Christmas, their Christmas
By Obo Effanga
The harmattan is here; sounds of knockouts or bangers are everywhere. The year is coming to an end; there is excitement and anxiety in the air. People are more in a hurry than usual to do everything, from walking, driving, making money and cheating. They call it Christmas time!
Christmas marks the biblical event of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, the foundation upon which the world's largest religion is based. The story of that birth itself is a lesson in humility. Interestingly, the celebration of that event leaves much to be desired. It is often said that most people go about celebrating Christmas without appreciating the reason for the season.
Many followers of history have even queried the propriety of celebrating the birth of Christ at all or on December 25. The argument is that the Bible has no record anywhere where God or Christ commanded the celebration of the Saviour's birth. This point is further buttressed by the fact that at the Last Supper, Christ specifically told his disciples to: "do this (i.e. the Last Supper) in remembrance of me." The argument therefore is that if God intended people to commemorate the birth of Christ, such would have been specifically mentioned or ordered. In law, the specific mention of one thing excludes the use of a general interpretation to include others.
December 25 was neither scientifically nor theologically chosen but arbitrarily picked to coincide with the celebration of the heathen festival of nativity or the feast of the sun god. Christians decided to fix Christmas at the same time so as to “Christianize” that date. Today, it is doubtful whether Christmas has actually Christianized the celebrations associated with December 25 or the heathen celebration itself has demonized Christendom. Perhaps there was a time the date really carried the toga of Christianity but today it is more of a secular celebration.
The church should do more to stress the essence of Christmas. The people need to know that Christmas should provide a time to reflect on the humility of Christ's birth, his purpose in coming to the world and the hope he offers. There can still be Christmas without unrestricted merry making and spending only to become sober the month after. In Nigeria, it is said that January is the longest month of the year. That is because people borrow or over-spend for Christmas, even from the December salaries, which get paid earlier than usual and then have to live it rough throughout January and battle with school fees.
For many children, their impression of Christmas is a time for eating and drinking, getting new clothes and toys, visiting, singing or listening to carols, using fireworks and playing at carnivals. To many youth it is the season for partying, drinks, drugs and violence. The adults don't fare any better in this matter. Is it not the time to make more money by whatever means? Isn't it the time many Christians get back to their villages and perform one occult ritual or another and euphemise it as 'my people's tradition'? The lesson of Christ as the hope of the world is hardly remembered at Christmas. In fact, Christmas day sermons are about the most ineffective in winning people to Christ. Many attend church service on Christmas just to fulfil all righteousness, before setting out on their frolicking.But why is the season so popular? The answer is simple. The season is by far the most commercially viable in the year. It is the time traders sell off their stocks, companies roll out bonanzas to woo customers, transporters hike fares, employers pay bonuses, media houses hold children's parties and profiteer from it. Coming at the end of the year too, many see it as the perfect season to celebrate all the achievements made throughout the year.
In Lagos and many western states, one is likely to encounter money collection boxes in public offices. The idea is for visitors to such offices to drop some money, which the staff later share. You may call it advanced begging or extortion but to the beneficiaries, it is their Christmas dividend.
There are also a lot of misnomers, misconceptions and culturally irrelevant symbolisms about Christmas. It is often taught to kids that at the birth of Christ, three wise men from the East went to pay homage to the infant Jesus. Truth is that the Bible never recorded that three wise men visited. It only records wise men. The fact that they went with three gift items does not necessarily mean there were three of them.
One finds it difficult to comprehend, let alone explain the concepts of “white Christmas”, “one horse open sleigh”, “snow bells” and “Jack Frost” etc. to a Nigerian child as necessary incidents of Christmas. Given our environment and culture, shouldn't one be talking about “O what fun it is to throw knockouts on a dusty harmattan evening”? That, at least, makes more sense to the Nigerian child than “O what fun it is to ride on a one horse open sleigh”.
To most people who would celebrate Christmas it cannot be Christmas without all the above seemingly baseless practices. This is so, just as the news or announcements in the radio and television must necessarily include a police warning that the ban on the use of firecrackers is still in force, even if these firecrackers are also sold in police barracks and nobody is ever known to have been convicted of flouting this ban.
Equally predictable too is the news on radio and television stations the day after Christmas holidays that “work resumes today after the Christmas festivities”. Then, and only then, many would realize that the tea party is over and the time to face life soberly has arrived. Happy celebrations!