Christmas: to be or not to be

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Christmas
Christmas

By Jude Ndukwe

It has become a tradition for some people to always attempt to talk down on Christians who celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December of every year. The worst culprits are those of the Christian faith who, in their opinion, claim that that date was not the date our Lord Jesus Christ was born, and that it used to be the date set aside for the festivities of a pagan god, therefore, not fitting for such an occasion even if there is any need for it at all.

Indeed, 25th of December was the date set aside in ancient Rome for the celebration of Saturn, a festival which lasted days but specifically for the Roman festival of ‘dies natalis solis invicti’ (the birth of the conquered sun). So the greeting, ‘lo Saturnalia’ used in the season of the festival is akin to ‘merry Christmas’ used in the season of Christmas.

The Roman feast celebrating their then god of the sun was converted to a Christian feast, Christmas, by the Roman Emperor, Constantine, as part of his reforms of the Roman Empire when he converted to Christianity. As a result, the first ever Christmas was celebrated in Rome in 354 CE. So, the honour of the day was changed from that of Saturn to that of Christ, to the glory of God!

This change is both similar and in obedience to the word of God which came to Gideon in Judges 6:25-26a wherein Gideon was instructed by God as follows:

“Now that night, Yahweh said to Gideon, ‘Take your father’s bull, the seven-year-old bull, and pull down the altar to Baal belonging to your father and cut down the sacred pole beside it.

Then, on top of this strong-point, build a proper altar to Yahweh your God” (The New Jerusalem Bible).

From that day onward, God gave the Israelites victory over the Midianites and Amalekites who had been oppressing them and looting their properties with reckless abandon.

What some Christians who contend that Christmas should not be celebrated because it is being celebrated on a day reserved in ancient times for a pagan god before it was converted to a Christian feast do not know or pretend not to know is that all the days of the week, including the Sunday they set aside as sacred for the worship of God in their respective churches are also named after pagan gods of the ancient Rome.

For example, Sunday, ‘Sunnudagr’ in Norse mythology, was named after a goddess of the sun named ‘Sol’. Sunday was therefore considered a day dedicated to the sun. Monday which is ‘Manadagr’ in the Norse mythology was so named in relation to the moon. Monday was therefore set as the day of the moon.

In the same vein, Tuesday is ‘Tysdagr’, so named after Mars which is the Nordic god ‘Tyr’, their god of war and justice.

‘Odin’ also known as ‘Woden’, is the Roman god of Mercury and it gave its name to Wednesday which was originally Odinsdagr. Mecury in Nordic mythology is the most prominent god in traditional Norse mythology and father of all the other gods; he is served by them all, and is considered to be responsible for luck in battles, royal power and wisdom. Wednesday is a day dedicated to the worship of ‘Woden’, hence, Wednesday.

Thursday on its part derived its name originally from ‘Thor’ which is reminiscent of Jupiter with both associated with lightning and thunder. ‘Thor’ in particular was the god of thunder. He was considered the strongest of all the gods and men with his realm in the place called ‘Thrudvangar’.

Friday was given its name by Venus the goddess of love, and was believed to also be ‘Frigg’ and possibly ‘Freya’, too, as they may have originally been the same goddess. ‘Frigg’ is considered Odin’s wife in Norse mythology.

Last of them all is Saturday which derived its name from ‘Laugardagr’ in Norse mythology. It was also called ‘Sunnunott’ which means ‘night before Sunday’.

In Latin, the day was named after Saturn, hence, Saturday.

It is instructive to highlight the facts above so that those ‘Christians’ who claim that they do not celebrate Christmas because it is marked on a day when pagans of Rome used to celebrate Saturn in elaborate festivities before the practice was stopped and the day converted for the celebration of Christmas by the Roman Emperor Constantine after his conversion to Christianity, that even the Sunday they hold so sacred was also a day on which the pagans celebrated their sun god, ‘Sol Invictus’. One would have thought that this set of “anti-Christmas” Christians would not have been gathering in their churches on that day or even on any other day for that matter since all the days were dedicated to one god or the other not only in ancient Norse mythology but also in Hellenistic astronomy as adopted by the Babylonians from whom the Roman Empire also adopted the system.

To this set of Christians, it would have been better if the day was left for the celebration of ‘pagan’ feasts, who, by the way, still possess their right to celebrate their feasts. But at the risk of sounding flatulent, the altar of Baal has been pulled down and that of God has been built upon it through the celebration of Christmas.

Christianity is all about conversion: conversion of that which is not sacred to become sacred; conversion of sinful mankind to a righteous one, hence, the conversion of Sunday that used to be for ‘Sol Invictus’, to The Lord’s Day (Revelation 1:10). It was the Day our Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead, as well as for the breaking of bread at Troas (Acts 20:7). Although Sunday has remained, ‘Sol Invictus’ was overthrown so that throughout the world, even in non-Christian societies, Sunday is acknowledged as the day set aside for Christians.

It is the same with Christmas!

Furthermore, Christianity built a good number of her churches on ‘pagan’ lands belonging to natives of Africa, for example, which they converted for their own use. It did not nullify their Christianity. The early missionaries in Africa were even offered ‘evil forests’ to build their churches. They willingly and gladly accepted the offer and built their churches on them. That did not make them pagans, unholy or even lesser Christians in anyway. That formed part of the foundation of Christianity in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. And the Church has since been growing from strength to strength.

The practice of churches buying ‘pagan’ lands from ‘pagan’ communities and paying for such lands with church money has continued till today. Such ‘pagan’- Christian transactions have not and cannot diminish the Christianity of such churches.

The vain attempt to denigrate Christmas or attack those who celebrate it every season because it is celebrated on a date converted from a pagan festival has to stop. Such acts are the result of ignorance. Some of those involved in this practice could even have only been converted to Christianity from paganism. Their former pagan practices did not nullify their professed Christianity after conversion. So why should anyone try to vitiate the significance of Christmas simply because it was fixed to be celebrated on a particular date? I do not even want to write about their other argument that the Apostles did not celebrate Christmas, hence, we should not celebrate it? There are so many things we do today both as humans and as Christians that the Apostles never did, yet, we consider such things to be agreeable to Christianity.

What some of these our Christian brethren fail to acknowledge is the fact that Christmas is arguably the one feast that has spread awareness about our Lord Jesus Christ the most throughout the world. That is one form of effective mass evangelism that many have ignored. It has remained a day when love is demonstrated and works of charity carried out as commanded by our Lord Jesus Christ all over the world. It is one day when people of different faiths shun their differences and exchange heartfelt pleasantries.

Let me leave our dear anti-Christmas Christians with the following passage left for us by the Apostles themselves: “Some people think that a certain day is more important than other days, while others think that all days are the same. We each should firmly make up our own minds. Those who think highly of a certain day do so in honour of the Lord; those who will eat anything do so in honour of the Lord, because they give thanks to God for the food. Those who refuse to eat certain things do so in honour of the Lord, and they give thanks to God (Romans 14:5-6; Good News Translation).

The vain attempt at denigrating Christmas every season is as good an attempt at trying to take hold of the wind. Live and let live!

Jude Ndukwe sent this piece from Abuja; stjudendukwe@gmail.com

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