By Bola Bolawole
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Whereas Christians in many parts of the world celebrate December 25 every year as Christmas Day or the day Jesus Christ was born, many Bible scholars deny that Jesus was actually born on Christmas Day (December 25). To shed some light on the issue, we ask some of the most commonly asked questions about the birth or nativity of Christ and give answers that scholars of the topic have offered. Was Christ born on Christmas Day (December 25)? “The birth of Christ is commemorated by millions of people around the world with Christmas celebrations on December 25. Yet, most scholars agree that he was not born on that day or even in the year AD 1…The Virgin Mary, pregnant with the son of God, would have hence given birth to Jesus nine months later on the winter solstice. From Rome, the Christ’s Nativity celebration spread to other Christian churches to the west and east, and soon most Christians were celebrating Christ’s birth on December 25”. When was Jesus Christ’s actual birthday? “The date of birth of Jesus is not stated in the gospels or in any historical sources; most biblical scholars, however, assume a year of birth between 6 and BC” When did Christmas become the birthday of Christ “The first official mention of December 25 as a holiday honouring the birthday of Jesus appeared in an early Roman calendar from AD 336. The celebration of Christmas spread throughout the Western world over the next several centuries but many Christians continued to view Epiphany and Easter as more important” Why, then, is December 25 now the birthday of Christ? The Roman Christian historian, Sextus Julius Africanus, in 221 AD dated Jesus’s conception to March 25 which, after nine months in his mother’s womb, would result in a December 25 birth. Why was December 25 chosen as the day for the celebration of Christmas? “The Roman Empire, before it recognised Christianity, celebrated the rebirth of Sol Invictus (the Roman god of the sun) on December 25, a date which coincided with the Roman festival of Saturnalia, when people feasted and exchanged gifts” Was December 25, then, a pagan holiday or celebration? “Although some evidence suggests that Jesus’s birthday might have occurred in the spring – why would shepherds be herding in the middle of winter? – Pope Julius 1 chose December 25. It is commonly believed that the Church chose this date in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival” When did Christians start celebrating Christmas in December? The church in Rome formally began celebrating Christmas on December 25 in 336 AD. This was during the reign of Constantine, the emperor who made Christianity the effective religion of the entire empire. According to some scholars, Constantine had the political motive of weakening the established pagan celebrations”
From the above, we can see that the actual date of Jesus’s birth is unknown; it is not stated in the gospels or in any historical records or sources. December 25 was adopted and despite the objection to the date by some Christian sects or groups, it has stuck with majority Christian groups or Christians. So, dissenting Christian groups and their members do not celebrate Christmas as they do not attach any scriptural significance to the day. Besides, they pour scorn on the day and its celebration because of its perceived pagan origin. Rather than see what Constantine did as a deft political move to exterminate the worship of the pagan god Saturnalia, they describe it as sacrilege to match the date of birth of Jesus with the anniversary of a pagan worship.
But the celebration of Christmas continues all the same! And for fun-loving Nigerians, the celebration is not limited to Christians but cuts across all divides – religious, ethnic, political, name it! For many, long preparation goes into Christmas Day. Funds have to be obtained from whatever source to purchase new clothes, shoes, bags and other accessories to match (especially for women); new hairdo and new achievements all hallmark Christmas celebrations. It is usually an occasion when people buy new cars, move into new homes, celebrate marriages and go on holidays. Those with the means go to some fairy-tale islands in far-flung corners of the world to enjoy themselves. For others, it is the best time of the year to go to the village to show off their new-found wealth and status. The competition can be something else! For the Redeemed Christian Church of God where I worship, it is an occasion to plant new churches, hold crusades, evangelize and win souls as well as give to the less privileged in the society.
Christmas, thus, is an occasion for lavish celebrations with lots to eat and drink. People in their gorgeous attires throng the street, some visiting friends and relations while others with no specific destination in mind simply roam about, savouring the joy of the moment. When I was growing up in the 50s and 60s in my Owo hometown in Ondo state, Christmas and New Year were days when, for certainty, we ate rice and chicken. Every family strove to achieve this feat for their household; otherwise, your children may be forced to carry their “long throat” to your neighbour’s compound to your eternal shame and regret. In those days, we ate what we produced, unlike now that we hanker after foreign food items, thereby frittering our foreign exchange and deepening our misery. Our unbridled taste for foreign food items and goods – anything foreign – is our bane. Plus, of course, the unmitigated disaster called corruption, which arrived at its apogee with the Muhammadu Buhari administration!
Another unfortunate aspect is our own practices, foods and products that we abandoned in search of foreign items; yet, what is originally ours is even better than the new fad that has colonised our psyche. Breast-feeding of babies, for instance, has been proven conclusively to be far better than all the baby milk formulas in the world. Yet, until the Whites themselves latched on to it, our own people who were beneficiaries of breast milk and who witnessed their own mothers practice it, did not accept it as good. Now, again, it has been proven that our own local rice (called Ofada or brown rice) is better than the white, sometimes expired, sometimes synthetic rice that we import from everywhere at a huge cost to our economy. There is virtually nothing that we import that we do not, or cannot find a better substitute for here. Colonial mentality!
Medical tourism gulps billions in foreign exchange yearly, money that could have been used to develop the health sector back at home. Instead, our medical facilities are allowed to decay and rot. Health workers have been voting with their feet in droves. Now, many of our health facilities are bereft of facilities as well as workers. Education tourism also drains the country of billions of dollars yearly; money we should have poured into our institutions of higher learning where infrastructure and facilities are decrepit. Teachers, paid peanuts, have just resumed from an eight-month strike that achieved nothing. I saw an advert in social media days ago saying that Britain is scouting for teachers in Nigeria. Soon, our secondary schools, like our universities and hospitals, will be emptied of competent hands. They used to say “If you cannot beat them, join them” Now, it is: “If you cannot beat them, japa!”
Last Christmas was the worst I have witnessed in recent history. The astronomical hike in the prices of foodstuffs, commodities, and services meant that many could not afford the basic necessities of life, not to talk of giving themselves a treat. When people have not eaten, is that the time to think or talk of new clothes and shoes? Petrol scarcity during this festive period also added to the cost of foodstuffs and other items; transportation costs have doubled or tripled in many instances. Very few people could afford to travel to the village to celebrate. Those who remained had traffic snarl, occasioned by fuel scarcity, to contend with. In times past, this used to be the period when traffic was light on Lagos roads and driving was a delight; not so this year; no thanks to Buhari who, apart from being the president on whose table the buck stops, also doubles as the Minister of Petroleum Resources who cannot make common imported petrol available to citizens! The worsening spate of insecurity in the land is also another reason many cannot risk travelling. It was a really bleak Christmas, Buhari’s last as president, and it is very unfortunate that this is his parting gift to Nigerians. What a very sad way for Buhari to depart! But, what a fittingly inglorious way to end an incompetent, ruinous, nepotistic and clueless administration!
Will New Year be different, at least with the simple matter of making fuel available to citizens? Or has this also become rocket science for the clueless and incompetent Buhari administration? But tell me, what became of the DSS ultimatum to NNPC and marketers to end the fuel queues within seven days? Empty threats? Mere photo-ops? The Buhari administration’s leopard seemeth incapable of changing its skin!
Shoving Buhari aside, I wish my readers happy New Year in advance!
- Former Editor of PUNCH newspapers, Chairman of its Editorial Board and Deputy Editor-in-chief, BOLAWOLE was also Managing Director/ Editor-in-chief of THE WESTERNER newsmagazine. He writes ON THE LORD’S DAY column in the Sunday Tribune and TREASURES column in New Telegraph newspaper. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television.