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The Communist Party of Kenya continues its tradition of commemorating the birthdays of nationalist leaders such as Dedan Kimathi, Wasonga Sijeyo, and other patriots. These figures, while not necessarily affiliated with communism, were renowned for prioritizing common interests over self-interest. Recently, a debate unfolded within our revolutionary study circles in Gem Constituency, questioning the rationale behind celebrating Christmas Day. This prompted collective reflections on the significance of Christmas Day and its connection with the life of Jesus Christ.

 

The discussion surrounding the significance of Christ prompts the question: Is Christmas a reflection of capitalist ideology? What is the fuss about Christmas? Christmas indeed embodies elements of capitalist ideology, marked by high commercialization and a focus on consumerism. The holiday serves as a tool for the capitalist system to reinforce bourgeois class ideology, diverting attention from broader societal issues.

 

Holiday shopping, gift-giving, and the commercialization of Christmas are mechanisms through which capitalism advances its ideology and sustains its dominance. The emphasis on purchasing and exchanging commodities during the Christmas season is a manifestation of consumer culture that benefits capitalists—business owners and corporations—through increased sales of goods and services.

 

The origins of Christmas are a tapestry of intricate and diverse threads, weaving together religious traditions, pagan festivals, and cultural customs over thousands of years.

 

Christmas, primarily a Christian celebration commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, anchors its observance on December 25th, a date established by the Western Church in the 4th century to align with Roman and pagan festivities whose roots delve deep into history. The actual birthday of Jesus remains unknown.

 

Before embracing its Christian identity, various cultures revelled in midwinter festivals during what is now December. The Romans, with their Saturnalia, a celebration honouring Saturn, the god of agriculture, engaged in feasting and socializing that defied social norms. Similarly, the Norse celebrated Yule from late December through January, marking the sun's return, accompanied by feasts, homage to Odin, and expressions of victory.

 

The early Christians lacked a defined tradition for celebrating Jesus' birth. As Christianity spread, the Church strategically sought to ease the conversion of pagan populations by integrating popular pagan celebrations and infusing them with Christian significance. The choice of December 25th, aligning with the solstice or Saturnalia, served as a pragmatic move for seamless integration.

 

During the Middle Ages, Christmas evolved into a public festival amalgamating various pagan customs. It wasn't always a solemn religious observance but frequently involved boisterous and unruly celebrations.

 

The Protestant Reformation in the 16th century cast a skeptical eye on Christmas, as reformers aimed to purge the church of perceived pagan elements. In certain regions, like Puritan New England, Christmas faced outright bans for being deemed "too Catholic" or excessively pagan.

 

The Victorian era played a pivotal role in shaping many modern Christmas traditions. Charles Dickens' 1843 novella "A Christmas Carol" underscored themes of family, goodwill, charity, and the spirit of giving, resonating with Victorian morality. Additionally, the introduction of the Christmas tree tradition to England by Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, further solidified Christmas as a cornerstone of the holiday season.

 

The 19th to 20th century witnessed the creation of enduring Christmas traditions. The production of the first commercial Christmas cards in 1843 coincided with the publication of "A Christmas Carol." Santa Claus, based on the generosity of St. Nicholas, a Christian bishop, became an iconic figure, influenced by American cultural contributions such as Clement Clarke Moore's poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas" (1822) and Thomas Nast's later illustrations.

 

Over time, Christmas transcended continents, spreading from Europe to the Americas and beyond. Each culture infused its customs, resulting in the rich tapestry of the varied holiday we recognize today.

 

In the modern era, Christmas has evolved into both a secular, cultural celebration and a religious observance. It is embraced and celebrated globally, transcending religious beliefs. While maintaining its religious significance for Christians, Christmas has become a time for family, community, and festive activities for people of diverse backgrounds.

 

Contemplating Christmas as the epitome of the birth of Christ prompts consideration of the communist attitude towards this holiday. Viewing the life and teachings of Jesus Christ through the lens of class struggle and the critique of socio-economic structures places Jesus in the natural order of things rather than the supernatural realm of pure beliefs and superstitions.

 

Jesus, heralded as a champion of the poor, resonates with the CPK's commitment to supporting the oppressed. His teachings, emphasizing aid and compassion for the least fortunate, align with the CPK’s critique of the ruling class's exploitation of the working class.

 

Jesus emerges as a revolutionary figure challenging the established social order of his time. Through actions and parables, he critiques the Pharisees and the Sadducees, representing the religious and socio-economic establishment in Jewish society.

 

His critique extends to wealth, warning against its dangers and highlighting the difficulty for the rich to enter the kingdom of God, paralleling CPK’s views on the corrupting power of capital.

 

The early Christian communities formed around Jesus' teachings, portraying a communal approach to living that aligns with some of the CPK’s ideals. This communal sharing of possessions and goods reflects an embryonic form of the common ownership of resources, a key component of communist principles.

 

Jesus' anti-establishment stance is evident in his rebellion against the religious and political powers of his time. His act of overturning the money changers' tables in the temple serves as an example of challenging the status quo and the power structures profiting from the exploitation of religious practice.

 

The crucifixion of Jesus symbolizes the ruling class's ultimate method of silencing a dissenter, akin to the suppression of revolutionary leaders or movements threatening bourgeois hegemony in modern times.

 

Cautionary notes emerge, particularly concerning liberation theology in Latin America, which explicitly combines Christian theology with political activism, including Marxist ideas. While some may interpret Jesus' teachings as a call to action against social injustice, oppression, and poverty, emphasizing active involvement in the struggle for economic and social equality, the broader interpretation reveals philosophical and spiritual divergences between Marxism and Christianity.

 

Marxism, inherently materialistic and atheistic, religion is indeed a construct maintaining the status quo. In contrast, Jesus' teachings centre around spiritual salvation and moral transformation. Rational interpretation of Jesus' life focuses on assessing the socio-economic dimensions and implications of his teachings, with admiration for Jesus as a social revolutionary figure while rejecting engagement with the divine or mystical aspects of his identity.

 

In considering Jesus as a man, operating in Roman-occupied Judea amidst sharp class divisions and numerous social grievances, his radical messages of love, forgiveness, and justice challenged the established order. Jesus' execution exemplifies the lengths to which the ruling class goes to suppress challenges to their authority and maintain their position.

 

In summary, while interpretative overlaps exist between Jesus' teachings and Marxist thought on social issues, Marxism does not engage with the spiritual and religious aspects of Jesus' life. The focus remains on his role as a symbol of resistance against economic and social inequality, aligning with the objective reality of class struggle and collective action for societal change.

 

Acknowledging some similarities between the life of Jesus and modern-day Marxist thinkers, it's crucial to recognize that the theory of knowledge embodying all shades of idealism, including metaphysics, remains hostile to dialectical and historical materialism. Communism, unapologetically aesthetic yet profoundly humanistic, underscores a rejection of bourgeoisie ideology associated with consumerism, emphasizing relationships among people over relationships with material things.

 

A festive wish concludes the discourse: Merry Christmas! To celebrate Christmas is to reject bourgeois ideology, embracing a call for change inspired by the immortal scientific ideology of the oppressed. Long live communism!

 

Booker Ngesa Omole, Marxist-Leninist Institute (Party School) of the Central Organizing Committee of the Communist Party of Kenya

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