Climate Plus wishes you a pleasant Christmas/New Year and health and happiness for 2018.
My friends from Erlangen are presently staying with their son and his family in Norway. They report that Norway is now a very secular country, where hardly anyone goes to church. In 150 Christmas cards there were dogs, cats and snow galore, four churches as part of village scenes, and precisely no nativity scenes.
I work for an Indonesian woman, who asked me whether I celebrate Christmas. I said, kind of, the German and European tradition I come from pretty much invented Christmas.
She said, in Indonesia the Christians do, but the Muslims don’t.
Seems that here too Christmas is departing from Christ and Christianity, to a generalised notion that we should emphasize peace and happiness, and that it is a time when families come together, be nice to each other, sometimes with difficulty, give each other presents and be happy and peaceful.
Looking at Christmas cards here, I don’t see many with scenes of the nativity, more with Christmas trees and decorations, reindeer, and of course Santa Claus.
Apparently the song O Tannenbaum was a 16th century Silesian German folk song about the fir tree which exemplifies strength and fidelity. Perhaps by the 19th century, certainly by the 20th, the song was associated with Christmas.
Robyn J. Whitaker of Trinity College, University of Divinity, outlines What history really tells us about the birth of Jesus. See also Andrew McGowan’s How December 25 Became Christmas and the Reverend John Sanderson’s Are Christians and the churches ruining Christmas through a lack of humility?.
As I was writing last night Rod Quinn on ABC Nightlife was talking to a knowledgeable person about Christmas traditions around the world.
Seems a lot of the story as we know it has been made up, and took a long time to settle – centuries, in fact. The 25th of December gets the gig for a number of reasons. Firstly, 25 March is targeted as when Jesus died, so a birth on 25 December would mean he was conceived and died on the same day of the year.
Then there is the winter solstice, which the Europeans, where this tradition arose, have known about for at least 10,000 years.
No-one knows for sure, but they are fairly sure that there was a census in 4BC. Beyond that it seems there was no inn, rather a room in the house, the main room where animal mangers could also be found. Mary gave birth, swaddled Jesus in cloth and laid him in a feeding trough.The animals themselves were added centuries later. When you think about it, if it was the middle of winter shepherds would not have been out in the paddock, the animals would have been inside, and a feeding trough is the last place you would put a baby.
Here is one depiction:
Doesn’t look very practical to me. Then there was the three wise men, who were probably not magi, or kings, or even three:
- The tradition of three comes from the mention of three gifts — gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Notably, the magi visit Jesus in a house (not an inn or stable) and their visit is as late as two years after the birth. Matthew 2:16 records King Herod’s orders to kill baby boys up to the age of two based on the report about Jesus’s age from the magi.
This delay is why most Christian churches celebrate the visit of the magi on “Epiphany”, or January 6.
So the family did do a runner from Herod’s purge of all male babies under two years old, but there is no mention of Mary riding a donkey.
Much of the commercialisation of Christmas seems to arise during the 19th century, and no doubt Dickens’ A Christmas Carol had an influence. Earlier, Luther had an influence by preferring December 25 to Saint Nicholas day of 6 December, although Saint Nicholas is thought to be the progenitor of Santa Claus (Sinterklaas in the Netherlands).
I always thought Santa had a factory at the North Pole, but most people know now the ice is a bit thin there. Everyone who has been paying attention knows now that he is set up in Rovaniemi, Finland. You can go there and have a look:
The Jesus story, in its historical context, is one of human terror and divine mercy, of human abuse and divine love. It is a story that claims God became human in the form of one who is vulnerable, poor and displaced in order to unveil the injustice of tyrannical power.
And we should think about babies in distress, other than that one baby.
Sanderson is stronger:
- The Christmas story is, in essence, a story of how people from all walks of life, regardless of race, gender or any other bureaucratic classification, had an encounter with God, and how as a consequence their lives were transformed.
They encountered Immanuel, God with us, in the here and now. They came to understand that whoever they may be, whatever form their lives may take, whatever their personal circumstances, that “Immanuel”, is “God with us”. They came to understand that God is present in both our hope and our despair, in our good times and bad, in our highs and in our lows.
It was this realisation that enabled the ancient Christians in the Middle East to begin to transform their lives and the lives of their communities.
If we too have that same experience, that sense of the presence of God in our lives, and in the lives of those around us, then we will not only see our own lives transform, but also those of the people around us.
I’m too much the sceptic agnostic to go with him all the way, but I like his general approach. If we want a better world, we’ll have to make it ourselves.
One thing that struck me yesterday was listening to JS Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. The overwhelming feeling was Sehnsucht, yearning. I had to check his dates, which are 1685-1750. Life at that time was still largely a vale of tears preparing for a better life hereafter.
Then there is the story of the Annunciation, the Angel Gabriel telling Mary she was preggers, and why.
In my youth I was told that it was that we were by nature sinful and it was about washing away our sins and entry into eternal life:
- For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
I looked up what Weihnacht means. Literally it is consecration night.
With all that tradition floating about, we are keeping things simple at our place. Our daughter and her family came and went last month, I might do another post on our experience of the actual year, our two sons will be here for lunch and we’ll have the aircon on, as it promises to be a stinker.
Last year I spoke a lot about health. It’s been better this year, we’re OK and life is good.
So from Climate Plus we sincerely wish you a pleasant Christmas/New Year, health and happiness for 2018. Beyond that, may there be purpose and meaning in your life, but the capacity to be in and enjoy the moment.