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Opinions of Saturday, 25 December 2010

Columnist: Anyimadu-Ahenkae, Augustine

The Christmas Debate: Why We Do And Must Celebrate Christmas

BY: AUGUSTINE ANYIMADU-AHENKAE

“ Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common
salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend for the
faith once for all delivered to the saints”

- Jude 3 (NKJV)

We hear it each year all year round, but especially around this time: people,
non-believers, some of who pretentiously pose as believers claiming to seek the
truth, drumming into our ears why we should not celebrate christmas because it is
of pagan origins and is not biblical. They come up with all sorts of stories, some
of which are irrelevant truths and half truths, others, facts that have been
misrepresented to catch readers or hearers who do not know what the issues are, and
yet others, outright falsities and fallacies. “Christmas is paganistic, so don’t
celebrate it, There was nothing like a virgin birth of Jesus, the Catholic church
was founded by Constantine, Jesus is not divine”, and the rest. Even though devoted
believers will not fall for any of such distractions, it is said that when a lie is
repeated often enough it sounds like the truth. We therefore owe it a duty to the
truth to set the records straight. In this piece, I want to
answer the question: should we celebrate Christmas? Is Christmas paganistic? Follow
up to this one will be the issue of Jesus’ virgin birth that has also come up
lately.

CHANGE OF DATE DOESN’T MAKE IT PAGAN

FIRST: Christmas is not a pagan feast. It is a Christian feast set on a date which
was hitherto used for pagan feasts and rituals. That Christ Jesus was not born on
25th December is no secret to anyone today. We all know he was not born on 25th
December, and neither do we know the exact date or day he was born. Had he been born
in our times, most probably this wouldn’t have been difficult for us, because our
world has changed so much and there are records for everything. I will turn to this
later, but for now suffice it to mention that we celebrate people’s birthdays at
dates entirely different from their actual birthdays, don’t we? We all postpone the
celebrations of our birthdays or other important events to different dates and times
as will suit us. Does the postponement limit the effect or efficacy of the
celebrations? No! It perhaps enables us to commemorate them better. So what is
actually important is not the fact of the date, but the fact
of the celebrations; and the date or day becomes important only because of what we
honor or commemorate on that day. So if we fix a new date for a birthday
celebration, that new date becomes important because of the birthday we’ve fixed
thereon, and to that day we accord every honor as befits the occasion we celebrate.

It’s as simple as that. What is difficult about this- that the church decides to
celebrate the birthday of its founder on the same day pagans were also celebrating
theirs – so the church’s becomes illegitimate? Give us a break!

PAGAN FORERUNNERS DO NOT LIMIT CHRISTMAS’ EFFICACY

SECOND: I am not denying that there were pagan festivities on this date- no! As a
matter of fact, those pagan observances given by some of the critics like one
article I saw on Ghanaweb by one Kwaku Ba, as “The first evidence of a celebration
that can be linked to the modern day Christmas” were not actually the earliest.
There were even more before that. This particular writer wrote:
“The first evidence of a celebration that can be linked to the modern day Christmas
comes from northern Europe, not the Middle East or Israel where Jesus is purported
to hail from. In the pre-christian times the Europeans practiced many forms of
religion that today we collectively call paganism or pagan worship. In the northern
hemisphere, that is the regions north of the tropics, during the month of December,
the days are at their shortest lengths and the nights are at their longest. Among
the pagan religions this had long been the month to celebrate and practice the works
of darkness. The pagan calendar identified this period as the winter solstice. It
was during the pre-Christian, mid –winter celebrations of the Norsemen that what we
call Christmas today, began. The descendants of the Norsemen today are the country
called Norway. Yes, Christmas originated from a pagan festival celebrated by the
ancestors of the Norwegians. As a means of honoring
their god of fertility called Yule, the Norsemen celebrated a 12 day celebration
during the month of December. The strong men of each community felled and brought
home the largest timber they could find. This timber log was brought inside of a
communal shelter, lit up and let to burn for 12 days.”

True events, wrong conclusions, wrong assertions.

