Thoughts on Christmas & Capitalist Materialism

♦Reflections by a Roman Catholic Priest on the capitalist materialism associated with the celebration of Christmas today

There is increasing concern that materialist capitalism is trying to overshadow and delete Jesus Christ from Christmas celebration. If you have such concern, you are sharing the opinion of Pope Francis, and many other Christians, including myself. Jesus Christ is the reason for Christmas and we should make sure we place him back in the middle of Christmas. We, and our families, should ensure that all the mad rush for shopping, gifts, cooking, welcoming/visiting guests, do not overshadow Jesus Christ, the essence and reason for Christmas. Sometimes I wonder, if I were Jesus Christ, how I would feel to know that on the celebration of my birthday, people prefer to spend time on the shopping and food associated with my birthday, and totally, totally forgot about me.

From a purely etymological analysis (analysis of the words Christmas and capitalism’s origin), Christmas predates capitalism. So, capitalism cannot have created Christmas. In English, the word Christmas (Old English Cristemessa which meant Christ’s Mass, Christ’s festival or Christmas Day) was first used around 1100 (See The Harnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology; The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary). And the word Capitalism was first used in 1854 (See The Harnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology; The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary). So Christmas, as a word and concept in English, had been used for over 700 years before the word (and concept???) of capitalism emerged. Thus, capitalism cannot have created Christmas; Christmas by far predates capitalism as a concept.

There are christian denominations that do not celebrate Christmas. Their reason is that December 25 was not the date Jesus was actually born. Some others argue that it is actually a pagan feast. For lack of time, I will deal with the first.

Yes, we don’t know the exact date Jesus Christ was born; we can guess based on historical data. But, we know that Jesus Christ was born; today, Christians as well as the best secular historical scholars attest to the historical existence of Jesus Christ. As Christians, that is a part of the fact that Christmas Day celebrates. That Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior of the World, was born!

We too have parents, uncles and aunts who don’t know the day they were born, but we join them in celebrating whatever date they chose as their day of birth. Since we are all aware they were born someday, we have no problem celebrating the day they chose. So, they chose a date, and we respect and celebrate that date as their birth days. They have that date in their documents (passports, civil service documents, etc); the government and even the international community respects that date. I see no problem at all with chosing a date for Jesus Christ. Remember, the choice of December 25th predates the protestant reformation.

By the way, we Africans were the first to celebrate the birth of Christ! In 200 AD (that is about 1800 years ago) in Egypt, among the Egyptian Christians, the celebration of Jesus Christ’s birth began. This was far before the existence of Europe as we know it, and even the “discovery” of America by Columbus (Europeans and Americans are the originators and contemporary champion of capitalism in the world)! Even before their existence, Africans were celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Thus, you can blame the celebration of Christmas on Africans!

Thus, rather than stopping the celebration of Christmas, I will encourage us to see that Jesus Christ is at the heart of our Christmas celebration. I just in google “christian ideas to celebrate Christmas”, and I found this and this and this; and there are more! There are so so so many symbols and meanings associated with the Christmas celebration. Let us make effort to research and share those meanings with our children and family. What is the best Christian way to celebrate Christmas? Let us strengthen this celebration by putting Jesus Christ at the center of our Christmas. What does the Christmas tree symbolize? What do the lights and candles mean? What does the Christmas wreath symbolize? Why do we exchange gifts at Christmas (e.g. can’t we understand it in the fact that God first gave us Himself as a gift wrapped in an unexpected package of a vulnerable. defenseless baby. If that be the case, must we buy gifts to share Christ with others? Must we buy gifts to imitate what God did for us in the birth of Christ? God shared what God valued most as a gift. Most times, the best gift we can give others is the best of us, not things, as the Christmas commercials make us believe. Can we go back to that)? Why do we welcome guests or remember the poor (remember that Jesus Christ was born very poor, homeless…requiring gifts from total strangers in his first days on earth. Can we replicate these)? Thanks to technology, we can research these things, or challenge our children to research them from authentic websites and share? When people are confused and need clarification, then reach out to someone more knowledgeable who could help (in my own way, I will be glad to help; in spite of my awareness that I am also learning and have a lot of things I don’t know).

Xmas has been used for Christmas. I was one of those who opposed the use of Xmas (just last year) until someone else helped me understand that Xmas is not actually opposed to Christmas. They are the Same. Christmas is made of two words Christ + Mass. Christ stands for Jesus Christ. Mass stands for Mass as we know it in the Catholic Church. It is a Mass that basically celebrates the birth of Christ. Christmas.

X, over the years, was used to represent Jesus Christ. Why? When you write Christ in Greek (the original language in which the New Testament Bible was written) X is the first letter in the name of Christ (in Greek, it will actually be Christos but written χριστός). Please take some time to read what we call Christogram. When you do, some of the symbols you see in Christianity and especially the Catholic Church will begin to make sense to you. So, Jesus Christ’s name was abbreviated to symbol the first letter, the symbol X (this is very common in early Christian art…contemporary art/graphics/designs are reviving some of these like the use of the symbol of fish for Jesus which people put in their cars). So Xmas is obviously a combination of Christ + Mass. Voila!


Ugo Nweke, the author is a Roman Catholic Priest currently pursuing a Doctorate in Leadership at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, USA.

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