Disparaging the Christian holy day

30 December 2013 | Opinion

Steven Mvula writes: In an article published in the Holiday Supplement of the Namibian Sun of December 13, 2013, Dr Armas Abdul Malik Shikongo spoke eloquently about the origin of Christmas as seen from a Muslim’s perspective. But paging around the very copy of the said newspaper, I could hardly trace another opinion expressed from a Christian’s perspective. But let us not mistake being eloquent for being right. Shikongo got so many things wrong that I have to conclude he was not interested in facts but in disparaging a Christian holy day. When he said that Christmas “is indeed a festival of pagan origin” he was faithfully repeating the claims we hear this time of the year, every year. The Christmas-is-pagan crowd has become predictable. And so are their arguments. They subscribe to the strange notion according to which any date used by pagans becomes pagan monopoly. Christians are not allowed to do anything on that date, or they risk being accused of bowing down before a pagan altar. The alleged "pagan origin" of Christmas is based on poor scholarship that ought to be an embarrassment to those embracing it. Let me now present some important facts that I hope would be enough to topple Shikongo’s unfounded claims. First, what matters for Christians is that Christ was born and His birth is motive for celebration. Even if Jesus’ exact birthday is unknown (and it is unknown!), Christians still had the right to choose any day – and they did. The Western Christians chose the 25th December, while their Eastern counterparts selected January 6. Hopefully Shikongo will not argue that 6 January is pagan too. Second, the point that Shikongo has overlooked is that Christians were celebrating the Annunciation on 25 March long before they started celebrating Christmas on 25 December. Let me explain: According to Scriptures, Archangel Gabriel appeared to Zachariah while serving as High Priest in the Temple. He was serving during the very week of the Day of Atonement – supposed to be anywhere near September 22. Scriptures also state that the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary six months afterwards, leading many to believe that Mary fell pregnant during March. The reasoning was then that, if Mary fell pregnant in March then she must have given birth nine months later. That would be December, isn’t it? Okay, but why 25 December specifically? Well, early Christians believed that Jesus died on the same day he was conceived: 25 March. Again, it was just a matter of counting nine months from 25 March: you get 25 December. Shikongo’s claim that for 300 years Christians did not celebrate Jesus’ birthday is entirely wrong. The earliest record of Christmas celebration comes from Pope Telesphorus who reigned from 126 to 137. He instituted the Midnight Mass on the Christmas Eve. Bishop Theophilus of Caesarea (115-181) also wrote about the celebration of Christmas on 25 December. Hippolytus of Rome (170-240) wrote that the birth of Christ occurred on December 25, “a Wednesday, while Augustus was in his forty-second year”. The festivities were not widespread exactly because Christianity was still illegal. And I do not think it is fair to expect to see Christians openly celebrating a feast at the time when being Christian was high treason. By the way, if Christmas is pagan is our academician Shikongo inviting all the Pagans to please join us in this year’s celebrations or what is the point he is trying to make?

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