The fact is that these Northern Europeans or Norwegians were not the originators, as
claimed by the writer. Before them, 0ver 4000 years ago, the Mesopotamians
celebrated each new year with a 12-day festival, called Zagmuth. The Mesopotamians,
who believed in many gods, held this festival in support of their chief god, Marduk,
because they believed he battled the monsters of chaos at the beginning of each
winter. It is from the festival that the 12 days of Christmas is believed to have
originated. There were also mid-winter festivals of similar import in ancient
Babylon and Egypt. In ancient Babylon, the feast of the Son of Isis (Goddess of
Nature) was celebrated on December 25. Raucous partying, gluttonous eating and
drinking, and gift-giving were traditions of this feast. The history presented by
the writer is therefore not exactly accurate, but that is not what we are interested
in here.

The point we are making here is that these pagan forerunners of Christmas DO NOT
limit the efficacy of the Christian celebration one bit, simply because whereas they
worshipped lesser gods during these festivities, we do worship Christ during
Christmas. So there could be a thousand and one idol worshipping practices predating
or foreshadowing Christmas celebrations: we don’t care about that- what we do know
is that on 25th of December we celebrate the birth of the SON OF GOD, not the SUN
god.
SUCCESSFUL INCULTURATION
Inculturation may be a word critics of Christmas don’t yet understand- or
deliberately prefer not to. It is a potent form of evangelization, and it simply
means situating the gospel in the context of the cultures to be evangelized so as to
make meaning to the people. Inculturation started right in the new testament, the
Bible abounds with examples of that- many examples – like the council of Jerusalem
trying not to impose the jewish stipulations on the gentile Christians, Mathew and
Luke writing their gospels in particular ways to reach their particular audiences,
Paul and his team adjusting their delivery to make meaning to the gentile converts
etc etc. One striking example to mention here is Acts chapter 17, especially from
verses 22 to 34 when Paul had to address the Areopagus. These were learned Greeks in
Athens, who had an Idea that God existed, and correctly believed they did not know
him, but, seeking nothing but intellectual wisdom, they were
eager to listen to what Paul had to say. Using their own inscription “ TO THE
UNKNOWN GOD” as the starting point, the great Paul situated his gospel message in
their cultural context and won some of them, and verse 34 says: “However some men
joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named
Damaris, and others with them” (Acts 17:34)
The whole history of fixing the Christmas date on 25th December, and the reason
behind it- which no one, not even the critics, disputes- is a tale of a hugely
successful inculturation. The reason was simply to curb the pagan practices and
implant the Christian one in its place, and it has succeeded! The church has managed
to inculturate the celebration of Christ’s birth in these lands where people were
hitherto worshipping idols on this date! Granted, down the line, it was not as easy
and without abuses, but which naïve person would expect that people could suddenly
abolish an established way of doing things and embrace a new one without some
hesitation or problems? So the few abuses down the line pale in the light of the
success which has been achieved now such that today almost everyone will tell you
that on 25th December we celebrate Christ’s birth! Bravo Holy Spirit!
NOT IN THE BIBLE?
Others disturb people’s peace by their constant cries of “Christmas is not in the
bible”, and “where in the bible does it tell us to celebrate Christmas?” etc.
It is interesting to hear such comments. Where in the Bible do you see “conventions”
and yet you go to conventions? Where in the bible do you see the word “trinity” and
yet you believe in the holy trinity? If you want to see everything laid out black
and white before you actually “see” it, then I’m sorry for you.
Does the Bible not talk about the BIRTH of Christ? Is the birth of Jesus not
recorded in the Bible? In the first chapters of the gospels of John, Luke and
Mathew? What do we celebrate on Christmas- is it not this same event recorded in the
gospels?
Some say, “but Christ did not celebrate his birthday..” I retort, ‘And so what? Did
he have to, before we do it? He didn’t have to, but we stand to gain by celebrating
it. Besides, wasn’t he too busy getting opposed and working out for our salvation?
He said “I have a baptism to undergo, and how I wish it were completed”, and again,
”as long as there is day I must do the work of the one who sent me”.
Others ask, “OK how about the apostles. Why didn’t they celebrate Christmas and we
are?” I respond, ‘that’s why the Holy Spirit was left in the Church to guide her as
she gained deeper insight throughout the ages as to the celebration and living out
of the same deposit of faith she had received. The church is not a dead document- it
is alive and lives through the ages…no wonder St. Paul calls “the church of God” as
“the pillar and bulwark of truth” 1Tim 3:15
FALSITIES AND DISTORTIONS
I have tried very much to ignore some of the obvious falsities, distortions and
fallacies against Christianity, Catholicism or Jesus in the writings of these so
called critics parading themselves as seeking the truth. Each one piece contains so
many of them that may cause one hypertension if one wants to set the records
straight- because there are always many of such records to be set straight. I am
trying to stick to the Christmas issue for now, and will take on some of the others
later. Suffice it to catalogue some of these obvious distortions in Kwaku Ba’s
recent piece:
1- “By the 4th century AD the now official Roman Catholic Church established by
decree of Emperor Constantine made it official”
You mean the Roman Catholic Church was established by the decree of Emperor
Constantine? Into what then was Constantine himself converted? Where was Constantine
in all those three centuries the Roman Catholic church was functioning before
Constantine’s three hundred something AD date? Who compiled the books of the New
Testament and canonized them? Is it not the Catholic Church? Where was Constantine
at that time? Into which church belonged St. Peter the first Pope who became bishop
of Rome, and died there for the seat of the church to consequently move to Rome? How
about St. Peter’s successors, those bishops of Rome who held papal primacy in the
church? First century bishops LINUS, ANACLETUS, ST CLEMENT and the others, Roman
Catholic Popes, whose unbroken apostolic succession and continuity of the church
after the apostles testify to the fact that historically, the catholic church was
the apostolic church Christ founded? Let me stop there for now,
but honestly, these kinds of distortions make me sick. Because the conversion of
Emperor Constantine had so much impact, anti-catholics and anti-Christians
deliberately or ignorantly want to rewrite church history with the little knowledge
they have and would want us all to believe in their distortions.
2-“The church practice of changing the dates of Christian events to coincide with
pagan festivals continued and by the 7th century AD, Pope Gregory the First had
ordered Bishop Augustine of Canterbury (England) to incorporate any and all pagan
practices and customs into the rapidly expanding Roman Catholic Church. Examples of
these other customs include rosary, saints, Ash Wednesday, Easter, and many others.”
What a sweeping statement to make! So we should believe that the rosary, saints, Ash
Wednessday, Easter “ and many others” are all “pagan practices and customs” ?. Well
like I said I space will not permit me to answer each in detail, but suffice it to
mention that while there is nothing wrong with your first part- that is, changing
the dates of Christian events to coincide with pagan festivals- which is done to
stamp out the pagan ones eventually and which has thus far succeeded, the impression
created that the above practices are paganistic is wrong, since what we celebrate in
each of them is deeply rooted in scripture. Yes, there may be external parallels,
but what we do are entirely Christian celebrations with Christian themes, meaning,
and worship of God. If we borrowed Easter from anyone, then why shouldn’t it be the
Jews whose Passover feast features so prominently in the Easter event, Christ being
our Passover lamb, and the whole thing
happening during the Passover festivities? As for saints, rosary and Ash Wednesday
that the writer mentioned, we will have to deal with separately to keep the focus
of this article. Let it be known though that these are all Biblical and not
borrowed from pagan.

