The Sunday Mail
Desire Ncube —
CHRISTMAS is arguably one of the most internationally observed holidays that is celebrated by people from various cultural and religious backgrounds, mostly Christians, as they observe the birth of Jesus Christ.
Observed on December 25 every year, Christmas is characterised by festivities. Public spaces like shopping malls, gardens and churches are often lit up with ornaments.
However, over the years, debate has raged on regarding the origins of the holiday. Different interpretations have been made over the original dates of the birth of Christ and whether this day has a scriptural basis.
Last week, The Sunday Mail Religion discussed the topic with renowned Zimbabwean theologians.
Chairman of the Association of Colleges with Theological Education in Zimbabwe (ACTEZ), Apostle Lovejoy Chabata said theologians have “agreed” that Christmas has become an acceptable public holiday where people remotely celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ but he was not born on the day.
He said it is important for Christians to understand the etiological or linguistic basis of Christmas since it has no scriptural basis.
“Christmas is a practice that was derived from the practice of the Romans who celebrated the solstice on December 25.
“There is nothing serious, nothing authentic about the date (December 25). Actually, December 25 is nine months after the enunciation of Jesus Christ’s conception by Mary,” Apostle Chabata said.
Apostle Chabata, who is also the Principal of Living Waters Theological seminary in Harare, said the word Christmas is a derivative of the old English word “Crist”, which means the anointed one. “Mass” is a term used for the celebration of the Eucharist in the Latin rites of the Roman Catholic Church – referring to a service.
“Christ comes from the Greek word Christos, meaning anointed or chosen one. This is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word Mashiach, or Messiah.
“When they say the mass of Christ, this is a liturgical ritual were people meet to celebrate the anointed one, eating and fellowshipping together.
“About the Christ-mass, the mass of the anointed one – Jesus in Christianity – believers meet over meals, fellowship and celebrate their salvation in Christ,” Apostle Chabata said.
“Jesus was not born on December 25,” he said.
Apostle Chabata explained that December 25 was introduced by the Roman government who would meet to celebrate the solstice -the day when they would enjoy the sun.
“It was a day when the Sun would shine and people would be enjoying it with their families.
“They had set aside the day of the solstice.
“It was already a holiday for them and when they were converted to Christianity, they simply referred to a text in the Old Testament which identifies Jesus with the sun and justified the holiness of the day.
“Starting from the fourth century, the celebration of Jesus’ birth on December 25 was universally accepted. You find that some people only have nice meals on December 25.
“So the day has became very popular, especially among underprivileged children as it is their chance to eat rice and chicken and wear new clothes,” he said.
Apostle Chabata said Christians should use the day to celebrate their salvation, remembering the culmination in God’s historical attempts to be at one with humanity.
“People should use the day to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ which was portended by the prophet Isaiah 9 v 6, “For to us a child is born to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.
“This is what theologians call parthenogenesis (virgin birth) in Greek, which means birth through a virgin,” he said.
“Many people have a wrong view of celebrating the mass of Jesus Christ. Young girls are impregnated under the guise of celebrating Christmas.
“Many people abuse drugs on the day instead of celebrating their salvation, the union between man and the creator,” he said.
Dean of Theology and Religious Studies at Solusi University in Bulawayo, Dr Nkosiyabo Zvandasara Zhou weighed in saying the celebration of Christmas by Christians is both an extra-biblical and post-biblical phenomenon.
“Curiously most of the customs associated with Christmas have nothing to do with the Christian faith but paganism that predated Christianity.
“A fundamental question to ask and answer is: Does the pagan origin of Christmas totally preclude its infusion with Christian meaning and significance? This question is critical in light of Biblical Theology and the history of Christian missions.
“From time to time, Christians have taken on heathen cultural forms and filled them with biblical and Christian meaning.
“For example, the concept of the covenant in the Old Testament was a pagan Hittite practice of making contracts between a heathen Hittite king and his subjects,” Dr Zvandasara said.
Dr Zvandasara added that God used heathen cultural form to make a covenant with Abraham and subsequently with the children of Israel.
“The usage of pagan cultural forms was also rife during the history of Christian missions.
“Whenever Christianity encountered other religions and cultures around the world, it utilised their heathen forms by injecting new Christian meaning in order to help converts transition to the Christian faith.
“It seems heathen cultural forms were fair game to the furtherance of God’s sovereign purposes. If Christmas had had a break with its intractable pagan past, then its infusion with Christian meaning and ideals would have been less objectionable or even welcome.
“However, the main problem with Christmas is syncretism. Paganism and Christianity co-exist in Christmas, and this has created perennial confusion.
“The mixing of Christian and pagan practices in the observance of Christmas is unsettling for conscientious Christians aware of its heathen roots,” he said.
Dr Zvandasara said Christians cannot dissociate the disagreeable aspects of Christmas from the more benign features.
“In fact, Christmas to these Christians, smacks too much of paganism to be of any positive use in marking and celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ the Saviour of the world.
“An investigation of the history of Christmas in Theological Seminaries of various denominations must be encouraged so that pastors and leaders can clearly teach their parishioners the truth about Christmas,” he said.
A Roman Catholic Church convent based in South Africa, Mr Felix Tombindo, said Christmas is a time to reflect on the mystery of the immaculate conception and the salvation that Jesus brought to humanity.
He said people are supposed to spend the better part of the day meditating, praising and thanking God for his unfathomable love for humanity.