Merry Christmas and Happy new year

As we celebrate the birthday of our Lord Jesus Christ may the peace and goodwill associated with the day radiate to all our people in this country and to mankind worldwide.

May rivers of peace and prosperity flow into our individual lives so that we can again have a country that we used to know in our youth.

In those days we used to travel to our towns and villages to be with our loved ones and the extended families. Alas ! those days are gone because of fear of kidnappers, killers ,herders and highway robbers.

Christmas was first celebrated in Rome about 336 AD but did not become a major Christian festival until the 9th century.Christmas has evolved overtime from an embrace and incorporation of two pagan traditions of the Germanic and Nordic Yule and the Roman Saturnalia which were celebrations of  the winter Solstice of revelry involving eating ,drinking and giving of gifts in midwinter in both Northern Europe and the Roman Empire .

The introduction of Christmas trees was  a unique German tradition which has now spread to the whole world . There is evidence to suggest that our Lord Jesus Christ was born in early spring and not winter but that the early missionaries in Europe took over the pagan celebrations  of Yule and Saturnalia and imposed the birth of Jesus on them for the purpose of conversion of European pagans to Christianity.

Whether Jesus Christ was born in early Spring or midwinter is immaterial and insignificant. What is important is the arrival of God in human body which is central to Christianity not the date of the birth of Christ. December 25 is the symbolic date of the birth of Christ and indeed christians celebrate the  birth  of Jesus everyday.

To Christians worldwide ,it is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that gives us the hope of a life hereafter for those who believe  that Jesus is the son of God and part of the indivisible Trinity of God the father , the son and the Holy Spirit  , three in one , a concept which cannot be easily grasped by ordinary mortals .

Today  Christmas is celebrated everywhere in the world even among non Christians .This is the danger that this religious mass ( Mass of Christ) faces because of its commercialization. It is now more Associated with shopping, parties and exchange of gifts than the solemnity the birth of our Lord deserves .

Thank God Easter has not been as commercialized as Christmas because that would have been a tragedy. The United States of America  ,the heartland of capitalism ,has even gone further in its political correctness to celebrate at the same time of Christmas an eight day  Jewish celebrations of Hanukkah, from December 22nd to 30th December commemorating the rededication during the second century B.C of the second Temple in Jerusalem where according to legend ,Jews had risen up against their Greek- Syrian oppressors in  the Maccabean Revolt .

African – Americans will not be left behind they also celebrate KWANZAA from December 26 to January 1 to honour African heritage. It is obvious that Christmas has not only been commercialized in the United States,it has also been politicized .

Since American culture is globally dominant , I can foresee their idiosyncratic celebrations  of these three distinct festivals spreading to many parts of the world particularly to Europe and Africa.

The idea of Santa Klaus riding on a convoy of  Reindeers and coming down through the chimneys bearing presents to children is a western innovation to the Christmas feast .

One of my grand children was worried about her grandpa not receiving his gifts because there is no snow in Nigeria for reindeers to travel on ! I wonder which part of the Christmas story resonates with my grandchildren ,whether the birth of Jesus Christ or the Santa Klaus bringing gifts .

I remember contributing to this myth when my children were young and when I was living in Canada and America. The tradition of  Christmas tree in my house continued while home in Nigeria and did not cease until the passing into glory of  Abiodun my wife .

Today Christmas to me is just another day to remember how God in his infinite wisdom and mystery came down enveloped in a human body to reconnect with fallen humanity through the eventual sacrifice of Jesus Christ as a  propitiation  for mankind’s manifold sins .

In other words we should celebrate Christmas and Easter everyday at least in our minds and in our character of showing humility characteristic of Jesus’ birth and sacrifice symbolized by his death and the triumph of his resurrection.

When I was young Christmas was a Major feast  in Nigeria. In Ekiti in those days ,we abandoned our perennial dish of pounded yam and bush meat for rice and chicken .

Like Indians we ate the rice with our hands not with forks and knives , of course later we started using table spoons . When the chicken was served , we children ate the heads , wings ,feet and toes .

The parents who actually did not need to eat too much meat since they had stopped growing told the children that the better parts of the chicken belonged to the older members of the families and if young people ate too much meat they will become thieves as adults especially if and when they could not afford to buy chicken.

There is probably some logic in their reasoning ! We ate rice on such big occasions  like Christmas not like now when our country is addicted to imported rice from the Americas and Asia . In those halcyon days we ate what we grew . When we ate rice it came from Nupeland , Abakaliki and from Igbemo in Ekiti.

Later upland rice was grown in what is now Effon and Ekiti West . Rice is still grown in these places today and if there were  correct and sufficient inputs the productivity of the farmers can be increased to satisfy local needs .

In those days it was obligatory for our parents to buy shoes and clothes for us  and if not many children took ill .I remember our clothes were sewn by local tailors. Sometimes we deployed ourselves like troops around tailors to ensure they did not disappoint us .

No children would follow their parents to church in old clothes no matter how new and fashionable they were . It was a psychological thing .

Christmas also marked the end of the academic year and kids who did well and were promoted to the next class had double reasons to celebrate. During the festive  season children also visited their parents’ friends to collect gifts and to join in the merrymaking.

Our Muslim friends and relations were not left out in the joy of Christmas just as they did  not leave us out of their celebrations of Id -el  Adha ( Ileya) .In some places children put on masques to dance around like in Brazilian carnival.

This may be the impact of Afro – Brazilian returnees to places like Lagos and Abeokuta which then eventually diffused culturally to other parts of yorubaland .Carols were and are still sung in Orthodox Churches and even the Pentecostal churches that did not celebrate Christmas have now begun to have Christmas carols just to join the merry making .

But they do not have special masses as in the Orthodox Churches . The Redeemed Christian Church of God , one of the largest Pentecostal churches in Nigeria use the time of Christmas festivities to embark on “ fishing for men” that is embarking on evangelization among non Christians .

Just as in the western world Christmas is seen as time for family reunion. In Nigeria people travel long  and dangerous journeys  because of bad roads to be with their families.

Some whose families are spread all over the world travel out to meet their children and grand children. For the old and elderly and particularly widows and widowers ,Christmas can  be really lonely ,and it si incumbent on Christians to remember such people and extend the hands of Christian fellowship in remembrance of the humble beginning of the baby Jesus. I say again to all who follow me on this column.

Merry Christmas and happy new year in advance .