3-“We can actually established (sic) the truth behind the storey (sic) if the truth
really matters even though it does not appear to matter to God and to Christians who
have so far not provided a single claim to refute the lie that Jesus was born on
December 25th.”
It gets more interesting, doesn’t it? The truth doesn’t appear to matter to God!
Really! Then why should it matter to Christians? I think Kwaku Ba should first go to
God and ask Him why He doesn’t seem to care about his (Kwaku’s) version of the “the
truth” before he comes to worry us poor Christians! Interesting indeed! So we ‘ have
not so far provided a single claim to refute the lie that Jesus was born on 25th
December’. But, my dear Kwaku, whoever said we claim Jesus was born on 25th
December? Which church document- Catholic, mainline protestant, evangelical- which
of these Christian groups ever came out to tell you that it is our Christian faith
that Jesus was born on 25th December? Since you are so much into the Constantine
era, did you not read those councils held in those times declaring the Articles of
Christian faith? The Council of Nicea from which we get the Nicene Creed, the
Council of Ephesus, or never heard of the Nicaeo-
Constantinopolitan Creed? Does any of them include as articles of faith, a claim
that Jesus was born on 25th December?
Fact is, no Christian church- at least not those you would normally go to for
Christian doctrine –(because many claim to believe in the bible and yet for instance
deny that Jesus is God- I will not call them ‘Christian’)- ever taught as article of
faith the date Jesus was born. It’s not important! What is necessary is that we
celebrate his birthday, period!
4-“. Should Christians celebrate Christmas? They may, but they must remember that
they are worshipping ancient gods when they put up Christmas tree, decorations,
Christmas cards, jingle bells, Santa Claus etc.”
Thanks for your ‘insightful’ advice, but NO THANKS! We will celebrate Christmas, and
in doing so we do not worship any ancient gods. Gone are the days when people used
these things with the intentions and motives of worshipping those gods. Over time,
after inculturating the Christian event into that date, the motives, purposes,
intention, object of these practices have changed from the pagan to the Christian. I
wouldn’t say everything is perfect yet, but at least today when we decorate a
Christmas tree, no one ever has in mind the worship of an ancient sun god or mithra
or god of fertility or whatever. They have faded. Christ has conquered! So we will
celebrate Christmas! We will make merry! We will exchange gifts, because JOY HAS
COME TO THE WORLD, THE SAVIOR IS BORN!
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, and on those who lived
in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned….. for unto us a child is
born, to us a savior is given… His government shall be upon his shoulder.. we shall
call him wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting father, prince of peace ! “
cf Is 9: 2,6

