By Wynfred Russell
With Christmas Day around the corner, the annual debate has resurfaced about why it is celebrated as a national holiday and not an Islamic holiday. However, Christmas is not seen in the same way as Eid is for Muslims, Diwali is for Hindus, or Yom Kippur is for Jews. In America, like Liberia, which wrote our constitution, even if you do not believe in the tenets of the Christian faith, most people are raised "cultural Christians."
This means even though some people are not Christians, the values of Christianity are deeply intertwined with American values. The same is true in Liberia, where I grew up. Without absorbing Judeo-Christian values, one cannot grow up in America or be an American. Similarly, anyone who has lived their entire life in India is considered a cultural Hindu. Someone from Sudan is a cultural Muslim, no matter their actual faith or lack thereof.
However, that is not why Liberia and the US passed a law declaring Christmas Day a national holiday, but not Diwali, Yom Kippur, or Eid al-Fitr. Christmas is not a 'religious' holiday, unlike Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim festivals.
I am a Christian and attended the Ganta United Methodist Mission boarding school; I learned that Christmas is not fundamental in biblical teachings. It is not referenced in the Bible and was not even mentioned by Christian theologians until centuries after Jesus' death. None of the Gospels gives a date or season for Christ's birth, certainly not in December, which is so narrowly confined to White North Americans and Europeans nostalgia.
"Theologically, I find Christmas meaning in two dimensions," said Mark Nordell, a retired United Methodist pastor. "The first, in the first mythic angel telling us not to be afraid. The second is in John 1:14, where the vision of incarnation begins for me. Christologically, incarnation, 'word becoming flesh,' means much more to me than redemption."
The early settlers in colonial Boston [USA] outlawed Christmas. Christians in New England kept up their 'war on Christmas' until the late 1800s, as they considered it a pagan holiday that had more to do with the "heathen's Saturnalia" (an ancient Roman festival honoring the god Saturn) than with Jesus.
Christmas is a religious, secular, cultural, and commercial phenomenon with its reindeer, Christmas trees, elves, and Sani Claus. It is celebrated worldwide: in Kano, Nigeria, which is 95% Muslim; Christmas has become popular in Japan, although only about 2% of the population is Christian.
Christmas is more a cult of capitalism than anything else, accounting for more than 20% of total yearly retail sales in the US alone. Christmas is about buying stuff and exchanging gifts. I do not intend to insult Christians, but Christmas does not hold sacred significance as other religions' holidays.
That is why most people globally, regardless of their faith, celebrate Christmas but do not, for example, observe Easter. The former is a secular festival, while the latter is Christianity's most important religious holiday. The Establishment Clause of the Liberian constitution was intended to prevent the government from "establishing" an official state religion; that is why Easter, Eid, Diwali, Yom Kippur, and other religious festivals are not observed as national holidays.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!