Friday, January 2, 2009

I Hate Christmas!

Indonesian version: Aku Benci Natal

EVERY DECEMBER when I was child, I always lose in a competition among my elementary school friends. That is getting have a lot of attendance in Christmas festivity. Although I have born in Christian family and educated in Christian school, actually not much Christmas festivity that I can attend. There are some events, i.e. School Sunday Christmas, Elementary School Christmas, church Christmas. Just three events I can attend. My friends can attend five until six Christmas celebration. There is small envy in me. They can come to many because they are not member of any church. They will response every church—especially that have evangelism program and new church—which invite them to attend their Christmas celebration.

I cannot do same thing because my father is a church elder. If I do as my friend, it is peculiar. My friends were doing this because their proletariat background. There are not many happiness in their life and Christmas event gave them some joy and beautiful moment among their miserable life because of their poorness and bad environment around them. Pride and happy seen on their face. Unhappily, after graduate from elementary school, they refuse to be Christian.

While I grow as a teenager and years celebrate Christmas, the sensation being vanish. It is make my interest to celebrate Christmas become extinct. When December came, I am not really care if I must join in Christmas program in church or in my school. Unless, I am one of Christmas feast committee, it is just a duty.

It is become worse after I know several facts about Christmas. I become hate Christmas. There are some reasons that make me decide to hate Christmas. Some scientific research prove that Jesus Christ did not birth at December 25 (scholars suggest Jesus’ birthday at Juni-September). Therefore, Jesus did not celebrate birthday at Christmas. Facts that church founding fathers adopted Saturnalia, European pagan festivals to celebrate the mighty of god of sun who defeat winter, bother my conscience—why the saints of the church being rash to include paganism spirit in the Christianity?

In addition, first century Christians (of course including The Disciple) did not have a tradition to celebrate birthday because birthday party is gentile tradition. As a Middle East people, they commemorate of the death of their patron that this tradition adopted by Indonesian through Islam culture in form haul festival. If you ever hear the Haul Bung Karno or another hauls: this event certainly to commemorate their patron death day, i.e. President Soekarno. Therefore, I think Indonesian Christians can rename the Good Friday to Haul Yesus Kristus, commemorate the death of Jesus Christ. As the result of this, I think, if I want to be a true Christians, I must not celebrate Christmas, but Easter. I must commemorate Easter with great festival and party because I am not merely memorialize the bereavement but the joy of salvation through resurrection of Jesus Christ. The facts that Easter sink by Christmas afflict me.

In the Gospels, there is only one birthday party—Herod Antipas’ (Matthew 14:6)—and it is tragic ending to people of God. John the Baptist, voice-of-one-crying-in-the-wilderness prophet who prepares Messiah coming, slain beheaded to enliven king’s birthday party.

Christmas that driven by commercial trader, manufacturer, and mass media that push extremely consumptive behavior and facts that there are Christian enclaves in Indonesia who celebrate Christmas in carousal party make me nauseous. The hatred is intensively because my name as Christian is more badly. I follow religion that bring by colonist and now there are people who act for Christian tradition, celebrate Christmas in the way that wrong the follower of other religion. It does not make senses!

There is trivial reason that makes me hate Christmas. Frivolous, but it is troubling me too. Why Jesus Christ who that day “having birthday” always celebrate in the form of small baby in a manger? There are not religion leaders or other figures who visualized as a baby in his birthday. Sidharta Gautama, Muhammad, and Kong Hu Cu for example, they never being pictured as a baby in their birthday commemorate. Therefore, Christmas for me is no more than deceit romanticism and a moment to legalize carousal party.

That is how the land lies, it make sense if I hate Christmas, do I? Then, with all the reasons, it makes senses if I decide to do not celebrate Christmas, do I? How many money can be saved? How much life can be saved from death as consequence of drunkenness accident because of the carousal party would not hold?

However, there are changing in my mind about last a year. There are reasons that Christmas is worthy to be celebrated. The change comes from my heart as from my personal research and reflection.

                            My name is Miktam Lilo Radityo

One of meditation from The Upper Room gave me clear picture about the meaning of Christmas. The writer told a story about herself when one time she habitually driving to her office. In the middle of her way—while she is listening soft melody from car audio—she see the corner which is very familiar to her when she go to office. Suddenly, she aware that was in wrong way. She do not plan to go to office, she has plan go to another place. That familiar corner gives her sign to warning her that her spontaneous direction was wrong. She awake from routinely life. According to this accident, the writer of The Upper Room has an analogy some moments to remembering if she had drift in habitually life that she was passed that cause her far from the God purpose for her.

