By SAM EYOBOKA
IT’S barely 96 hours to Christmas, the annual controversial festival commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, observed generally on December 25 as a religious and cultural celebration among billions of people around the world. A feast central to the Christian liturgical year, it closes the Advent season and initiates the 12 days of Christmastide, which ends after the twelfth night.
Advent is a season observed in many Western Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. The term is an anglicized version of the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming”.
Christmas is a public holiday in many of the world’s nations, is celebrated culturally by a large number of non-Christians and is an integral part of the Christmas and holiday season. While the birth year of Jesus is estimated among modern historians to have been between 7 and 2 BC, the exact month and day of his birth are unknown, and are not the focus of the Church’s Christmas celebration.
The celebratory customs associated in various countries with Christmas have a mix of pre-Christian, Christian, and secular themes and origins.
Popular modern customs of the feast include gift giving, completing an Advent calendar or Advent wreath, Christmas music and caroling, an exchange of Christmas cards, church services, a special meal, and the display of various Christmas decorations, including Christmas trees, Christmas lights, nativity scenes, garlands, wreaths, mistletoe, and holly.
In addition, several closely related and often interchangeable figures, known as Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas, and Christkind, are associated with bringing gifts to children during the Christmas season and have their own body of traditions and lore.
Because gift-giving and many other aspects of the Christmas festival involve heightened economic activity, the holiday has become a significant event and a key sales period for retailers and businesses. The economic impact of Christmas is a factor that has grown steadily over the past few centuries in many regions of the world.
Boxing Day, another holiday traditionally celebrated the day following Christmas, is when servants and tradespeople would receive gifts, known as a “Christmas box”, from their bosses or employers, in the United Kingdom, Canada, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, Kenya, South Africa, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and other Commonwealth nations, as well as Norway, the Netherlands and Sweden.
Today, Boxing Day is the bank holiday that generally takes place on December 26. In South Africa, Boxing Day was renamed Day of Goodwill in 1994. Due to the Roman Catholic Church’s liturgical calendar, the day is known as St. Stephen’s Day to Catholics, and in Italy, Finland, and Alsace and Moselle in France.
It is also known as both St. Stephen’s Day and the Day of the Wren or Wren’s Day in the Republic of Ireland. In many European countries, including notably Germany, Poland, the Netherlands and those in Scandinavia, 26 December is celebrated as the Second Christmas Day.
The exact etymology of the term “boxing day” is unclear. There are several competing theories, none of which is definitive. The European tradition, which has long included giving money and other gifts to those who were needy and in service positions, has been dated to the Middle Ages, but the exact origin is unknown. It is believed to be in reference to the Alms Box placed in places of worship to collect donations to the poor.
Also, it may come from a custom in the late Roman/early Christian era, wherein metal boxes placed outside churches were used to collect special offerings tied to the Feast of Saint Stephen, which in the Western Church falls on the same day as Boxing Day. In Britain, it was a custom for tradespeople to collect “Christmas boxes” of money or presents on the first weekday after Christmas as thanks for good service throughout the year.
This is mentioned in Samuel Pepys’ diary entry for 19 December 1663. This custom is linked to an older English tradition: since they would have to wait on their masters on Christmas Day, the servants of the wealthy were allowed the next day to visit their families. The employers would give each servant a box to take home containing gifts and bonuses, and maybe sometimes leftover food.
It is in the Boxing Day spirit that the Word of Life Bible Church had set aside Boxing Day as a moment to reach out to the poor in the society. In the last eight years, the Warri-based church had given out several items including brand new cars, tricycles, motorcycles, sewing machines, grinding machines as well as phones complete with umbrellas.
From 2006 till date, the Word of Life Bible Church in conjunction with Eagle Flight Micro Finance Bank holds a poverty alleviation programme on December 26 of every year. At inception, the visioner, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor gave out one car and several motor bikes, grinding machines and sewing machines. But in the last three years, he stopped giving motor bikes but tricycles, brand new cars, grinding machines to the needy, irrespective of your tribe, religion or denomination, just to help the poor have a source of living.
So far, the Boxing Day programme has given out 350 motor bikes, 70 tri-cycles, 800 grinding machines, 15 brand new cars and 600 sewing machines.
In a recent interview with the National President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor on the essense of Boxing Day, this s what he said: “December 26 of every year is an incredible day for me here. You know, I did not fully understand the meaning of the word ‘Boxing Day’. I didnt attach much importance to it but then, I began to understand that it is a day where many things that went from Christmas day to the next day, you package. It’s a day of boxing things and giving to the less privileged. So we do that here every December 26; we give out cars, tricycles and all stuff like that. It gives me joy to do so every year.
Continuing, he said: “That is my life. The major thing that gives me joy in life is to give joy to other people. When I have any opportunity to do that, I jump at it because it does something to me. I feel fulfilled, I feel… yes, I’m a Christian, I’m going to heaven, I’m spiritual but I feel like a human being when I touch other people. It reminds me of my own humanity; it reminds me that if not for God, I would not have been who I am and where I am today. I can’t afford to lose that. So it’s a way of life for me.
“You saw a woman giving testimony during the service; she was just giving a testimony and she said she had stopp-ed doing business. I wasn’t even thinking, but, to me, I said: ‘my goodness, this thing stopped her from busi-ness, obviously stopped her from a livelihood.’ It just occurred to me there ‘why don’t just help her? She’s healed, she’s happy but why not just take it a step further and help her to have a livelihood?’
“Now you could see her reaction when she was given the money to restart her business? That gives me fulfill-ment.
“So, it is a way of life for me. I believe if Nigerians can… Look, I am a pastor, and how much do I have? What can I do? Just very little. But there are big, big businessmen, big companies… Look, if we all try to do a little, believe me, yes, govern-ment should do this, government should do that, everybody seem to berate the government and I am saying that too, yes, government should, but they can’t do everything.
“We can all do some-thing. If I do a little thing and somebody else does, everybody else does, you will be surprised how many people we can take out of poverty, how many people we can actually put on their feet, they can stand on their own, fend for themselves and have a life. It will change this country, it will change Nigeria.”