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CHRISTMAS AND NEW YEAR CELEBRATION: NON-INDULGENCE AS THE ROLE OF A CONSCIOUS MUSLIM

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All praise is due to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds. May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon the noblest of mankind, Muhammad (Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam). May this blessing be extended to his household, companions and the entirety of Muslims following his Sunnah until the Day of Reckoning.

It is disheartening, yet accurate, that in this modern world, one of the most debated topics amongst Muslims at this particular time of the year is the permissibility of Christmas and new year celebration. Shockingly, even though scholars have said and written a lot about this topic, some uninformed Muslims if not acting out of mere desire, still partake in these celebrations. It does not come as a surprise that these celebrations have a special place in the hearts of some Muslims. This had been envisaged by the Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam) as narrated from Abu Sa’eed al-Khudri (may Allaah be pleased with him) that the Prophet (Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam) said: “You will certainly follow the ways of those who came before you handspan by handspan, cubit by cubit, to the extent that if they entered the hole of a lizard, you would enter it too.” We said: “O Messenger of Allaah, (do you mean) the Jews and the Christians?” He said: “Who else?” Al-Bukhaari & Muslim.

What is Christmas?
Christmas is an annual celebration which holds on December 25. To the Christians, it is regarded as a sacred religious day as it marks the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, their acclaimed trinal being. Among the traditions of this day include exchanging gifts, decorating Christmas trees, attending church service, sharing meals with family, friends, and colleagues, and of course, waiting for Santa Claus to arrive.

History of Christmas
Like every other celebration, Christmas also has its own history, which has its root before the birth of Jesus. Before the advent of Jesus Christ, there were several festivals rampant in early societies. One of these festivals is called “Yule”. This celebration in the ancient pagan time was in recognition of the birth of baby sun-god by the great mother goddess. There were merriments and conflagration to awaken the sun from its long winter sleep. This festival was done from December 21, the winter solstice, till January.
Similarly, in the Roman empire, Saturnalia and Juvenalia were festivals which gained momentum. Saturnalia was held in honour of Saturn, the god of agriculture. It announced that winter is not forever, and life continues afterwards. Juvenalia, on the other hand, was celebrated in honour of the children of Rome. It also featured the celebration of “Mithra”, an infant god which was believed to be born of a rock. This celebration held yearly on December 25.
After the supposed death of Jesus Christ, the early Christians retired in their homes during the Roman pagan festivals in a bid to avoid confrontation and persecution. Easter remained the only popular holiday and celebration; Christmas was not celebrated during this period. As Christianity became more widespread and its adherents increased, the need for the anniversary of the birth of their Messiah also increased. However, the early church refused to celebrate Christmas in December because the Bible did not record the actual date of Jesus’ birth. Hence, there were variations in the date of Christmas celebration for more than three centuries.
The second bishop of Rome, Telesphorus (125-136 A.D) declared the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ and tagged it: “The Nativity of our Lord and Saviour”. Since the actual date of Jesus Christ was misery to all of them, nativity, i.e. Christmas was celebrated in September. Later in 274 A.D, the winter solstice fell on December 25. Hence, the Roman emperor, Aurelian proclaimed the date as “Natalis Solis Invicti” “the Festival of the Birth of the Invisible Sun”. In 320 A.D, Pope Julius equally chose December 25 as Christmas date. It is widely believed that this date was selected in an attempt to adopt and absorb the custom of the ancient pagan Saturnalia festival.
Nowadays, Christmas is still not free from variations in the date of its celebration. It is more common that the birthday falls on December 25. However, in the Greek and Russian orthodox churches, Christmas is celebrated 13 to 14 days after the 25th. This is because Western churches use the Gregorian Calendar, while Eastern Churches use the Julian Calendar.

Christians Reaction to Christmas Celebration.
There is no doubt that no one knows the actual date Jesus Christ was born as his birth date was not recorded in the Bible. In the early years of Christianity, Christmas failed to gain global recognition even among the Christians. The reason for this is not far-fetched, also though the early church officiated December 25 as Christmas day, Christians, recognizing the date as a pagan festival day, did not share in the sacrilegious thought of the early church. This is why Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas festivities in England between 1649 and 1660 through the so-called Blue Laws, believing that Christmas should be a solemn day and not a day to be shared by the pagans.

Furthermore, in 1620, the Americans were even more orthodox in their beliefs than Oliver Cromwell. As a result, Christmas was not a holiday or celebration in early America. From 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was outlawed in Boston. Anyone exhibiting the Christmas spirit was fined five shillings. Today, a lot of Christians preach against Christmas since they claim the Bible itself criticizes the decoration of the (Christmas) trees: “The customs of the people are worthless, they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel, they adore it with silver and gold, they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter” (Jeremiah 10-3,4).
In Nigeria, some church owners have declared their churches free from Christmas celebration. Notable among them are Deeper Life, Jehovah’s witness, and Mountain of Fire Ministry (MFM). It is claimed that even in their religion, Christmas celebration is prohibited because it is founded on the idolatrous background and its root is demonic.

