Monday, December 23, 2013

Secular vs. Religious

Here in the U.S., it seems to me that many people divide the various aspects of Christmas into "secular" and "religious" categories. Christmas trees, Santa, Frosty the Snowman and dinner with the family are secular. Everyone can participate, you don't have to be a church goer or acknowledge Jesus to enjoy them, etc. I know people who celebrate the secular aspects of Christmas and ignore the rest.

Nativity scenes, carol services and midnight mass are religious, mostly only for those who are Christians.

Oh, there's overlap. Some towns still have nativity scenes on the common, some churches have visits from Santa. But, still. the differentiation exists.

In Burma, it seemed different. Everything associated with Christmas, was distinctly Christian. Christian churches and homes did things related to Christmas, other places didn't. Our Buddhist guest house had no Christmas references at all -- why would they? Nor did shops, public centers, etc. Christians have never been in the majority in Burma. Nor have secularists. 89% of the people are Buddhists.

Restaurants and hotels that specifically catered to westerners did have Christmas displays. Why? Well, because westerners are Christians, so the thinking goes. Because of those displays, our host was concerned about the burgeoning commercialization of Christmas that seems to be accompanying the influx of foreign visitors. We've had that problem for a while and it's a topic for another time.

Because everything related to Christmas is, by definition, Christian in Burma, kids sing "I'm a Happy Christmas Tree, hohoho, hehehe" in the church service. It's an expression of faith, because non-Christians don't celebrate Christmas.

I wonder if maybe we, as a church, should remember this. Perhaps, among ourselves, we should reclaim the understanding that Christmas simply is Christian and whatever our traditions are they stem from Christ's birth. Dinner with the family is a celebration of our Lord. So are sharing presents, Christmas cards and pictures with the Jolly Old Elf. When we truly frame it that way, we can freely enjoy all the facets of the holiday while keeping Christ at the center.

Just something I have been mulling over........


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