5-“. Was Jesus a real person who walked on this earth? So far there is no evidence
outside of the Bible to support this claim. And even the biblical accounts tell
vastly different stories all of which are unconfirmed. One would have expected a
person who could heal the sick, walk on water etc to be widely written about by
historians of the time, yet that is not the case.”
A different article may be needed to do justice to this, but Kwaku, have you ever
wondered how people can use the name of someone whom you claim never “walked on this
earth” to do all the mighty things they do? I mean the miracles, etc? That so much
happens when true believers use the name of Jesus- and yet you claim He is not real?
I wonder who is real then, and what the mere mention of the names of those real
people can actually do.
Anyhow, that was beside the point. The point is, you want us to believe there was no
extra-biblical account of Jesus, which is a big fat lie! How did you come by that
conclusion? Just a little internet research or visit to any university library would
have cleared your doubt. If you are in Ghana, today, universities have proliferated
our country, which is an excellent development. I suggest you visit any of their
libraries to cross check your facts before attacking other people’s faith
ignorantly, okay? Don’t feel offended, because if none of us sets the records
straight, the impact of your lies on many people’s happiness is incalculable. I
answer this question in the next one.
6-“The first mention of Jesus by historians is over 350 years after he purportedly
died and that account is two paragraphs. Can you imagine?”
Big fat lie. What are you talking about? Never heard of Flavius Josephus the first
century Jewish historian, born four years after Jesus’ Crucifixion, lived 37-101 AD
, who, from a very hostile Jewish perspective, wrote about Jesus in his ‘Jewish
Antiquities’ in 93 AD? How about the secular Greek historian Thallus (52 AD),
perhaps the earliest secular writer to mention Jesus, whose work is quoted by
historian Julius Africanus around 221 AD in the latter’s “Chronography”? Even though
these secular writers and others tried to explain away the miracles of Christ or
diminish his status, they nonetheless referred to him as a historical person who
existed and walked on the streets of Palestine at the time the Bible says he did.
Should we add more? How about evidence from the writings of Pliny the younger,
61-113 AD, Suetonius, 69-140 AD, Tacitus, 56-120 AD or the Syrian Philosopher Mara
Bar-Serapion in 70 AD ? I could list more- but I believe you
get the point by now. All of these non Biblical accounts of Jesus far predates your
350 years and make your supposed “two paragraph” account, wherever you got that
from, an outright falsity. I will write another piece on this alone, if I have to.
7-“ Lets say in the future somebody researches the life of Barack Obama or Nelson
Mandela and the only documents they find are published 350 years after these
individual lived and the documents about these individuals is just 2 paragraphs. For
a person famous all over the world like Mandela? Two paragraphs?”
Distortions, misleading conclusions, falsities.
One mistake critics like Kwaku Ba and others often make is their approach to history
is flawed with unwarranted and unparalleled comparisons. They fail to understand
that we live in a different time, milieu, environment, conditions, culture, context
etc from those eras they talk about, and therefore cannot exactly translate what do
happen today to those times. Barack Obama or Nelson Mandela are all today’s figures.
Our world did change long ago, Kwaku. Ours is a time of writing, printing and
accurate recording of events. Even the non essentials are recorded today. But at the
time of Jesus, how many people had time to write? People forget that printing was
invented in the 1500s, and before then, producing books was a much laborious
process.
Beside the point. Fact is, around Jesus’ time, it was much more of an oral
tradition, the stories being passed on from one generation to the next. Later on
someone may put them down, but writing wasn’t the first impulse of thought then.
Secondly, don’t forget that Jesus was not heralded as a national figure by the non
Christian world as your comparison with Barack Obama or Mandela would want us to
have it. Outside of Christendom, he wasn’t cherished. He was deemed either a
charlatan (by the Jews) or unimportant (by Greeks who sought wisdom). Had he been a
hero among these, they would surely had recorded very nice things about him. As it
was, the only people to whom he was a hero, the Christians were those who could have
recorded details of events about him- and sure they did! From their eye-witness
accounts, they did record later:
“What we have seen, what we have touched, what we have heard, we pass on to you..”
said St John in the introduction to his first epistle. And St. Luke, a learned pagan
convert, a doctor and historian, sought to write the accounts about the Jesus event
to Governor Theophilus:
“ The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began to both do and
teach….” Acts 1:1
Yes, so there are records, and even more detailed records by those for whom Jesus
was an important figure, just like there would be for Barack Obama among those for
whom he means something!
8-“ So no, there is no credible evidence that a real person called Jesus actually
walked the earth.”
I’ve answered this already. Just check the sources. What do you mean by credible
evidence? There are records from eye witnesses, records by hostile pagan sources,
records by hostile jewish sources – all to the fact that he lived and walked here,
as I’ve shown above. Above all, there is the record of HIS NAME still ALIVE and
dispelling works of Satan. What more do you need?

