Celebrations and festivals are integral to our richly diverse country. Ivan Satyvrata explores traditional Christian motifs and deciphers their meaning for our times, still keeping Jesus at the centre.
isitors to India never cease to be amazed at the number of holidays marking the various festivals celebrated in India. In our multicultural society, all festivals are celebrated with zest and enthusiasm – people of all communities join in the celebrations regardless of their religious affiliation. Christmas is thus today one among the many festivals of India, celebrated in some way or other by people of all faiths. This fact and its increasing commercialisation here as in the West, has caused some sincere believers to question whether its celebration actually harms or aids the Christian witness in India.
“The exaltation of Santa Claus, the Christmas tree, tinsel, holly & mistletoe, fun, merriment, drunkenness and carousing... Where is Jesus in all this?” the skeptics ask. The high rates of drunk-driving, accidents and crime in general would seem to justify the perception among some that the celebration of Christmas is just a waste of time for a genuine Christ-follower. But the punch line is this: “In any case nobody knows when Christ was born, and there is nothing in the Bible which tells us when to celebrate Christmas.” This is by no means an eccentric view – different groups through church history including the 17th century Puritans, Quakers and some present day Brethren and Pentecostals, among others, have discarded the observance of Christmas.
It is, of course, impossible to fix with certainty December 25 as the birth date of Jesus. The most widespread theory is that the date was a spin-off from a pagan festival to the Sun-god, which early Christians deliberately chose to encourage the spread of Christianity through the pagan Roman world. This belief is largely based on the fact that some of the modern trappings of Christmas, such as the Christmas tree, can be seen to have their roots in medieval pagan customs.
Despite its popularity, however, careful historical research has debunked this theory as really a myth without substance. Rather the choice of December 25th is the result of attempts among the earliest Christians [2nd-3rd century] to determine the historical date of Jesus’ birth based on chronological calculations that had nothing to do with pagan festivals. While December 25th is unlikely to have been the actual date of Christ’s birth, it is in no way the result of pagan influences upon the practice of the Church.