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Christmas Farewell: Merry Solstice And Shopping Instead!

The nativity scenes, signs of hope and time for contemplation of modern Christmas is so retrograde! Let's celebrate the secular and modern solstice. But really?

Winter Solstice lantern festival in Vancouver, Canada
Winter Solstice lantern festival in Vancouver, Canada
Marie-Hélène Miauton

-Essay-

GENEVA — Why do we continue celebrating Christmas while simultaneously eradicating our Christian traditions? Why do we illuminate streets, organize Christmas markets, decree public holidays, all the while failing to commemorate the birth of the divine child?

To make Christmas compatible with the ideal of secularism that now suits Europe, the only solution seems to resurrect the old pagan celebration of the winter solstice, which marks the year's shortest day and a prelude to the gradual return of light.

But what an awful mistake that'd be.

By diminishing the role of religious beliefs that are deeply rooted in our culture, we are undermining the foundation of our civilization and effectively building a new society. There's a precedent to this: the Nazis, who also hated Christianity. Imagine that: a Jewish god! That's why, on the basis of the Germanic Yule, they invented a new celebration during the winter solstice, with songs written specially to praise a world with purely Germanic references.

The blending of religions is fascinating because, during all ages and in all regions of the world, people have tried to supplant existing cults by superimposing their own beliefs on them. Roman gods were based on Egyptian deities. Christians, too, often used dates and sacred locations of other religions — as far as Mexico, for instance, where places of Indian pilgrimage were dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

That's why it was natural for Christmas to coincide with the Roman Saturnalia and particularly on the day of the unconquered sun's rebirth. And it explains why the Edict of Thessalonica, in the year 380, places the birth of Christ at midnight on Dec. 24, whereas the Gospels put his birth nearer to the midseason, when shepherds keep their flocks outside at night.

Winter solstice in Rollright Stones, Oxfordshire, UK — Photo: Mark Hemsworth/London News Pictures/ZUMA

Christmas has always been an opportunity to feast and give each other presents, but traditionally the enthusiasm for celebrating the birth of Christ wasn't eclipsed by all that. You would only eat after praying during mass or the service. You would sing by the Christmas tree before opening presents.

What's the meaning of celebrating when the manifestations of Christian Christmas are disappearing? The decorations no longer include traditional angels or stars announcing the holy birth. Gift wrappings and ornaments are now devoted to a new cult. Nativity scenes that represented the smallest and most vulnerable are beginning to be forbidden in public spaces. Resurrected by Coca-Cola, Father Christmas and his sack full of toys has dethroned the infant Jesus in his little manger. On the streets, only the Salvation Army is still there to remind us, with its cooking pots and off-key carols, that loving thy neighbor is the cardinal virtue of Christmas.

Please forgive me for originally planning to wish you a traditional "Merry Christmas and peace on earth and goodwill toward men." Instead, I'll wish you a merry solstice and happy purchases. No doubt the world will be a better place like this!

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Mariam Nabattu, a religious studies teacher, must work at two schools in central Uganda to make ends meet.

Patricia Lindrio/GPJ Uganda
Edna Namara and Patricia Lindrio

KAMPALA — Allen Asimwe has dedicated more than two decades to teaching geography at a large public high school in southwestern Uganda. Her retirement age, as a public servant entitled to benefits, is just six years away.

She doubts she will wait that long.

“I am determined, I want to quit,” she says, calculating that she could earn more by shifting full time to the salon she opened six years ago to supplement her income. “Given the frustration, I cannot continue in class anymore.”

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