Attitudes about Christmas among Adventists in Africa
By Tyson Jacob, 25 December 2019 | Christmas is celebrated in Africa as it is celebrated in other parts of the world with the purpose of remembering the birth of Jesus and family holidays, homecoming, etc. People cook their favorite food, buy new clothes, and plan for outings just after morning worship in their respective churches.
I talked with two individuals who are not Adventists who told me they will attend church today because it is Christmas, after a year where they did not attend. Both said they did attend last Christmas. This is typical of many Christians here.
Adventists are known in Africa as Christmas critics because they often say they do not see Christmas in the Bible, and to them it remains not a faith-related thing.
Despite this widely shared view, Adventists in Africa have differences among themselves about Christmas. Some celebrate Christmas and some opt not to celebrate.
Those who see it as a normal day like any other day of course agree with the common view that Christmas is not Biblical, and in this category you find people doing their normal business as usual despite the fact that most of their customers are in holiday activities; people joke about them, saying they must not be doing well financially. Many think that the Adventists in this category are hiding under the umbrella of faith-related viewpoint because they are poor, but in fact, I found those who are simply conservative in their views.
The Adventists who celebrate Christmas have various reasons for why they do so.
1. Some think it’s not Biblical but still celebrate because they do not want to lose connection with family members, especially those with children in the neighborhood. For example, Chacha, who is 27 and was born in an Adventist home, told Adventist Today that their parents used to buy them new clothes and cook their favorite food because their parents never wanted them to go out into the neighborhood having missed at home what other children in the neighborhood experienced.
Caudence Moraa Ayoti, who is a Kenyan Adventist married to a Tanzanian Adventist, and members of Arusha International Seventh-day Adventist Church, wrote on Whatsap: “Chinua Achebe, in his book Things Fall Apart, said ‘A man who calls his kinsmen to a feast does not do so to redeem them from starving. They all have food in their own houses. When we gather together in the moonlight village ground, it is not because of the moon. Every man can see it in his own compound.’ We come together because it is good for kinsmen to do so. Let us find time to spend time with family and enjoy the dynamics of togetherness this Christmas season and beyond. Let’s smile not because we don’t have problems but because we are stronger than the problems.”
When I asked Karibu Sana Pilau her perception of Christmas she told me that Christmas means nothing to her. “I actually don’t celebrate Christmas. I just love gatherings and any opportunity to get together with family and friends; I welcome it. Christmas happens to be a time that people are not working so it offers a perfect opportunity for people to meet, so I take advantage of the free time to be with people I love. It has nothing to do with the birth of Jesus.”
2. A second group in this category celebrate Christmas because they want to be the same as others because it is a big day when relatives come home to cooking, outings and other things. You cannot tell if they know if Christmas is Biblical or not because they celebrate Christmas like other Christians. Most of this group are Adventists who were not born in Adventist families or have a large number of relatives who are not Adventists.
3. The third group are those who use Christmas to bring a certain flavor to those who attend their church around Christmas. Like other Christians, they enjoy the music and references to the Christmas story, and some use the day as advised by Ellen G. White for outreach, even bringing together small gatherings in the community.
4. There is another category who know nothing about whether Christmas is biblical or not, and simply do what others do in society in general.
There are yet other attitudes towards Christmas among Adventists in Africa, and Adventist Today will keep exploring the topic.
Tyson Jacob is a correspondent for Adventist Today based in Africa.