Lambert Mbom

Christmas at the Vatican

For Catholics, Christmas is not just a day but also a season, which lasts until the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord. Hence, the Christmas season this time around runs from December 25, 2010 – Sunday January 9, 2011.

Even though this reflection would have been more meaningful on Christmas day, it is still very relevant given that we are still within the Christmas season. Therefore, those who are in such haste to see it over and now wish a belated Happy Christmas or Happy Christmas in arrears have an abbreviated understanding of Christmas. In fact, this is an indication of the systematic erosion and evisceration of the true meaning of Christmas, which is what, this article sets out to address.

One of the many paradoxes this season has engendered is a certain denial of the true meaning of Christmas and a certain celebration, which pretends to be neutral. This is the clear fruit of what Pope Benedict XVI eloquently describes as the “dictatorship of secularism”. We live in an age where there is increasing hostility towards anything religious and a daily attempt to subvert traditional religious ideas and institutions. This ongoing process of secularization with its stranglehold grip on society deserves urgent attention before the bells for the requiem start chiming.

In diagnosing the whys and wherefores of this project, I do not pretend to provide a chronological exposition or even a sociological analysis. Rather, this is a personal reflection of a system that has slowly but surely eaten up the fabric of our religious ethos. Moreover, like peeling off onions all we have left when we get off the last layer is tears in our ears.

First, there was the abbreviation of Christmas to Xmas. How often have we heard or said, Happy Xmas without pausing to think what this otherwise benign phrase actually means. The replacement of Christ with an X, I contend was not just an arbitrary move but also a calculated step towards the complete evisceration of Christ from the Mas.

One gets a clue of this when one turns to that arcane science of Mathematics. In mathematical jargon, “x” is an unknown quantity. X can stand for anything and so this algebraic recasting of Christmas means x can stand for anything but even more so it could and in fact does stand for nothing.

Even the argument that this shortening ensues from the fact that the first letter in the Greek word for Christ is “Chi” which is represented in the Greek alphabet by the symbol similar to the “X” in the modern Roman alphabet is a spin or better still a stretch. (http//

Even the traditional greeting merry Christmas has given yet another twist as the response, merry, merry points to merriment as the essence of Christmas. Christmas has become a season for merriment. It sure is a joyful season and deserving as such. It is a time for festivities; a time for excesses. Yet we must understand the true context of these excesses. As Reno rightly affirms in his December 23 2010 posting on First Things’ blog The Square:
We need to keep in mind the scandal of particularity during our Christmas celebrations. Don’t shun the spirit of excess at Christmas. It’s fitting in its way…. All the presents, the good times, and the good meals—think of them concentrated into one single and particular gift: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

It is this excess that feeds the commercialization of Christmas. Christ, the one whose birthday anniversary we celebrate is completely ignored and left out. Paradoxically, the businesses that make a boom out of this season insist on annoying neutrality shamelessly proclaiming loudly, happy holiday. Truly, modern man has a very short memory or pretends to have one.

A third level on this onward march towards the secular is in the political where for the sake of political correctness, it is safe simply to say happy holiday. Out of respect for the Jews, Muslims, atheists and other Christians opposed to Christmas, Christians must succumb to the rather flat proposition happy holiday. After all, Christmas is insulting to the Jews who still await the messiah, an aberration to Muslims for whom Christ is only a prophet not even as great as Mohammed and to Jehovah’s witnesses a monstrous solemnization of a pagan festival.

Mbachu in her blog entry of Christmas 2007 captured this neatly when she wrote:
Thinking and believing that the use of “Happy Christmas” in public discourse and within the public square could easily translate into the unintended dangling of the fearful sword of Damocles over the heads of frightened Jews afraid of Christian domiance(sic), the already browbeaten Muslims or aggressive atheists opposed to anything religious many Christians in America now conveniently take the safe way out in their use of holiday instead of Christmas.

This is a sad reality. This despicable kowtow by Christians is a clear indication of the spinelessness wont of some. Christians must remember to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. Political expediency should not trump Religious attachments.

This desperate attempt at creating a “naked public square” is an exercise in futility. In and by itself, it conveys a certain presupposition and philosophy while attempting with the same breath to be neutral.

Another lap in this secularization project is the unfortunate characterization or rather the mischaracterization of Christmas as a children’s thing. The portrayal of Christmas as a celebration for children instead of childlikeness is naiveté at its best. It is a smokescreen. The perniciousness of this paradox is in the fact that excesses wont of this day are those that adults indulge in. Christmas is not just a children’s celebration. It is a celebration of childlikeness. It is above all, a family celebration.

If we step aside for one second and ask this fundamental question, why the hustle and bustle at this time and not otherwise, we can only miss the warp and woof of Christmas if we choose to be revisionist.
Christians celebrate the anniversary of the birth of Christ on Christmas. It is pagan in its origin and Christian in essence.
In Northern Europe, Christmas was originally a pagan feast celebrating the winter solstice, a time when ancient peoples built great bonfires to give the winter sun god strength and to receive him. The early church fathers wisely chose a day near the winter solstice as the date to celebrate Christ’s birth, the return of light becoming associated with the hope of the world in the birth of the savior.

Christ’s birth certificate might be an issue here. Yet the basic fact worth celebrating is this: Christ at a certain point in time was born; he walked this earth, died and rose again from the death. Christ broke the cycle of human existence by rising from the dead. Birth, life and death were the main tenors of human life. Christ introduced a new element – resurrection.

Christ’s birth then became important only after this death, mutatis mutandis. This explains why for the Christian, Easter is the central mystery for it celebrates the death and resurrection of Christ. Only in the light of Easter, does Christmas take its true meaning. St Paul expresses this succinctly when he says: if Christ had not died and risen from the dead, then our faith would be in vain. To paraphrase this: if Christ had not been born, then he would not have died and risen. Talk about the date of Christ’s birth not recorded in the bible is idle prattle.

It is an indubitable fact that It is because of this holy day that there is a holiday. Yet in a certain peculiar reversal, the latter has taken precedence and prominence over the former. One could explain the significance in terms of the switch from the consonant “y”, to the vowel “I”.

By no means, is this just a mere linguistic tweak. There is loaded within this otherwise simple act, a fundamental mindset that is much in vogue.

CNN’s regular feature BIG I – Ideas, Imagination and Innovation encapsulates wittingly or unwittingly the mindset of the modern society.

In a world that celebrates the unfettered capacity of imagination generating an inundation of ideas and concretizing these in innovation, one can understand the current malaise. A market of ideas with all equally important and no hierarchical classification, an avalanche of technological advancements stretching the imagination to its limits and beyond are the hallmarks of this age.

The switch from the holyday to holiday is a celebrated innovation and the two at least in modern society are equally as important. Put simply, this substitution epitomizes the decrepitude and continuous descent of contemporary society into the dungeon.

We must again rediscover the meaning of the Y – the Yes of Mary foundational in the Christmas celebration. Christmas is both a holyday and a holiday and not either or. Yet given that, the holiday comes because of the holyday, it is appropriate to stress this accent and so merry Christmas is fitting.

On this seventh day of the Christmas octave, may I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas. See you next year.