By THOMAS HUKAHU
CHRISTMAS is a time of celebration in many countries or states that were shaped by Christian influence.
In many countries, Christmas is a time of happiness, a time to spend with one’s loved ones.
It can be used to also recall how the year was like to them. Did it give them a lot of blessings or did they face a lot of difficulties?
Christmas in a foreign land
Have you celebrated Christmas in a foreign country?
What did you do?
Was there something memorable about the event?
The year 2020 is special for me. It is the second time only in my life to spend a full year in a different country and there were many challenges this year, made altogether severe because of Covid-19 and the restrictions that were imposed by the different states here in Australia depending on the number of cases that were reported daily or weekly.
Celebrating Christmas in Victoria Square
At 6pm on Dec 24, I travelled from where I am residing, 15 minutes to the southwest of Adelaide, in South Australia, to the centre of the city, particularly to Victoria Square.
If you take a look at the map of the city of Adelaide, you would notice that Victoria Square is right there in the centre of the central business district (CBD).
From Wikipedia, we are told: “The square was named on May 23, 1837 by the Street Naming Committee after Princess Victoria, then heir presumptive of the British throne, and in 2003 assigned a second name in the language of the original inhabitants, Kaurna, Tarndanyangga (later changed to Tarntanyangga), as part of the dual naming initiative by the Adelaide City Council.”
The square is the centre of the city and was properly planned from the very beginning when the first settlers got here in the 1800s. All the suburbs extend outwards from the centre of the city.
The evening in the square
That evening, on Christmas Eve, I was out there at Victoria Square with a number of the city’s residents to enjoy Christmas music and the cool summer evening.
Anyone passing the square in December would have noticed the giant 80-foot Christmas tree that was placed at the northern end of the square to signify the start of the Christmas season.
Earlier in the evening I had gone to a supermarket beside the square and got myself a lemonade drink and some pears.
I then walked into the square at 6.30 pm, anticipating the Christmas performances to start at 7 pm, as stated in the Adelaide City Council’s programme, which I viewed from their website.
It was a time for family and friends to get together and enjoy some Christmas carols while out in the open.
I could then see that white families, possibly local Adelaide residents, came with packed foods and mats and the children had their fun in the fountain’s waters while the parents and grandparents were on mats placed on the lawns and eating food and chatting.
Other couples, many older ones, were also present in pairs to enjoy the evening.
Later in the evening, families who came from different foreign nationalities piled in to watch the performances too.
Young people, many of whom were university students from different nations in the world, were also there. Some were in their groups, others were in the pairs and a few were on their own.
They took photos and videos of the pianist and singers, and a few of the younger people took a lot of selfies. It was a beautiful night.
For many international students who are sponsored or are on scholarships, they have been urged by their sponsors that they would not be going home this Christmas vacation due to the uncertainty of the restrictions that may be enforced by the state or federal government should any new cluster of Covid-19 cases be detected.
To be on the safe side, students have remained in the state and such events attracted them to come out of their residences and interact with each other or just enjoy the long summer night.
The Christmas message in songs
The music was quite simple, as we were informed by the pianist, who was more like the music director of the night.
In previous events, bands were usually there to accompany singers. But for this year, the jazz pianist, Charmaine Jones, was on the electronic piano and different groups came on stage to sing carols and songs.
The opening song was interesting. It was a bit jazzy but the Christian message was there.
Part of the lyrics was a bit like this:
More than a holiday,
More than lights that glitter and shine away.
Most than just glistening snow, more than just a mistletoe.
For unto us a child is born, for unto us a Son is given.
For unto us Emmanuel has come,
A chance for all mankind to be forgiven …
It was the first time for me to hear this song. I found out later that it was written by American gospel singer Hezekiah Walker.
Such a night reminded one that you don’t need a lot of money to enjoy your Christmas.
And, you don’t need a drinking party to celebrate the season.
Having snacks and drinks with your friends or family members and watching a group performing Christmas carols should make the season memorable, and particularly so in this challenging year.
Adelaide is not so strict
As you may have heard on the news, some Australian states are still on lockdown mode due to fresh cases of Covid-19.
Here in Adelaide, we have not had such restrictions imposed because, on the whole, the virus has been successfully managed by the local department of health.
The attitude of the people here has also helped in minimising the spread of the virus. People are generally respectful to authority and others at all times.
(The only people who could be a threat would be drunkards on the weekend and a few homeless people who wander about the streets of the CBD without any care of basic hygiene.)
In many countries and states in the world, people are still advised to walk around with face masks and keep their distance.
During the performance on Christmas Eve in Victoria Square, I did not see anyone with a face mask or worrying too much about the distance to keep from their friends or loved ones.
The people themselves ought to be praised for their cooperation and general common sense in these times in helping maintain an almost covid-19-free environment.
Was Jesus born on Dec 25?
As I was completing this piece, I noticed on social media a small debate that was started regarding the date of Jesus’ birth.
The question was asked: Was Jesus born on Dec 25?
No, he was not born on that date.
In Luke’s account of the birth of the child, shepherds were watching over their flock (Luke 2.8) when the angel of the Lord came to inform them about the event.
It would be too cold in winter for shepherds and their flocks to be out in the field.
On BBC’s website, it has been stated that Pope Julius I set Dec 25 as the date for Christmas.
“This was to Christianise the pagan celebrations that already took place at this time of the year …”
Most indigenous people (in the Northern Hemisphere) celebrate Dec 21 as when the sun has reached its most southerly position (on a horizontal calendar) and now making its way back up.
Dec 25 is a few days after that day, which is the winter solstice (in the Northern Hemisphere), the time of the year when the day is the shortest, and the night is the longest.
So, celebrations during days after the winter solstice was a common practice in those days, not just in ancient Europe but in America too.
Additionally, the Jewish midwinter festival of Hanukkah is a festival that starts from December 25 and lasts eight days. It commemorates the rededication of the Temple in 165 BC by the Maccabees after its desecration by the Syrians.
To say that Christmas is a pagan festival is incorrect.
It is true that even within a denomination, some groups don’t see any problem celebrating Christmas while others may decide not to.
Some do not really care, as long as it is a time that they remember the conception and eventual birth of a child in a miraculous way, in that the mother was still a virgin when the child was born. This is a fundamental doctrine in Biblical Christianity.
And having a day in the year to emphasise that belief is a sensible way of promoting it too.
The best way to go about this issue is to let your conscience decide.
If celebrating Christmas will cause you to feel guilty, then do not celebrate it.
Christians who are sure of what they are doing are certainly not worshipping idols or involved in pagan practices during Christmas.
It is a time to be happy with friends and family members and remember the birth of the special child 2000 years ago.
A time for reflection
Apart from the celebration, Christmas is a good time to reflect on this year, 2020.
Was this year good to you?
Did you improve yourself as a person?
Did you achieve your goals, whether they are academic, financial or job-related?
Since it is the end of the year, we can look back at the year and also plan to do better in the year ahead.
We all should do that.
Evaluate our year and plan for the coming year.