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26.12.2002 Feature Article

Should traditionalists celebrate Christmas

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I wish you all a Happy 2003! Let it be the year that we will grow in the knowledge of GOD and allow our culture to prosper alongside all forms of developments. It must also be the year that we fully realise that the secret of prosperity is based on sweat, and not miracles. My article Has God ambushed Ghanaians attracted many reactions via Ghanaweb and personal mail. I am still corresponding with some people. The majority of the response was favourable, but some christians saw the article as anti-Christian. The morale of the article was that there are excesses in the charismatic churches, which need to be addressed given the Churches’ increased role in the Ghanaian society. They felt that I should be proud of what Jesus has done for the world rather than comment on the activities of his church. Some cited christmas, easter and the christian calendar as examples. They claim that they value Christmas more than the independence day of Ghana. They want to know what I am doing to discourage people, who believe in Ghanaian religion and culture, from celebrating christmas and easter. Let me begin by saying that 25th December was originally a non-christian holiday. But due to the false history being taught today, most Ghanaian christians believe that Jesus was born on 25th December. Before christmas was introduced, the Romans used to honour Saturn, the God of agriculture. This festival began from 17th December and lasted for 7 days. The Romans feasted, postponed business and warfare and exchanged gifts. We can relate those events to festivals such as Odwira, Aboakyir and Homowo which bring people to their hometowns for merry making. Also 25th December was celebrated as the birthday of the Persian God, Mithra (Sun of Righteousness, Light of the world) to mark the beginning of the lengthening of daylight after the winter darkness. Mithraism was brought to Rome about 100 years before christianity was founded there. His followers believed that Mithra was the mediator between heaven and earth and a part of a holy Trinity. He was born of a virgin, which was adored by shepherds. His followers practised baptism, and would be rewarded with eternal life in heaven. They observed Sunday as a day of worship. Mithra took part in a Last Supper with his companions and instructed them to celebrate it. In Egypt, Osiris (the Sun God) had the same features as Mithra. The Greek scholar Herodotus wrote about it. Church Leaders in the 2nd and 3rd century such as Tertullian and Justin Martyr confirmed the beliefs of Mithraism. They explained that Satan imitated christian beliefs. Amazing! I never thought that a pioneer could i! mitate a follower. It is clear from these similarities that christianity did not only borrow 25th December but many beliefs from Persian and Egyptian religions (read what the ancient Church Leaders themselves said: Tertullian, Prescription Against Heretics chp XL; Justin Martyr, The First Apology chp LXVI; Dialogue of Trypho chp LXX). The Roman Church first celebrated Christmas, then known as the Feast of Nativity in 336 AD. The Roman Emperor Constantine used the name of Jesus (the Prince of Peace) to fight wars. After his victory, he decreed Christianity as the new religion of the Roman Empire and the Christians gave the holiday an entirely new name. You could not imagine the disgust of the followers of Mithra as the Christians paraded the streets of Rome claiming 25th December as the birthday of Jesus without recognising the founding religions which have developed that belief system. Imagine what you will think of a foreign evangelist or yogi who comes to Ghana and claims that Ga Festival (Homowo) is the birthday of Jesus or Krishna. But that was exactly what the Roman Church did by converting the birthday of Mithra into the day of Jesus. There has been resistance to the decision of the Roman Church. For example, in 1644, the English Parliament passed an act forbidding the celebration of Christmas. Further, when the Puritans came to America, they passed similar laws and worked steadily on 25th December to show their disregard of Christmas. Around 1660, the General Court of Massachussetts also imposed a fine of 5 Shillings on anyone caught observing 25th December. Until the 19th Century, 25th December had no religious significance in the Protestant Churches. The Armenian Church, SDA, Jehovah Witness and a few churches have never accepted 25th December as birthday of Jesus. Some accept 6th January. How could the birth of Jesus in the coldest period of the winter be reconciled with the Bible story that the event was seen by shepherds watching over their flock in the field at night (Luke 2:8). My charismatic Bishop friend at Lapaz (Accra) dismisses this question by saying, “with God everything is possible”. He claims that God gave these shepherds power over winter so that they could witness the most miraculous event in the universe – the birth of a Saviour. Besides its original purpose, 25th December has assumed other symbolic importance. Christians refer to it as their Saviour’s birthday. They celebrate Christes maess - old English phrase which means “festival of Christ”. Further, 25th December has become a day of enjoyment, particularly for children in the villages. It is the time that they have the chance to taste chicken, rice and biscuits and to receive new clothes. Children behave best within the weeks prior to these holidays because truancy will deny them nice presents. In both cities and villages, it has become an occasion, which brings families and friends together for merry making and for promoting friendship. I still have good memories of the football matches that we played with other villages during this occasion, and the songs the village girls sang to encourage us to beat the opposing teams. National governments have declared 25th December as secular holidays making it possible for workers to have a well-deserved rest. For some workers, it is the time to earn increased pay since wages are normally high for those who choose to work. Communities and social organisations, particularly in Southern Ghana use it as an occasion for fundraising to support development work. For Ghanaians abroad, it is the time to visit Ghana and spend some of their hard-earned foreign currency, which helps boost the Ghanaian economy. The concert groups, including Africa Brothers, the Black Chinese (City Boys) and One Man Thousand (Alex Konadu) use the holidays to play afternoon jumps (dance) to appreciative crowd in places such as Apollo Theatre, Subin Nite Club and Kalamazoo. Some people spend the day in the palm wine shed thinking about the future whilst business people take the morning to reflect on profits earned. Everybody celebrates it in his or her own style. Indeed 25th December is a time of good will, and it is desirable that everyone enjoys the blessings of the day. My only concern is about Charismatic Christians who claim superiority over Ghanaian Religion but celebrate 25th December forgetting that it has non-Christian origin. In the Old Testament, we read that Aaron declared a feast unto God based on non-Jewish tradition and God nearly destroyed the Israelites had Moses not stepped in to cool the tempers of God (Ex. 32:5). In his prophecies, Jeremiah seemed to be against the christmas tree when he warned the Israelites for decorating trees (Jer 10:2-4). Paul also warned the Galatians against observing non-Jewish customs, "You observe days and months, and times, and years. I am disappointed in you for letting me waste my time" (Gal. 4:10-11). With regard to easter, I will talk about it next time. I will only like to say that it means a lot to the people of Kwahu compared with christmas, and for a good reason. May you all be! blessed! Dr. Kwasi Boahene (the Netherlands)

Kwasi Boahene, Dr.
Kwasi Boahene, Dr., © 2002

The author has 12 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: KwasiBoahene

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