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Should we Indianize Christmas celebration?

During the yuletide last year, when a reputed National News channel telecast a programme “Is Christmas going Indian”, with its typical ‘hey, this is sensational’ overtones, it ought to have set many Christians with an evangelical bent of mind thinking… “ Have we missed the plot somewhere, for should not have Christmas in India been distinctly Indian all along, that is to say, right from the very beginning?” That the colonial hangover is yet to disappear, even when it comes to Christmas celebrations is as lamentable a fact as it is undeniable. Rather than brooding about the past, it would serve us-the present generation- well to make amends. At   a   time, when   we   have   been
exhorted to be ‘all things to all men’ (I Cor 9:22), should we not be in all earnestness laying bridges in the society rather than erecting walls between ourselves and our unsaved neighbours in order we share the Good news with them, subsequently. Remember, Christmas time presents the greatest opportunity to share the Gospel with our non-christian friends without ruffling anyone’s feathers.

At this point, it would also serve us well to be reminded of the fact that Christ was born not in the East or the West but in the Middle East. Heralding the birth of the Son of God the Angel told the shepherds that it was good tidings of great joy to “ALL” people – not just to the Jewish or any particular community (Luke 2:10).

That even today many mistake Christianity to be a white man’s religion is a sad commentary on our non-adaptability to local culture. This idea gets strengthened especially during Christmastime when our non-christian friends observe how we celebrate Christmas. Without compromising in any way on our fundamental tenets of faith, we can still be at least seen as not being averse to Indian culture during Christmas time.

Remember, the British were not the first to bring the Gospel to India. It was apostle Thomas –one of the 12 disciples of Christ - who brought the saving message of Jesus Christ to our country. After landing in totally alien settings and having taken pains to familiarize himself with the ancient scriptures of this land, which pointed towards the coming Saviour (The sacrificial rituals of yagna involving the lamb to be offered as an atonement for sins, bore striking resemblance with the crucifixtion of Christ…for example the lamb that was to be sacrificed was to be tied to the pole, its four legs were to be nailed and a crown of thorns was to be placed on its head etc), when he started speaking the ‘spiritual language of the local elite’, people were bound to lend an inquisitive ear to him. Add to this his miracles, his spotless character and ever abiding God’s power in his messages, very soon a new faith took root in our land and flourished. So actually Christianity is 2000 years old in our country. It is foolhardy, if we still wrap the message of Christ in the western jacket. That brings us to the methodology part of this essay. Needless to say, everything that has been suggested in the following paras’ has to be undertaken prayerfully, for without Christ’s power, all the grandest plans of ours laced with noblest of motives would fall flat on their face…

For starters, how about planning a Christmas celebration in the local community hall, if it is not being done already, in which songs can be sung and Christmas message presented in a local vernacular. The programme can begin and end by singing the National anthem. Fellowship dinner can be arranged at the end of the programme. Any zealous church or churches of a certain locality together can undertake this kind of programme with sacrificial contributions of its members used to defray the expenses involved.

It is also time the greeting cards are printed keeping in mind the Indian cultural settings, for instance the pictures of a candle in them can be replaced by a lampstand (kuthuvizhakku). Greeting cards, preferably in local language, bearing a succinct, creative Christmas message like ‘Christ is the reason for the season’ or ‘ Christ’s birth in the world is history, his birth in the heart is salvation’ can be sent to as many non-christian friends as possible.

Involving non-Christian children in Christmas plays -remembering all the while that angels or other nativity scene characters’ need not be necessarily be fair in complexion - would also be a step in the right direction.

I have seen Bhajan songs and even Qawalis rendered with great devotion for Christ. So why shouldn’t the Church choir try something different, by singing a few Christmas hymns in Bhajan or Qawali style. This is bound to make even non-christians attending Christmas celebrations out of curiosity or any other reason, feel very much at home.

Moses was commanded to remove the shoes in God’s presence (Exodus 3:5). Our hindu friends seem to be practicing this tradition more diligently in their temples, than us. Why not we follow suit and introduce this habit in our Churches too, as it is already being done in some denominations, not only during Christmas time but at other times, as well?

Inviting non-christian neighbours for Christmas dinner would also be in order, provided food is prepared as per their culinary tastes. In fact, last year Billy Graham ministries had several TV programs going in full swing during Christmas time, so that non-christian friends visiting our homes would view the Gospel presented to them, even while enjoying a delicious meal with us.

Whilst dwelling on the same topic, a respected Christian author R. Stanley of Blessing Youth Mision, Vellore wrote “ Apostle Paul liberated the Gospel from Jewish clothing, while Martin Luther liberated the same from Latin clothing, is it not time that we in India liberate it from the Western clothing?” I, for one, find no reason to disagree!!!

(Suresh Manoharan)