January 1 and New Year Celebration
January 1 is the day that marks the celebration of the new Gregorian or Julian calendar year. Has New year always been marked on January 1? The answer is NO. The new year was celebrated around the time of the vernal equinox, that is March 20. While the ancient Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Persians began the new year with the autumnal equinox which is the same as September 20. The ancient Greeks celebrated the New year with the winter solstice, that is December 20.
In fact, the new year was celebrated on January 1 for the first time in 45 B.C as the Julius calendar takes effect. Julius Caesar, a Roman dictator decided that the Roman calendar needed change. He then ordered a new Roman calendar called the Julius calendar which started its new year calculation from January 1. However, the early church refused to celebrate the new year on this day even though they were followers of the Julius calendar because of the error in the calculation, which was evident in the calendar. Hence, in the 1570s, Pope Gregory XIII tasked Christopher Clarius to come up with another schedule called the Gregorian calendar. Since then, January 1 has been sustained by the day for the New year celebration.
It is worthy of interest to note that the New year celebration stems from an ancient pagan custom. January was named after the Roman god Janus- god of doorways and beginnings. Janus was believed to be a two-faced god who looked back into the past with one face and the other paired forward into the future. Subhanallah! Such ignorance!
Islamic perspective on Christmas and New Year Celebrations
In the world today, when Christmas is just around the corner, there are apparent changes in our streets, homes, and workplaces. No doubt, these changes and decorations are just to announce the approach of Christmas and New year. Alas! some Muslims are not free from this. They get lost in this merriment which poses an unfathomable danger to their deen. Some Muslims go as far as to mount Christmas trees in their homes or workplaces and announce to the world that they are celebrating with the Christians.
Unarguably, these actions are tantamount to imitating the unbelievers in their practice. On this note, the messenger of Allah (Sallallahu Alayhi wasallam) was recorded to have said as narrated by ‘Abd-Allaah ibn ‘Umar: “Whoever imitates a people is one of them.” -Abu Dawood. While explaining this hadith in Iqtida’ al-Siraat al-Mustaqeem, Sheikh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: this at the very least indicates that it is haraam to imitate them, although the apparent meaning is that the one who resembles them is a kaafir. The religion of Allah is complete, thus, should not be modified, added or subtracted from.

الْيَوْمَ أَكْمَلْتُ لَكُمْ دِينَكُمْ وَأَتْمَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ نِعْمَتِي وَرَضِيتُ لَكُمُ الْإِسْلَامَ دِينًا
“This day, I have perfected your religion for you, completed My Favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion.” Al-Ma’idah, 3.

It is not permissible for a Muslim who believes in Allah and the Last Day to partake in Christmas and New year celebration. The Islamic festivals are clearly stated, which differ from the culture and customs of the unbelievers. Anas ibn Maalik, may Allah be pleased with him, said: “The Prophet arrived in Madeenah while people were celebrating two particular festivals, so he asked: “What is (the significance of) these two days?” Some people replied: ‘They are days which we used to celebrate during the pre-Islamic era.’ So, the Messenger of Allah replied: “Allah has replaced them for you with two days which are better, the day of ‘Eid Al-Fitr and ‘Eid Al-Adha” [Abu Daawood].
In Islam, the beginning of the Muslim calendar (Hijri New Year) is Muharram. If the new year is worthy of being celebrated, it would have been Muharram 1st. However, this day is not a day considered as a day of festivity. Muslim do not worship based on their whims and caprices, instead, based on the injunctions of Allah and the Sunnah of His messenger. It is in the great interest of Muslims to stay away from these celebrations and call our families and friends to order.

وَمَن يَبْتَغِ غَيْرَ الْإِسْلَامِ دِينًا فَلَن يُقْبَلَ مِنْهُ وَهُوَ فِي الْآخِرَةِ مِنَ الْخَاسِرِينَ
“And whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter, he will be one of the losers”. (Al-Imran, 85) Surah At Tahreem, 6 applies here too.

Conclusion
Muslims should endeavour to learn their religion correctly and not confuse what is in the faith with what is alien to it. They should emulate the traits of the pious predecessors and not sell their faith just to fit into society. Christmas and New year celebrations are alien to Islam and in reality, have their roots in idolatry. If some factions of Christians refuse to partake in these celebrations which are supposed to be from them because they claim it is demonic and alien to them, who are you to embrace it wholeheartedly with no question?

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تَتَّخِذُوا الْيَهُودَ وَالنَّصَارَىٰ أَوْلِيَاءَ بَعْضُهُمْ أَوْلِيَاءُ بَعْضٍ وَمَن يَتَوَلَّهُم مِّنكُمْ فَإِنَّهُ مِنْهُمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الظَّالِمِينَ
“O you who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians as Auliya’ (friends, protectors, helpers, etc.), they are but Auliya’ to one another. And if any amongst you takes them as Auliya’, then surely he is one of them. Verily, Allah guides not those people who are the Zalimun (polytheists and wrong-doers and unjust)” Surah Al-Maeda, 51.

Don’t be a part-time Muslim, learn about your Deen. May Allah grant us the best of understanding.

وَلَا تَكُونُوا كَالَّذِينَ نَسُوا اللَّهَ فَأَنسَاهُمْ أَنفُسَهُمْ أُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْفَاسِقُونَ
“And be not like those who forgot Allah (i.e. became disobedient to Allah), and He caused them to forget their own selves, (let them forget to do righteous deeds). Those are the Fasiqun (rebellious, disobedient to Allah)”. Al-Hashr, 19

Online Reference
https://www.missionislam.com/knowledge/christmashistory.html
https://www.history.com/topics/christmas/history-of-christmas
https://earthsky.org/earth/why-does-the-new-year-begin-on-january-1

SALE, Akeem

writer, editor, classroom instructor and entrepreneur. graduate of Islamic Studies/education from the University of Ilorin.

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