WASHINGTON DC —
With companies closing, bonuses delayed and many Zimbabweans unemployed, gift- giving and receiving is not like it used to be.
But, some of the country’s religious leaders say maybe that’s a good thing.
As families and friends around the world celebrate Christmas, central to the gathering is food, laughter, gifts, music and dancing. Executive Director of the Institute for Social Transformation, Reverend Useni Sibanda, makes this observation.
“Xmas has now become very commercial. People are now focused on shopping, clothes … in fact people are now focused on partying, drinking more, you have huge parties being set up here in Bulawayo, big D-Js from South Africa that are now coming, so that becomes the main thing for people.”
Father Paul Gwese, an Anglican priest with the Harare diocese, agrees, in condemnation.
“It’s a pity that people are forgetting that Xmas is not about Father Xmas, about drinking, and you know, doing all sorts of things.”
Pope Francis kisses a statue of Baby Jesus as he celebrates the Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2014.
The religious figures say while they don’t wholly object to the merry-making, they say it has usurped the real reason for the Xmas celebration, which dates back to the birth of a baby boy, about 2,000 years ago, in a little town called Bethlehem. Reverend Sibanda says the occasion calls for reflection.
“The reason for Xmas was the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, which is God himself becoming a human like us, and dwelling among us.”
In agreement, Apostle Median Dube of the Foundation of Life International Ministries adds: “It is a time for us to share the love of God, it is a time to remember the love that was given unto us by the birth of our Lord.”
Charity Mvere, who heads the Christian Counseling and Depression Trust in Bulawayo, says people go overboard in celebrating Xmas, often because they are hiding pain and suffering. She says no amount of gifts can relieve this, the way Jesus can.
“We may not have the material gifts to give, but as a Christian organization we recognize Christ is a source of every form of comfort, and we believe that Christ is the greatest gift that you can give to someone.”
Echoing the same sentiments, Father Gwese issues a challenge: “My clarion call is let’s get back to the basic of what Xmas is all about. Xmas is about celebrating Jesus’s coming into the world. Why did Jesus come into the world, not just to save sinners but to preach the gospel of peace.”
Acknowledging that people at times turn to partying and drinking during Xmas to overcome the pain of missed opportunities, split of families and the harsh economic and social realities of life in Zimbabwe, Apostle Dube urges people to remain faithful.
“We don’t only give thanks unto Him when things are good, and when they are bad we begin to complain. The Bible says we must not worry ourselves about anything, that in all things we must make our requests known unto Him in prayer, even if the situation is like in Zimbabwe, we still need to know that God is in control.”
A contestant wearing a Santa Claus costume rides in a sledge pulled by a reindeer during a race on snow-covered tracks at the opening ceremony of a local winter festival in Genhe of Hulun Buir, north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, December 24,
Father Gwese of the Anglican Church in Harare, says it’s also possible that people are not focusing on God during this time, because the church has failed to stand up against injustices, that infringe on people’s lives.
“We have failed as a church, I want to admit that, we have failed as a church. I think you may be aware that Africa, at the moment is under threat of the gospel of prosperity … we can’t keep preaching the Utopian gospel that people can suffer in this world and enjoy life in the ever after.”
Reverend Sibanda agrees, in part, saying the church is not always accessible on Christmas day.
“Some of our churches unfortunately, particularly in Zimbabwe, don’t even open on Xmas, which is for me a very unfortunate thing because I think that is the time when all the churches should be open, all the pastors should be working on Xmas day so people really remember the reason for the season.”
To this, Father Gwese says his church is not guilty, and is in fact counting on its open doors to bring back the real spirit of Christmas.
“We never close, we never go on holiday, because God does not rest. There are some denominations I agree with who do not believe in celebrating Christmas, but for us, this is simply that we are reminding people tonight that Christmas is about Jesus.”