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(Opinion) Black Candles for Christmas by Jideofor Adibe


Let me start with a disclaimer:the title of this piece is not original to me. It was the title of one of the short stories by the Nigerian novelist, playwright and political activist Obi Benue Egbuna, which was published in 1980 by Fourth Dimension Publishers, Enugu. Obi Egbuna (18 July 1938 – 18 January 2014) was my favourite author while in secondary school – after James Hadley Chase. Obviously coming from the same town as Obi Egbuna – Ozubulu in Ekwusigo Local Government Area of Anambra state – reinforced my admiration of the late protest writer. This piece however is not about Obi Egbuna’s short story of the same title or about the departed writer himself. It is rather about Christmas, how it came about and its symbolism for the millions of people that celebrate it annually across the world.
The immediate association of Black Candles in my mind (following Obi Egbuna’s ‘Black Candles for Christmas’) is that it is something negative – dark, evil, malevolent and death. However after researching on the symbolisms of candle colours for this article – I found that contrary to my intuitive belief, Black Candles are actually supposed to be the colour of the candle you burn when you are trying to destroy negative forces and energy. The candle generally is the symbol of the holy illumination of the spirit of truth. There are people who believe that a lit candle can connect the physical world with the spiritual realm.
Back to Christmas. What is it all about?
Christmas is a time that Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ to Virgin Mary as a fulfilment of the Messianic prophecy of the Old Testament. There are two accounts in the Bible which describe the events surrounding the birth of Jesus. These are the Gospel of Matthew (1:18-25) and the Gospel of Luke (1:26-38).
There is no consensus on the exact date and day of the birth of Jesus. For instance the earliest of the four gospels – St. Mark’s, (the other three are Matthew, Luke and John) written about 65 CE – begins with the story of the baptism of an adult Jesus suggesting that the earliest Christians either lacked interest in or knowledge of Jesus’ birthdate. There have consequently been several estimations about the birthdate of Jesus. Dionysius Exiguus, a Scythian monk for instance estimated that Jesus was born on August 28. The DePascha Computus, an anonymous document believed to have been written in North Africa around 243 CE, calculated the birthdate of Jesus to be March 28. Clement, a bishop of Alexandria thought Jesus was born on November 18. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies at the Catholic University of America after analysing historical records concluded that Jesus was probably born on September 11, 3 BCE.
If there is no consensus on the birthdate of Jesus Christ, how come Christians celebrate Christmas on 25 December?
There are competing theories on why Christmas is celebrated on December 25. One theory was that the day the Virgin Mary was told she would bear a son to be called Emmanuel by the angel Gabriel (called the Annunciation) was on March 25, and that nine months after March 25 would be December 25.
Another theory linked it to the Roman pagans’ festival of Saturnalia –a perverse and hedonistic festival celebrated from December 17-25. At the festival’s conclusion on December 25, Roman authorities believed they were destroying the forces of darkness by brutally murdering the innocent man or woman chosen by each Roman community to represent an enemy of the Roman people. It is thought that Christianity imported the Saturnalia festival around the 4th century CE, with the hope that they would use the opportunity of the festival to Christianize the ‘pagans’. Hence they named Saturnalia’s concluding day of December 25, to be the birthday of Jesus.
The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on December 25th was in 336AD, during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine, who was the first Christian Roman Emperor. A few years later, Pope Julius I officially declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on the 25th of December. The word ‘Christmas’ itself came from the Mass of Christ (or Jesus). A Mass service (which is sometimes called Communion or Eucharist by Catholics) is where Christians remember that Jesus died for us and then came back to life. The ‘Christ-Mass’service was meant to commemorate or celebrate the birth of Jesus. It is thought that the ‘mas’ suffix to ‘Christ’ evolved from the Old English word ‘maesse’ meaning festival, feast day or mass.
The earliest Christmas holidays were celebrated by drinking, sexual indulgence and singing naked in the streets (a precursor of modern carols) – pretty much the same way Saturnalia was celebrated. Because of its known pagan origin, Christmas was banned by the Puritans and its observance was illegal in several places such as Boston (1659-1681). The Puritan-dominated Parliament of England also banned the celebration of Christmas in 1644 though the ban was lifted in 1660 when Charles II took over the throne.
Many of the most popular Christmas customs such as Christmas trees, mistletoe, Christmas presents and Santa Claus are modern Christianized incarnations of pagan rituals.
Today millions of people around the world – whether they are Christians or not- celebrate Christmas. In many Western countries, Christmas is increasingly seen as a time when family and friends re-unite over food, drinks and merriments. Growing up, Christmas was for us a time to get new clothes and shoes and eat loads of rice – and if you are lucky, with some chicken.
In many English-speaking countries, the day following Christmas Day is called ‘Boxing Day’. The word itself comes from the custom which started in the Middle Ages about 800 years ago when churches would open the boxes in which people had placed gifts of money and would distribute the contents to the poor people in the neighbourhood.
Many Christians believe that beyond the secular celebrations of Christmas there must be a hidden meaning, a sort of God’s special message for them during the yuletide. If we extrapolate from the reasons the early Christians turned to the pagan festival of Saturnalia, we can infer that the symbolism is not on the festivity itself but on the opportunity it offers to turn a morally and spiritually unacceptable situation (a largely pagan practice) to something morally and spiritually ennobling (to symbolize the birthdate of Jesus Christ).
Buhari: Apologies Accepted
I do not agree with a number of the items in the 2016 Budget – as presented by President Muhammadu Buhari. For instance I fail to understand how school feeding will be the best way of reflating the economy or improving the quality of education or even keeping pupils in school. Similarly the logic of the N500bn budgeted to pay the unemployed a monthly stipend of N5000 remains unconvincing. The argument that only ‘vulnerable’ unemployed people would benefit from it raises its own problem of the metric for measuring vulnerability.
I was however very impressed with the manner the budget was presented, especially the President’s apologies over the fuel scarcity that has persisted across the country since October.Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who has otherwise been surprisingly impressive in his new role as a Minister, appeared to have suffered a momentary relapse into his ‘APC Publicity secretary mode’ and blamed former President Jonathan for the punishingly long queues at our filling stations. The President blamed the long queues on the refusal of stakeholders in the petroleum industry to embrace change.
It is not a sign of weakness to offer apologies or own up to certain failures and inadequacies. On the contrary an apology is both a sign of humility and courage. One hopes that the government can extend this new found humility into other areas of our national life such as obeying court orders so that a good example will be set for the citizens about the importance obeying laws. Everyone knows the President was a tough military general so there is no need for the government to strive to kill ants with sledge hammers.
Email: pcjadibe@yahoo.com
Twitter: @JideoforAdibe

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