Therefore, Christmas is one of such sign. Christmas and other Christian holidays, Easter, Pentecost; or another church event, i.e. in my church: Christian Life Comprehension Event or Christian Family Life Comprehension Event, etc can be as a corner that warns me to wake from drifted by busy living, desire to pursuit establishment life, and other soundly asleep life. Christmas is a most familiar “corner” against which another corner. “Corner Christmas” gives me chance to turn away when I was swerve or give me conviction to continue my way when was in God’s path. Whenever day of Christmas established, is not matter to me because the important thing in celebrating Christmas is time to me to introspection that life often driving me to drift.

Anyway, why fathers of the church adopt a pagan festival as Christmas? Was it so worthy to celebrate the birth of our Savior as idolatry? I research the history of Christmas a glance. It is indeed if in the Gospel there are not mentioning about the birthday of Jesus Christ. Be side the Jews did not recognize to celebrate birthday, the writer of the Gospel did not mean their book as a Jesus’ biography. Details those are important to history scholars today—about place, date, relations, dan many other things, is less important to them, except if they contribute to their purpose to picture Jesus as a Messiah. The picture which Jesus saves the human kind from their sins by death on the cross and resurrection in third day. Beside of this, it seems the author of the Gospel write the story about Jesus not plan to read in period of thousand years because they think that Jesus will back in close time. Did not Jesus ever say, “This generation shall not pass, till all these things be done” that indicated if the end the world will happen when the writer of the Gospel still alive? It means that many eyewitnesses can still tell the story about Jesus and his work in the world. Details about Jesus’ life are not necessary to be described, but his works and powers are pointed to early followers. However, Christianity spread beyond the Disciple thought and prophecy in Acts 1:8 that they will be Jesus’ witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth accomplished. In addition, the end of the world, have not come until this second.

When Christianity spread to along Europeans around second century, emerge the problem. When they were pagan, they followed many pagan rituals and ceremonies. One of them is celebrating a Winter Solstice that the time of year in the northern hemisphere when the noon sun appears to be farthest south. The winter solstice occurs around December 21 (or December 25 in Julian calendar) and marks the beginning of the winter season in the northern hemisphere. In that date, nighttime lengthen more long than the daytime. Europeans are afraid if the sun will not rise anymore. Therefore, they hold a festival to encourage the sun to arise. The festival can hold until a week.

In Scandinavia during winter, the sun will disappear in days. After 35 days, an observer is sent to the highest mountain to find the sun reappears. When obscure light is seen, sign which the sun was comeback (around December 25 in Julian calendar), the observer will down to town and tell this good news. After that, a party being held to celebrate the news by set up the fire woodpile. In some places, the festival is enliven with putting apples on pines branches activity. This activity is to remind that spring and summer will comeback. Pines—now we find as a Christmas tree—are symbol of the strength to pass through the long winter. Unto them, pines an only one tree which standing with green loaves in the middle of winter.

Initially, Christian Europeans did not celebrate this pagan festival because if they do it means that they comeback to paganism. Nevertheless, if they do not participate in this celebration, they will be withdrawn from their culture dan the connection with their family or love who have not know Christ will break. It means that they loss their chance to tell about Christ and salvation from their sins to their circle. Instead, they are being stumbling block to those who do not recognize Christ. They fail to be good news to their neighbors.

It seem that reason that encourage Bishop of Rome, Julius I, in 350 AD decided December 25 as commemorate the birthday of Christ. This verdict caused European Christians could join in joy with their friends, relatives, and loves. However, they did not celebrate god of sun, they celebrate their freedom from sin through the birth of Christ. The joy of Christ followers is different with pagans. Gospel can intrude through early European Christians because they can explain the coming of Jesus Christ in this celebration.

The history of Christmas encourages me, instead, to understand the new righteousness. That is to use local culture as a medium of spreading of Good News. If celebrating the coming of god of sun was adopted as a Christmas to celebrate the coming of True Light. However, as a Javanese, what tradition can I adopt for the benefit of evangelism? There are many. My Catholic friends have many examples. Gereja Kristen Jawi Wetan (Eastern Java Christian Church) adopts the celebration of Dewi Sri (the goddess of agriculture) through Offering to Earth Ritual as a Give Thanks day in the church in form of Riyaya Unduh-unduh (The Celebration of Harvest Day). Christmas give a new meaning to me to understand the adoption of local rituals as a church celebration with new meaning. Therefore, with such new meaning, have I still hate Christmas?