birth of Christ religiously both at the same time. It is unhealthy to engage in extremes of either or and to be cynical and intolerant of others. After all, Christmas and Saturnalia are to enhance love and understanding.
III-Reflections on the end of the year:
To the thousands who read us and hundreds who write us from across the globe, we offer our thanks. We will, from time to time, publish some of the issue-centered letters that deepen our understanding and elevate the level of discourse. After all, that is the primary purpose and the etymological meaning of education, from Latin educata: to uplift and elevate knowledge and understanding…
Our faithful readers remember at the end of 2011, we wrote an essay about the King James Bible. In 2011, the Holy Book became 400 years old. There were quadricentennial observances of the birth of the Bible throughout Europe. In my view, the King James Bible translated and written by “Secretaries of God” (see my review of the book by the same title in Wake County Physician magazine , Volume IX, July 2004) is a work that ennobles your soul. The accuracy, elegance, and lapidary Elizabethan English and the Shakespearian stylistic influence on the translators are unparalleled. We will write more on the subject in 2013.
*The writer is a Distinguished Life Fellow American Psychiatric Association, Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill. He is the Founding Editor and Editor in chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012)