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Marking big day: Is it a pagan ritual or a genuine Christian festival?

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By TOM OSANJO
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Silent night, holy night!
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

If there is one song that has come to define Yuletide, then Silent Night is it.

At the risk of sounding sacrilegious, I have always posited that the writers of the song might have missed the mark.

For one, some historical scholars have told us that both Joseph and Mary were quite young by the time Jesus was being born.

So my argument has always been that when you have two most likely scared first-time parents sleeping in a livestock pen and waiting for the birth of their first child, silence could hardly have factored in.

In my view, it must have been quite chaotic.

The same chaos many have imported into their celebration of Christmas.

Many hardly take a moment to reflect what the occasion is all about.

Instead, Christmas has been turned into one large marketing fair, a sort of shopping mall if you would.

Merchants keen on cashing in on the occasion give spectacular offers to shoppers while revelry is the order of the day.

Woe unto you if you do not have the financial muscle to shop till you drop dead, as the adverts normally tell us.

However, it is not a recent phenomenon.

Writing in Christianity Today, W. David O. Taylor, assistant professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary, says that even way back in 17th century, Puritans in New England, USA, had raised concern over the raunchy celebrations.

They then declared it illegal to celebrate the feast.

“They did so because, for one, the feast of Christmas involved a great deal of intemperate behaviour. During these long winter nights, people feasted in excess, got drunk, engaged in wanton sex, rioted in the streets, and barged into the homes of the well-to-do and demanded that they be given the best of the pantry.”

Talking to Kenyans from different walks of life, the general agreement seems that Christmas is a pagan ritual that has no place in Christianity.

Journalist Gordon Opiyo says: “I belong to the school of thought that believes Christmas should be celebrated as any other secular holiday like Jamhuri or Labour Day. It is wrong to make it look like a spiritual holiday for Christians. It is misleading to tell people that the day is the date of birth of Jesus.”

Political activist Jerome Ogola seems to agree with Opiyo. He states: “We are known to spend a fortune, at times a whole year’s savings, to fund a one-day excitement, because it is a tradition. As much as there is a near consensus that it isn’t cited anywhere in the Bible that Jesus was born on December 25, no one is willing to change their thoughts about celebrating the day, giving commerce an opportunity to thrive in the tradition founded on religion.”

But there are the believers. One such is theologian Rebecca McLaughlin. Writing in a blog for women in Christianity Today, she gives compelling reasons why we should believe in the Christmas miracle and the miraculous birth.

She says: “At one level, the miraculous conception of a human baby is but a drop in the ocean. What’s incredible about the incarnation is not so much that a virgin conceived (remarkable though that might be) but that God became man.”

“What is truly amazing about the Christian faith,” says the physicist Jonathan Feng, “is the idea that God made the universe — from quarks to galaxies — but at the same time cared enough about us to be born as a human being, to come down, to die and be crucified in the person of Jesus, and to bring forgiveness and new life to broken people.”

Dianne Mhando, a Kenyan Christian, agrees that there has been a lot of mammon influence around Christmas but hastens to add that all is not lost. “Christmas has been commercialised, but true Christians do what’s right in private,” she says.

However, PR practitioner Fred Gori disagrees. He declares: “Christmas is a pagan holiday. Jesus was not born on December 25. At least there is no evidence to that effect. So, whether it is commercialised or not, is of little significance.”

Theologian McLaughlin, on her part, maintains: It’s a common misconception that the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life were written down so long after the events they record that the figure they describe has been mythologised.

The story goes like this: Jesus started as a great preacher with some groundbreaking ethical ideas, but over the years, exaggerated claims crept in.

A virgin birth here, a resurrection there, and voila! The prophet of Nazareth becomes the Son of God.”

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