The jingle bells are jingling all the way. Christmas day is here. It’s a day that means a lot to billions in the world. But at this moment, let’s forget about those billions and focus on you. What does it mean to you? First of all, let me answer what it means to me.
Over the four decades of my life, I have had an ambivalent relationship with Christmas. Or in today’s lingo, a complicated relationship. As a child, I lived for this day. From the heat of January to the rains of April and the cold of July, barely a day went by that Christmas wasn’t lurking somewhere in my mind.
The food, oh how the food exalted Christmas above all other days. This was the one day when we would feast on amazing food that mostly comprised of chapatis, rice and chicken. These were the three special meals whose abundant presence on the menu on Christmas day was truly godsend. Although we devoured these three on numerous occasions in the course of the year, they tasted sweeter on Christmas day. Coupled with other uncommon delicacies like mandazi, beef and drop scones, those big three delicacies carved out in my heart a special place for Christmas. During the year as we consumed commonplace meals like ugali and sukumawiki, I would take comfort in the fact that on December 25th, I would be able to sink my teeth into yummy delicacies and eat them as much as I could.
Apart from the food, the other factor that made Christmas special was the general excitement. As soon as December 1st showed up, the excitement would begin building up. In Nairobi, buildings would start clothing themselves in Christmas decorations that usually comprised of Christmas lighting formations and of course Mr. Santa Claus himself with his flowing white beard. Accompanying these decorations were Christmas offers on all manner of commodities.
By the time 25th itself reached, the excitement was palpable and infectious. Even the air itself felt different. It felt as if the universe blew into the earth a special type of oxygen every December 25th. What made this excitement even more intense was the inevitable family get-together. Without fail, we would all flee from Nairobi and converge in the village. Apart from our own nuclear family, uncles, aunties and cousins who rarely set foot in the village would all descend there for Christmas. This presence of all city dwellers heightened the excitement to staggering levels.
Up until this point, Christmas to me meant feasting, excitement and Christmas offers. Squeezed somewhere into these three, was baby Jesus and His birth. Although this birth didn’t occupy a prominent place in my mind, it lived in a special corner of my heart. Every year when the clock struck midnight, it felt as if baby Jesus was actually being born and those three wise men were gazing at him in his rustic manger. The vividness of this divine birth on my young mind had the effect of reintroducing Jesus into my heart and our family by extension.
Fast forward. When I sprinted into my mid-twenties, the big three - feasting, excitement and Christmas offers had pretty much died a slow death. This was partly because feasting was no longer a preserve of Christmas and largely because adulthood had brought with it numerous other responsibilities and excitements. With the demise of those ‘big three,’ the birth of Christ remained as the prominent Christmas feature in my mind - rightfully so.
But a couple of years thereafter, even this divine birth began to wane in my mind. This was because I started questioning whether Jesus was in fact, born on 25th December. I started wondering if maybe this was just a commercial holiday cooked up by the West. Fueling this thought was another question - who is Santa Klaus anyway and why is he prominently mentioned during Christmas? I dug up many theories and answers. Some even painted Christmas as a pagan holiday. Others downplayed its significance in the Christian experience while others poked holes in the very name - Christmas. During this period of my questioning the validity and significance of 25th December, I had a very complicated relationship with Christmas.
Thankfully, with time, I made peace with one truth - since the birth of Jesus is at the very heart of the Christian experience, there is absolutely nothing wrong in setting aside a day to celebrate and reflect on this birth and what it means not just to the world but to me as an individual. As such, it was up to me to extract from Christmas a deeper experience that would fuel my spiritual journey. I shouldn’t just focus on what is wrong about this day, but rather focus on what is right, what is special about it.
This approach has helped me to silence the commercial noise of Christmas and focus on the actual significance of Christ’s birth in my life’s journey. Because He was born, irrespective of the actual day that He was born, I can also experience a re-birth; a recalibration; a re-engineering in my life.
Indeed, if Christmas triggers the re-birth of you, then you will devour a spiritual feast that will be incomparably sweeter than the physical one. Then all the celebration and excitement will be worth it.