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Happy Christmas to us all – Frei Betto.

Christmas is a mixture of anxiety and frustration. In some corner of our unconscious nostalgia, a taste of the sun emerges. The symbols of the tree, the manger with Baby Jesus, the Virgin and the shepherds, all resound in the child we no longer are but who nevertheless inhabits us.


Like Proust, we grope in search of long gone joys, atavistic tastes, faces that were loved and lost.
There is also a taste of salt. The reification of human relations, compulsive consumerism, fear of giving of oneself, all make us gravitate around the spectre of Father Christmas. To give something so as not to have to give of oneself, to retain affection hermetically wrapped up, a thousand ropes binding us in our own hell which, as defined by Dostoyevsky, is the suffering of no longer being able to love. Many gifts which are given attest to how much we have been absent to those who are closest to us in life.
The feast of Christmas originated in the second century when theologians tried to determine the date of Jesus™ birth which is not given in the Gospels. It is likely that John the Baptist was conceived in the autumn equinox and born in the summer solstice. According to Luke 1:26, Jesus was conceived six months before John, in other words, during the Northern hemisphere™s spring equinox (March 25). He would thus have been born on December 25 when the Sun in the East again moves in the ascendant.       The second and more probable hypothesis makes Christmas the Christian version of the pagan feast of the ”invincible sun god (= natale solis invictus) introduced in the year 274 by Emperor Aurelian and fixed on December 25, the European winter solstice. Christ is ”the light of the world in John™s gospel prologue. Thus Christian faith remembers the pagan celebration when it reinforces, in the early Church communities, the conviction that they celebrated the feast of the true Sun.       

The fact is that the date and time of Jesus™ birth is not known. In the second century Christ™s baptism and the manifestation of his divinity (epiphany) were celebrated on January 6. From the fourth century on the Church in the East began to celebrate the feast of the birth on that day as well.     

In the West, from the year 353 on, the Vatican made official the celebration on the night of December 25. It was probably a way of christianising the pagan feasts known as ”Saturnalia which took place between December 17 and 24 before the feast of Janus, the god of two faces.     

Ever since the fourth century a Latin hymn sung at the Christmas ceremony said that Christ was born in the middle of the night. This is where the tradition of assuming midnight as the hour of Christ™s birth began.  

Nowadays the new Christmas tradition is celebrated through the pagan and mercantilist figure of Father Christmas which makes a sacrament of social inequality by offering gifts to well-born children while leaving the poor empty handed (exactly the opposite of Mary™s song, the Magnificat where the Lord ”has filled the hungry with good things; the rich he has sent away empty).    

Christian Christmas is heir to the spirit of justice and reconciliation of the sabbatical system and of the Jewish Jubilee year when debts were pardoned, slaves were freed and land was equally redistributed. This is an inheritance which is today distorted   by the exchange of gifts which camouflages a resistance to the encounter between persons. It leaves us with that bitter nostalgia which continues all through Christmas, a thirst for sincere joy and for the outpouring of the spirit. Wines, nuts and turkeys do not satisfy the hunger for beauty which lays bare the emptiness deep within the heart.

Christmas is to be born again from the core of the solar plexus where intuition takes hold of our most intimate truth. Nothing is more challenging than fidelity to oneself. However, we fear solitude because it brings us silence and, from within it, the voice which repeats the verse by Jose Regio resounds: ”I don™t know where I am going; I know I am not going that way. It is ”that way that we have gone, without the strength to change direction.

Christmas also presents itself as the collective moment to start anew. We are today a nation pregnant with ourselves. However, Brazil is not born again like Jesus in the manger of the poor, there where 50 million Brazilians are excluded from elementary benefits and economic and social rights such as well paid employment, education, health, culture and leisure.

Now the crisis which denudes capitalism and threatens us assures the continuity of Herodian designs under the naïve optimism of those who believe that we can buy quality of life from a shop counter.

Life is a gift and its nature is love

A Happy Christmas to my readers.

*Frei Betto is a writer and author in partnership with Leonardo Boff, of ”Mística e Espiritualidade (Mystique and Spirituality) (Garamond).


He is a Brazilian Dominican with an international reputation as a liberation theologian. Within Brazil he is equally famous as a writer, with over 52 books to his name.  In 1985 he won Brazil™s most important literary prize, the Jabuti, and was elected Intellectual of the Year by the members of the Brazilian Writers™ Union. Frei Betto has always been active in Brazilian social movements, and has been an adviser to the Church™s ministry to workers in Sáo Paulo™s industrial belt, to the Church base communities, and to the Landless Rural Workers™ Movement (MST). In 2003-2004, he was Special Adviser to President Lula and Coordinator of Social Mobilisation for the Brazilian Government™s Zero Hunger programme.

Dieser Beitrag wurde am Sonntag, 14. Dezember 2008 um 17:50 Uhr veröffentlicht und wurde unter der Kategorie Kultur, Politik abgelegt. Du kannst die Kommentare zu diesen Eintrag durch den RSS-Feed verfolgen.

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