| Christmas is out of the churches and all over the shops. Even churchgoers are more worried of what to dress, eat, and drink and where to go for entertainment. It is not about where and what state of the soul they will be. Christmas is just a family festivity.
On the 25th of November, it was Black Friday in the United States which marks the beginning of Christmas season and buying practices. On this day, the stores swell up their sales. Has Christmas ceased to be a religious practice or has it never been religious?
This day is set apart to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ. A Palestinian man whose legend took the world by storm to become a religion that has dominated the world for 2000 years. And though many people today no longer care about going to churches, at least on Christmas, the numbers of churchgoers increase. Surprisingly not many go genuinely to worship, but just because everybody goes, if not to show off their new outfits.
Christmas has become the happiest and busiest time of the year for millions of people. And though in Sub Saharan Africa this festivity is young, millions break off from work to spend the day with their families.
George of Stambic Bank says, “Money is highly in circulation this season,” he adds, “People withdraw money to prepare for the feast. But also big businesses bring in lots of money.”
So, it can be that the end of the year has something to do with the festival. Parents are at last with their children. The schools have closed, and many work places close on Christmas day but entertainment and other services industries related to festivity.
Christmas comes to Africa
None but missionaries came with Christmas customs and practices. And at large, they were Western customs. Only local Christmas carols are not influenced by the Vatican or Canterbury.
Ethiopia, Africa’s oldest Christian country, celebrates Christmas on January 7. And this is the church founded before Rome had gone Christian. The Coptic Orthodox church has a tradition dating since 100 A.D and they too, hold religious services and later sing, dance and feast.
In Uganda, certainly one of the youngest Christian tradition, missionaries gave sekukulu a translation to Christmas, meaning Siku Kubwa (big day) from Kiswahili. From the translation, we know that Christmas is primarily about material enjoyment and less of spirituality. Even missionaries took this at face value.
For instance, in the USA people make Christmas parades of hundreds of colourful floats, highlighting Santa Claus in his sleigh pulled by reindeers. Streets and public places are brightened with outdoor decorations. To tell how Western it is, and the least Israelite, check around Kampala, Nairobi, Kigali, or any other African city. The streets are like New York or London in preparation for Christmas.
Therefore, the union of religion and consumerism found its match in Christmas festivities. Believe it or not, both priests and pagans are on the look out to make the most memorable day. While the elderly are counting down the few Christmases they have to celebrate before they wave goodbye to this world, the young are full of expectations of what to eat, drink and dress; they don’t know life is too short.
Entertainment centres, restaurants, supermarkets, Owino, and slaughterhouses countrywide are set to woe customers. At Half London, Kamya the GM is full of expectations. “This is the real business season. Attendance and consumption are at their peak,” he reveals. They have already planned for entertainment, menu, holidaymakers, and discounts on drinks and eats. And it’s not one man’s idea. At Shoprite, an attendant told me they have enough stock for the whole season.
So who said, you cannot put together God and wealth! Capitalism and consumerism reach their peak on Christmas, presumably a religious day. And the question rises, is Christmas, a corruption of religion or consumerism caught up with it.
Christmas from the Chronicles to Date
The shopping bug increasingly became important to Christmas in the 1900s as companies started manufacturing Christmas ornaments, lights, trees, holly, and mistletoe. And around the globe, stores and shops hire extra workers to handle increased sales.
This has been a tradition dating to Christmas 336 A.D. The early Roman calendar indicates December 25 as a day of observance. But this day was influenced by pagan (unchristian) festivals of the time.
Ancient Romans held end of year celebrations to honour Saturn the harvest god and Mithras their god of Light – other Europeans did the same as the end of all harvest season. Part of the celebrations were special foods, home decorations, singing, dancing and gift giving. No wonder all the practices remained as they were at the advancement of Christianity.
In the 300s, Christianity became the official Roman Empire religion. This was the time of Constantine. Thereof, people found a way to legitimize their festivities by exchanging pagan names with Christian ones. By 1100 AD, Christmas was the most important religious festival in Europe. There was St. Nicholas who went around distributing presents to children - the adoption of today’s Santa Claus.
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A Journalist with Daily Monitor, Uganda. I have a passion for development, especially for the youth.
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