, NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 25 – Back in the days when I was growing up Christmas was a force to reckon with. It was the most longed for holiday season, at least in my village.
It was the only time that we got to enjoy our very own family buffet and there was quite a lot of variety available; from rice, dengu, chapati, chicken, beef, sodas, Kienyenji and all sorts of fruits.
I too used to get a chance to contribute to the merry making. Mum would assign my two brothers and I at least one meal to prepare, and my usual favourite was beef stew. Besides the meal, we were very sure we were going to be recipients of a new pair of shoes and a new set of clothes.
However, most importantly, Christmas would only kick off once we went to church – the Independent Church – on the eve of the day to witness a mock replay of the birth of Jesus to celebrate His birth. Even those who had not set foot in the House of God the entire year would be compelled to show up on that evening, in their Sunday best. The following morning, we would go back for a Christmas service.
Then it would be time for the massive feast with all my relatives present; those from the city and those from various villages across the country. A goat would have been lined up for slaughter, and congregating together we would centre our festivities on celebrating the birth of Christ, besides appreciating the gift of family.
Looking back, the meaning of this great day has really changed. The carols playing on our radio stations and the numerous cards we get are probably what remain of it. To me it is like we have lost the real meaning of Christmas.
For companies it is a time to reward their employees and faithful clients with gifts for their ‘valued partnerships.’ But is this the true meaning of Christ’s birthday?
On the eve of this great day I went around the streets of Nairobi and asked people what this day meant to them.
In this ‘Christian nation’, people will tell you that this is Jesus Christ’s birthday. However what is interesting more than half of them do not have him in their celebration agenda. In fact, the churches are empty!
“It means going to the village, eating chapati and chicken, just to celebrate,” Angela Muthoni told me.
On the activities of the day, spending quality time with the immediate family ranks highest.
“I plan to spend time with my family like I have never done before,” said another one of my respondents.
I asked my pastor what this day means and he too is shocked on how far we have drifted away.
In his first remarks Pastor Peterson Rukenya said, “I wonder what the bigger tragedy about current trends on Christmas is, its commercialisation or its trivialisation?”
Ideally this day is a remembrance of the birth of Jesus Christ, in a manger, a humble dwelling. But as I discovered around the street our perception of this day is far from this.
According to Pastor Rukenya celebrating this day without reference to Christ, “is more like celebrating a birthday lavishly without involving the ‘Birthday Boy’.”
“We are conditioned to think spending on self. But it is this trivialisation that is most worrisome. For most people, it is possible to ‘enjoy’ Christmas without any reference to the birth of the Saviour.”
Those I met on the streets had either bought something special for themselves or relatives.
“It is about of enjoying time with friends and relatives. Just to reflect on the past year,” said James Kimani.
My clergyman friend however tells me more on the real meaning of Christ’s birthday. For starters it is the ‘celebration of the gift of God to the world.’
“It ought to be a celebration of love, genuinely remembering the needy as God did when he sent his Son; genuinely sharing our life and giving our best as God did.”
Secondly it should act as a reflection on our personal relationship with God.
“Christmas ought to be a time when we recommit ourselves to a life of integrity and godliness.”
One of respondents shared my pastor’s view. “It’s a time for us to repent and celebrate Christ,” he said.
The Pastor’s parting shot goes something like this: “God reminds us of all He has done for us, and that He loves us, and that we have certain responsibilities to Him, to humanity and to ourselves. Christmas is the season and the time for a fresh start.”