By Saul Gwakuba-Ndlovu
WE are in the festive month of the Christian world during which people celebrate the so-called birth of Jesus Christ.
His actual birth date is not known and much effort was applied, first by the Roman Catholic Church, but in vain a couple of centuries after his death to establish the exact date of birth.
Churches in that period observed various dates as Christ’s birth date.
Some churches celebrated the event on January 2, March 25, March 28, April 18, April 19 and yet others on May 20.
It was not until Bishop Liberius of Rome decreed that Christ’s birth should be celebrated on December 25 that the Christian world observed Christ’s birthday on the same date and called it Christmas; a word derived from two Latin words ‘Christes’ ‘Masses’ which mean Christ’s Mass.
That is how Christmas became an integral cultural aspect of the Christian world, with highly popular social activities and most welcome economic benefits to all the concerned nations.
Before the current Christmas date was widely adopted throughout Christendom, several Western European nations, all of which were still unconverted, celebrated annual occasions honouring their respective mythical gods.
It is of much interest that the Germans, Britons and Gauls celebrated what was called ‘Brumalia’ on December 25, the very date Bishop Liberius adopted as Christ’s birthday.
The Romans themselves celebrated the feast of their god, Saturn, from December 17 to December 24 and the occasion was called ‘Saturnalia’.
Norsemen celebrated what were called Yule feasts from December 25 to January 6.
When Christmas eventually sunk roots, it incorporated some aspects of each of the mentioned pagan festivals.
In the eastern Christian community, however, Christ’s birth was celebrated on Epiphany, that is on January 6, the date on which Jesus was baptised.
As the church grew, and Martin Luther broke away from the Roman Catholic Church, and the east had established itself at Constantinople, away from Rome, much was done to cleanse its festivities of traces of paganism.
In the Middle Ages, some newly-established Christian movements opposed religious feasts and imposed fines on whoever would be deemed to have gone against their regulation.
That was the case with the Puritans who, in 1659, passed a law prohibiting Christmas feasts.
That was 200 years before Dr Robert Moffat of the London Missionary Society (LMS) founded Inyati Mission in what is now known as Matabeleland North Province of Zimbabwe. Since August 1967, the LMS is now called the Congregation Church of Southern Africa, UCCSSA, and is one group of protestants who freely celebrate Christmas.
Several decades ago, individual congregations raised some money to which their church administration would add whatever it could to enable the community to merry-make at their church or at whatever other convenient locality.
That was a very good practice as it brought together Christ’s followers in joy that was free of vice and excesses.
Today’s tendency is to have family Christmas festivities that are attended by virtually anyone, especially friends and neighbours.
A major difference between the old congregation and family-organised Christmas festivities is that there were no alcoholic beverages at church occasions unlike at family ones where such beverages are available to cater for friends and relatives who may not be church members.
We should hastily add here that the Roman Catholic Church allows its members to consume alcoholic beverages but emphasises moderation, a condition that is, unfortunately, breached rather than observed by a large number of that church’s adherents.
That church, incidentally, was the first organised denomination in the world.
The December festive period has more socially and economically negative occurrences than happen in most of the past 11 months of the year of which December is the last. During that month, more people are robbed of their valuables, such as money, cell phones, watches, motor vehicles and groceries.
The vast majority of those incidents, including burglaries and rapes, occur in urban centres.
Social scientists and criminologists are of the considered opinion that a contributory factor to that sorry trend is the higher rate of consumption of alcoholic beverages whose other unfortunate result is the break-up of families, or their destabilisation at least.
A large number of road accidents, some of them fatal, occur in the Christmas festive period, so do very many assaults, some with grievious bodily harm (GBM) and yet others resulting in either murder or in culpable homicide.
Numerous marriages end on the rocks because of intoxication, particularly in cases where only one member of a couple drinks and the other does not.
The drinking partner would be accused of spending a disproportionally large amount of the family’s financial resources, resulting in the economic detriment of the whole family.
The Christmas period is turned into misery for many families, especially mothers and children because of the men’s reckless expenditure.
Some social scientists say the more alcoholic beverages one consumes, the more financial resources one spends, the deeper one (and one’s family) sinks into economic misery.
In communities whose families’ monthly earning are below the national average cost of living, Christmas expenditure causes a great deal of economic distress.
Many divorces have been the result of such developments, some of which could have been avoided by the reduction, if not the complete abstaining from the consumption of alcoholic beverages.
Please don’t do things you will regret this Christmas.
After all, it’s foreign to us.
Saul Gwakuba-Ndlovu is a retired, Bulawayo-based journalist. He can be contacted on cell
0734 328 136 or through Email: firstname.lastname@example.org