In the African setting but specifically here in Uganda, when you talk about Christmas, you have literally hit on the appetite nerve and the feeling of dressing nicely in our newly bought Christmas clothes. Christmas is some new wonderful feeling that is probably not far but right just here for us to enjoy as we normally do. By the way, you cannot talk about how to celebrate Christmas yet you don’t know what Christmas is. In brief, Christmas is the time to celebrate the birth of our lord Jesus Christ whom; the prophets prophesied, the Jews expected and whom the virgin Mother Mary longed for.
The great kings of the first millennium recognized the significance of this day and attached themselves to it. Charlemagne (Emperor of the Carolingian Empire), William the Conqueror, among many others, were either baptized or coronated on December 25. It should therefore be noted that the first Christmas stands as the great divide for the recording of human history. History was divided between BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domino meaning the year of the lord). This is so because of the greatness of Jesus’ birth as the saviour of the world.
Prolifically, Christmas is a time for joy and making merry, and this is a fundamental factor in its celebration. The ultimate question to deal with is; how to celebrate this Christmas? For Ronald Reagan, “Christmas is a holiday that we celebrate not as individuals, nor as a nation but as a human family.” It is the time we have to celebrate with our families and beloved, taking time to celebrate yourself and others because the Christ being born is a child of joy, peace and love. Popular customs have developed time and again in view of celebrating this day of the Lord, these include; exchanging gifts, decorating Christmas trees, attending church, sharing meals with family and friends among others.
William Federer in his article “The Amazing History of Christmas,” explains the idea of Christmas as a time of gift-giving that goes back to the earliest days of Christianity. He wrote that; the story is told of a third-century church bishop, Nicholas, who would anonymously throw bags of gold coins into the windows of the poor. The coins supposedly landed in the shoes or stockings that were drying by the fireplace. After Nicholas died and was declared a saint, his popularity and positive Christmas message spread across Europe. Hence, are we ready to offer gifts to others this Christmas as saint Nicholas?
In addition to that, when you talk about Christmas celebration, who doesn’t recall that typical African celebration of Christmas. Going to places of worship is utterly a must and that would be the time parents give you coins for offertory. On Christmas day, churches get full and even register large sums of money in basket collections. Surely, going to church means putting on that newly bought dress or outfit to utterly bring out the meaning of the day. When it comes to meals, it is literally making a ‘pig of ourselves.’ Who can forget those Christmas competitions put on village or sub county levels? Generally, Christmas with a neighbour and with such attributes create that unity, memory and bond which is unsurpassed.
We may ask, what characterises Christmas? Let us not skip the whole beautiful picture of the Christmas crib and the decorated Christmas tree. In all churches, the construction of the Christmas crib should never skip our minds because it explicitly explains and gives us a picture of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Christians too have an opportunity to provide gifts to the child Jesus in the decorated Christmas crib: this is a tradition to offer a gift to the mother and her newly born baby. Nevertheless, if you want to tell that Christmas season has approached, the decorated Christmas trees are an outstanding indicator of this season as they beautify our mood for the birth of the messiah who carries with him the eternal light.
In the Gospel of Matthew, it presents to us the visit of the magi also referred to as the wise men. They saw a star of the new born king of the Jews and they followed it. When they met the child Jesus, they prostrated and did him homage. They offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The gold and frankincense portrayed Jesus’ identity as the king-shepherd and God, while myrrh points in the direction of his mission as the suffering servant. Meanwhile, do you have anything to offer to the lord born to us? Still, do you find happiness and the meritorious meaning in Jesus’ birth as these wise men from the East?
Frankly, if it weren’t for Christ, there would be no Christmas, therefore, we should keep focused on him and not be distracted by other things. This Christmas season provides us with that period full of love, positive energy and hope in air with colourful lights wherever you go. Nonetheless, the reason why we celebrate Christmas is because: the birth of Jesus is good news and at the same time, we celebrate God’s love for us sinners and the bringing of light into the world through his son Jesus. With the child Jesus born today, we have atoms of hope once again.
The primary purpose in celebrating Christmas is not knowing Jesus’ exact date of birth but believing that God came into the world in form of man to atone for the sins of humanity. Pope Paul VI brings out the feeling and understanding of Christmas stunningly when he said, “we consider Christmas as the encounter, the great encounter, the historical encounter, the decisive encounter, between God and human kind. He who knows this truly; let him rejoice…” Create that memory of Christmas as you celebrate this Christmas with your beloved ones because in itself is a very big deal. Infact, why should anyone fail to rejoice?
Christ who is born is a sign of our salvation. Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in the manger because there was no room for them in the inn, (Luke 2:7). Jesus Christ being the son of God would be expected to be born in expensive and really astonishing environment but he chose a humble background, that is a lesson of our lives mostly whenever we celebrate Christmas. Humility in all things.
In a nutshell, with all the things attached to this celebration -the lights, the tree, the songs, the movies, and the gifts that come with it: Christmas creates an unending ecstasy that each human being would love. And who can refute the fact that people tend to act a little pleasanter and happier, as we draw near to this day? Living in this world that feels so divided, Christmas still unites us, for that we should factually be appreciative. But the question is, are you ready to welcome our lord? Are you ready to treat as our lord Jesus Christ? Are you ready to let that true light lead you, and let go of the darkness? This celebration turns out to be the sensitivity of the past, courage for the present, and hope for the future. Merry Christmas to you all people of God.
Sem. Jjuuko Mathias
Alokolum National Major seminary