Funny how some things stick in your mind. Like the time I heard a young child in the supermarket exclaiming excitedly, ‘Look, Mum! Look, there’s the chocolate Easter eggs for Santa’s birthday!’
I bit my tongue, not wanting to sound like a grumpy old biddy. The kid’s Mum just mumbled something that sounded like, ‘That’s nice.’
Reflecting on this later, I felt more sad than cross. Here was a small child at the age of asking wonderful questions and no-one responded. Mum was tired and distracted. I said nothing. The supermarket couldn’t care less. They’re concerned with marketing and selling stuff, in season or out; like hot cross buns in the New Year.
Materially well off, we live in a time of spiritual poverty.
In our rapidly secularising world, in wealthy countries like Australia, we can enjoy a holiday without having to care much about what it’s for. Any opportunity for a break from work and school is good. Not for nothing are we called the ‘Land of the Long Weekend’, but is anyone game to suggest that we should not have a holiday at Christmas and Easter? Not me, and probably not you, the reader, either.
Some schools eschew Nativity stories and Christmas cards and carols – they prefer to say ‘Happy Holidays’. But if we are really honest and want to remove religion from these events, shouldn’t we refrain from having time off at Christmas and Easter time? Yes? Somehow I don’t think that will get many votes.
Christmas time is such a mixture of lots of other seasons – Jesus’ birth, Hanukah, Yule, deep winter or high summer depending on the hemisphere, and the solstice. Easter has a more solemn edge to it and commands a little more respect, but has nevertheless its share of accretions of other celebrations.
The Christian Church is no longer central.
Our culture is increasingly wary of anything ‘religious’, and the reasons why are complex: past abuses, over-zealous preaching, perceived bigotry and discrimination, God’s apparent uncaring absence in disasters and illness. And more than anything: plain, old-fashioned ignorance.
People are not learning about Christianity, even the basic bible stories that everyone used to hear in school, or if they went to Sunday School.
So what to do?
We can be critical, stridently bemoaning the lack of Christian observance and teaching in our society, and generally get cranky about it all. Or … we can accept the situation and take the opportunity whenever it comes to gently inform.
Instead of tut-tutting at the ‘woeful ignorance of people these days, what is the world coming to?’ let’s instead invite discussion. Ask people home for Christmas dinner or a BBQ. Tell them how you celebrate Christmas, with food and presents and fun and music, because it is the birthday of a very Special Person. Welcome them to the Christmas services at your church or go to the community carols.
Invite questions, and especially encourage kids to ask their wonderful questions:
So, who is Santa Claus really? Why do we have Christmas presents? Who were the Wise Men? Are angels real? Why do we have Christmas Trees? What does the Christmas star mean?
Chocolate eggs for Santa’s birthday – what great discussion starter…
Sheelagh Wegman is a freelance writer and editor. She enjoys reading and cooking, observing life, sings in St David’s Cathedral choir in Hobart and lives in bushland on the foothills of kunanyi (Mt Wellington).
Sheelagh Wegman’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/sheelagh-wegman.html