OUR PAGAN CHRISTMAS
Today is only day seven of the 12 days of Christmas, yet already the downtown and uptown bazaars and the radio stations have stopped playing Christmas carols. It seems like pagans have taken over the Christian celebration of Christmas!
For centuries, Christians have celebrated Christmas between December 25 (the manifestation of Jesus to the Jews) and January 6 (Epiphany - the manifestation of Jesus to the Gentiles). In fact, in the East, only January 6 is celebrated as Christmas, since they consider themselves to represent the Gentiles.
In the older Christmas traditions, the month before Christmas is a season of expectation of the advent of Jesus, and in church we sing hymns like O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and On Jordan's Bank the Baptist's Cry, and Come, Lord Jesus, Come! In this season of Advent, we wear sombre colours like lavender, and church decorations (like flowers) are subdued.
Then for Christmas Eve night, we decorate the church in red and green, with flowers everywhere, and a Christmas tree; and during worship, we burst into Christmas song, and ring the church bells, and make many a joyful noise! And we keep this up for 12 days until January 6 when we celebrate the coming of the Wise Men from the Gentile East, bearing gifts.
After Epiphany, the trees and decorations come down, and we begin to explore the life and message of the adult Jesus - the Son of God who took on human flesh (He became "incarnate"), to teach us how to be like God!
It is good - like the Wise Men from the East - to give gifts to each other, especially to the poor and disadvantaged, and that fits well into the theological setting of the season. After all, Jesus was conceived (and perhaps born) to a couple who - although betrothed - were not married, and was delivered not in a palace, but a stable; and He was dressed in borrowed oversize (swaddling) clothing and placed to sleep in an animal feeding-trough. The authors of Luke and Matthew have gone out of their way to emphasise the humble and marginalised circumstances of His birth, and so it is appropriate to focus our gift-giving on those in a similar situation.
And here in Jamaica, we have great traditions of helping the poor at Christmas, with numerous treats and hospital visits, and merry entertainment. On Christmas Day, my wife and I joined hundreds of other volunteers with Mustard Seed Communities to give Christmas cheer to thousands of adults and children at Heroes Circle, Fletcher's Land, Gold Street, North Parade, Trench Town, and Rema. We saw other groups doing the same thing, and it happens right across Jamaica. This is the real Christmas spirit!
Of course, the politicians get into the act, giving out 'Christmas work', and firms give 'Christmas bonuses'; and certain workers like postmen and garbage collectors leave small envelopes so they can 'get their Criss-muss'. How much of this is opportunism by non-religious people - maybe even atheists - on an important Christian celebration, remains to be seen.
It has been a great tragedy that commerce has captured Christmas, to capitalise on the gift-giving and the revelry involving food and drink; they put up Christmas trees and decorations a month or two before December 25, and Christmas carols begin even before the Season of Advent. There is very little that is "Christian" about all of this; in fact, it conflicts with genuine Christian custom and practice.
The only use merchants - backed up by the media - have for Christmas is the sales and the profits. For them, Christmas is over on Boxing Day, and so there is no more need for carols or trees or decorations. They have moved on to the New Year festivities: a different decor, but still with lots of food and drink.
While those of us who stick to the ancient traditions are just beginning our celebration of Christmas - the Incarnation - and will carry on well into the New Year!
I don't blame the pagans for capturing Christmas; they are in the business of making a fast buck, and they will do it any way they can. I was amused (and more than a little angered) by some pagan interests earlier in the year advertising "Christmas in July!" What a load of nonsense! It is a clear statement that for them, Christmas is about increasing sales. In reality, it is an insult to Christians, who when they hear that sort of sacrilegious claptrap should boycott those businesses! I have!
It is the Church which is the custodian of her traditions, and she must guard them carefully from the pagans, who like Herod, do not want to pay homage to the Newborn King.
- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and a Roman Catholic Deacon.