The celebration of Christmas and the New Year Festival of the Gregorian Calendar is arguably one of the most debated topics in history. Now universal, religious people, intellectuals, and historians have and continue to debate the permissibility, rationality, and historical accuracy of these festivals.
While Christmas still largely remains a religious festival, it started to become more secular and not exclusively religious since the 20th century especially when Father Christmas or Santa Claus was included in the celebration. When England stopped keeping the Feast Day of Saint Nicholas (Santa Claus), it moved the celebration from December 6 to 25 to coincide with Christmas Day. Given several other contemporary reformations, Religious Liberals, Secularists, and irreligious individuals celebrate these festivals as mere secular holidays.
While many Christian denominations celebrate it as a religious festival to mark the birth of Jesus, known to them as the “Son of God”, others have disagreed, refusing to mark Christmas celebrations believing the date to be incorrect. They also opine that it has pagan roots, thus, being secular regardless, it goes against their conscience to partake in whatever has elements of paganism in it. The same goes for celebrating the New Year of the Gregorian Calendar.
There are also, amongst Muslims, disagreements as to whether these festivals should be celebrated or not. These disagreements go as far as sending out wishes or congratulatory messages on these festivals. The Liberals join actively in the celebration, while some who are not necessarily Liberals, Sheikh Qardawiyy for example, passively join in these celebrations like sending and receiving gifts, sending wishes, etc. On the other hand, conservative groups, the Salafis as an example, are opposed to these celebrations citing the Qur’an verse that says “My religion to me and yours to you (Qur’an 109:6)”.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Deeper Life, and Mountain of Fire Ministries are Christian denominations that do not celebrate either Christmas or New Year or both. Pastor W.F Kumuyi of the Deeper Life Church said, “We don’t celebrate Christmas nor sing Christmas carol; because Christmas is of idolatrous background”. Also, Pastor Pastor D.K. Olukoya of the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries, ”We don’t celebrate Christmas because the root is demonic”. One important question to ask is, “Do the Pagan roots or inaccuracies of these now almost Secular festivals really matter in the 21st Century?”.
It is common practice to call Christmas a Yuletide Season, so, from whence comes Yuletide? Historically, Yule is an ancient festival observed by the Germanic people. The festival is connected to the Norse god, Odin. Yule would go on to undergo Christian reformulation. In fact, the Yule log, Yule goat, Yule boar, Yule singing, and some other Christmas customs and traditions have connections to ancient pagan Yule customs.
The gospel of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John did not record the birth date of Jesus. While Origen and Arnobius faulted the pagans for celebrating birthdays, early Christian writers like Iranaeus and Tertullian did not mention Christmas bringing us to the conclusion that it was not celebrated during their time. Christmas was first celebrated in Rome on December 25, AD 336. So, the historical accuracy of Christmas continues to be questioned.
The most widely used Gregorian Calender has its months and weeks named after Roman gods, goddesses, leaders, and elements. The month of January was named after Janus, a two-headed god who is considered the god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways, passages, and ending. Thus, celebrating the first of January was an ancient Roman practice dedicated to Janus.
This article does not seek to make a comprehensive analysis of these celebrations but to give an idea of their roots and how they have changed especially in contemporary times. The question being asked is,
- Have they become less or not pagan even if it has become seemingly secularized?
- Should the correctness of a tradition be based on wide acceptance?
Bashir Lucas Samson Lukman