. 9-“But kwaku ba what is the purpose of your essay? Are you an agent of Satan? Why
are you trying to blaspheme? Because I care about what is true and what is not.”
It’s not in my place to judge, Kwaku. Only you and God can answer that. I want to
believe you are sincere but misguided. As far as caring about the truth is
concerned, before I would publicly condemn another person or religion or someone
else’s practice, I would first cross check from their end what their explanations
are, their official statement, and at least do some research from their own sources
as well.
That’s why the courts hear both sides of the story before pronouncing judgment. It’s
all in the service of the truth. So next time if you want to publicly condemn a
Christian practice or faith, and really want the truth, then get their version as
well from credible sources, ok? Otherwise don’t hide behind the disguise of “seeking
the truth” to blaspheme about things you don’t understand.
“ Was this savior born on December 25th? Or not? Is the story credible? Or not? Are
the Christian claims true? Or not? Can virgins get pregnant? Or not?”
I’ve answered the first. Credibility is a subjective term, and in Christianity, the
incredible and the miraculous becomes credible and possible, because God, the divine
being, has come to mingle in our affairs. Emmanuel, God is with us. Any problem? As
to the IDEA of virgin birth, did you not read in those ancient pagan mythologies
from which you quoted about their gods being born by virgins? And to the FACT of
Christ’s virgin birth, which is the next piece I will post, the dialogue between The
Blessed Virgin Mary and the angel should suffice for now till I treat it fully in
the next article:
ANGEL: ‘Do not be afraid Mary, for you have found favor with God. You will conceive
and give birth to a son, and shall name him Jesus….’

MARY: ‘How can this be, since I know not a man ( am a virgin)

ANGEL: The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the POWER of the most high will
overshadow you, therefore the holy one to be born of thee will be the son of God…

WITH GOD NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE”

Voila! By the power of the omnipotent God, everything is possible, including virgin
birth of God’s own son!

Have a Merry (Mary) Christmas and a (Joseph) Happy New YEAR TO US ALL!
Long live The king of Kings! God bless us all, God bless our homeland Ghana!

-Augustine Anyimadu-Ahenkae,
gtrabboni@yahoo.com