In ancient times, the god of light and love was named Mithras. He had a huge cult following. He was born December 25th and his followers celebrated by exchanging presents and feasting in honor of his birth.
Modern studies in mythology overlook this important god. Mithras was born to a virgin mother. Unpon his birth, Mithras was wrapped in swaddling and hidden in a manager where shepherds looked after him. While technically a sun god, he was a more specific sun god than say Apollo or Ra. Mithras controlled the light of dawn, the rebirth of day, his sun lit the way and he was often referred to as The Way as well as the Shepherd of the Light.
The Persian god, was often depicted leading a flock of sheep to the light of dawn, moving them to protect them from the predators that stalked the dark. Mithra still has a minor following in modern day Hinduism. But his cult pre-dates Hinduism and Zoroastrianism (the first monotheistic religion in the Middle East). But when he needed to protect his followers, he was depicted as a lion.
He travelled Persia teaching love, forgiveness, and faith. And as his popularity as a teacher of truth grew, he gained dedicated followers. There were twelve in total who went out to spread his message. And to join the Cult of Mithras one had to be baptized into the religion.
The first mention of the Cult of Mithras comes from the Middle Kingdom of Egypt which began in 2050 BCE and lasted until 1500 BCE…. More than a thousand years before the Hebrews would follow Moses out of Egypt and into the desert to find their homeland and more than 1500 years before the Catholic Church by the Disciple Paul in the 1st century CE.
It is no secret that the Catholic Church often appropriated pagan holidays to help convert the heathens. So perhaps instead of saying Merry Christmas, we should wish each other a Merry Mithras.