Christmas Then, and Now

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)

I have lived in many towns in Zambia, but no town holds a special place in my heart the way Luanshya does. Luanshya, that once beautiful garden town, and home to the first large scale copper mine in Zambia still remains my favourite, although the town is now a pale shadow of its former glory.

What has prompted this train of thought down memory lane is not the significance of Luanshya in the history of copper mining, nor the declining fortune of the once gem of the Copperbelt. My mind, however, has been forced to race back to the 1980s for an entirely different reason – Christmas. Yes, Christmas.

I was privileged to be born and raised in a Christian home. My father was an elder in my local evangelical church in the suburb of Roan. From a young age, I understood what Christmas meant because my parents told me. Although no one knows the actual date on which Jesus was born, it is a fact of history that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law.” (Galatians 4:4). And the supposed day that celebrates the birth of our Saviour was one that was heralded in our home with the spiritual significance it deserved.

Weeks and months before Christmas, the sounds of Christmas would already be buzzing in the air, on our black and white television, and on the radio. We could not afford a Christmas tree, neither was our house filled with the smell of fresh cranberries and gingerbread cookies. But something that never missed every Christmas was fried chicken, biscuits (our American friends call them cookies), cake, juice (the famous Mazoe), fruits and soft drinks. These are not things we had every week, and so having them all the time was like celebrating Christmas everyday!

A night before Christmas, my parents would gather the family together. We sang Christmas carols, read the Scriptures, prayed and drunk hot tea. And somehow, I remember that it always rained on the eve of Christmas. We never touched any of the special goodies until the actual Christmas day. The temptation for me to wake up in the middle of the night and tiptoe to the kitchen to feast upon some of this food was always high, but the punishment such misconduct attracted was a strong deterrent from attempting such nocturnal escapades.

The next day, we all looked forward to going to church. The scriptures were read, and more Christmas carols sung to remind us of the meaning of the blessed birth of the Baby Jesus. And then we watched a play of the nativity story performed by some of the church members. This would be very exciting and the humour from the actors in re-enacting of the birth narrative made it come arrive in a contemporary way. Though I must confess that looking back, there was a lot that was added to the play which had no biblical warrant. But, that was Christmas the Luanshya way! After the service, we made our way back home for the special treat. My parents would invite one or two families to join us. We ate and feasted, and had fun.

Then came the time that was the best expression of Christmas for me - getting the Christmas presents. We would receive clothes or a new pair of shoes, a new set of bed sheets or a blanket. Oh the happiness and joy that our parents brought to our hearts. We had heard stories about Father Christmas (I didn’t know him as Santa Claus until many years later). We heard stories about him coming down the chimney and leaving presents for children. Well, we didn’t have a chimney in our house down which Santa would come, so the Santa thing was just what it is, a childish myth. Thank God for my parents who taught us never to believe such myths. They showed us love and affection, and through them I was able to see, though in an imperfect way, the love of God for sinful humanity. We enjoyed the moments together as a family, but greater joy, my father would reminded us, was to be found in the fact that the eternal God stepped into time and became Emmanuel, “God with us.”

How different my Christmas was to the one many people celebrate today. It is very sad to see how Christmas has become commercialised. The world seems to want to shut out the real meaning and joy of Christmas. Today, Christmas is celebrated more as a sales frenzy than as the most important birth in history. Did you read about a London law firm, which is offering Christmas gift vouchers for divorce advice? The firm’s founder said she had been amazed at the response to the vouchers. “They seem to appeal to an enormously widespread spectrum of people looking for that ‘must have’ gift for Christmas,” she said.

As outrageous and ridiculous this may sound, it is just a true reflection of the commercialism that has hijacked the real meaning of Christmas. What an inappropriate or worse still, insulting gift one can receive during such a season.

As you celebrate Christmas this year, it is my prayer that this astounding truth that lies at the heart of historic Christianity might grip your heart and point you heavenward to the architect of our Salvation. It was in order to save us that the Son became man. He assumed a genuine human nature in order to: perfectly obey God’s law, suffer and die on the cross as a vicarious atonement and rise again victorious over Satan, sin and death.


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