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'Eating Christmas' and other distortions

Uganda | Religion & Society

THERE IS A STORY that has been passed on down the years in my family. My mother says that we were visiting my grandparents in rural mid-western Uganda from our home in Kampala, the capital city, over the Christmas holidays when I was about five. Grandpa, a mixed farmer of fair repute, put up a feast for family and village as he had done through the years.

To one side of the family house, under the shade of the banana grove, we all gathered as the farm workers slaughtered animals for Christmas lunch. First a bull was taken by its horns, a machete applied to its neck, and shortly chunky pieces of beef were handed out. Next a goat was butchered, then probably a pig, followed by some chickens.

Those familiar with rural settings in Africa will know that the village dogs hang out with everyone – following the chief as he does his rounds, accompanying the young boys and girls to fetch water, and fighting for scraps at the garbage dump. Now on this Christmas Eve, as family and village gathered around the make-shift slaughter house, the dogs were also there.

Mum says that I stood on the side, took in the scenes of slaughter and butchery, and then turned around, in curiosity, and inquired with the wisdom only a 5-year-old can muster: “How about the dogs? Won’t they also be slaughtered and prepared for lunch?”

All the adults had a good laugh, but in truth Christmas is no laughing matter.  For that matter, it is not just a frivolous feel-good time, as we are wont to make it, with our feasting and dancing, and the twice-a-year attendance of church.

Christmas has acquired many myths, and it does not help that it is celebrated, by default, in December (all accounts - scientific and cultural - point to Christ having been born in another period in the year), at year’s end when we are all tired and deserving of a holiday.

As happens with most stories that have been told and retold, distortions come. And, depending on the cultural setting where the story is told, elements of that culture will colour the distortions to make a tradition. Some distortions have been cemented in stories, on cards, and in the carols we sing.

A careful study of the Bible reveals that the ‘three kings/men’ who visited Jesus did not actually come to the new-born child on the night he was born. It was much later, probably anywhere between 1 and 2 years on.  For that reason, the local chief Herod, fearing competition from the infant – not a newborn – King Jesus, decreed the killing of all boys of two and below.

The purpose of the magi’s journey was to worship the King, who gives hope and salvation - the essence of Christ’s coming. In taking on human form, Christ was to die as a willing sacrifice in payment for mankind’s sins, and so to provide eternal salvation as a gift to all who will accept it and follow Him, and to give hope and solutions in an everyday world.

Distortions include commercialisation of Christmas.  Though Christendom has celebrated Christ’s birth for 2,000 years, Christmas cards only began in the Victorian era, a mere 200 years ago.  Then there are the sales and, paradoxically, the price increases. Note the ridiculous headgear bankers wear, and the glitter of decorations everywhere.

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