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Christmas Unwrapped


JenellYB
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I will post the UTube link to the 1st of 5 parts of the History Channel series, "Christmass Unwrapped" below...you can find the other 5 parts on UTube...

 

I had watched this series a few years ago, when it was first aired, and remember that my primary reaction to it was a sort of hum-ho cynicism. Having been sternly indoctrinated to the position held by some Christians, that the whole mess of Christmass is a pagan blashpemy to Christ's name, when religious mother "learned the truth about Christmass", and immediately stopped any further observance or celebration of it, when I was 8 years old, and having become duly disenchanted with the whole Christmass thing in our culture as just an over-commercialized campaign by Capitalists to get people tospend a lot of money they can't afford on things they don't need or really want, my overall reaction was a sort if, "So, what? Didn't tell me anything I didn't already know."

 

But I've just watched it again, this time, as if with new eyes....I just wasn't back then in the place I am now, to be ready to see more than that. This time, I saw an amazing progression through the history of attitudes and celebrations of Christmass transforming our culture and society in many ways we often talk about here as Progressives....themes of ecumenism, acceptance and blending of different social and cultural and religious traditions, of even secular and philosophical ethics and moralisms with counterparts in religion and faith communities.

 

Some of you may have seen it before, and you may have even seen these things I missed the first time through it, but if you've not seen it, or like me, just weren't ready to see those things when you did, you might find it interesting to watch again, with those thoughts in mind.

 

Jenell

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A5T5ibb2E9I&feature=share

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My thought is that after watching the series, we might share ideas about a "Progressive version" of conservative evangelical right's perennial chant calling for putting Christ back in Christmass. As in, from my thoughts right now, how the history of Christmass as it evolved in response to cultural, religious, social, and even psychological and practical needs of people in different circumstances could even present precedence in how principles of Christ, ethical and moral principles, that models the need for Christianity today to adapt to present issues.

 

While the viewpoint from the right in the 'put Christ back into Christmass" may have in mind simply more prominent mention and portrayal of Jesus and the nativity story in Christmass advertising and promotion, I'm thinking along lines of Christ principles back into our attitudes and choices in social issues.

 

Jenell

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Jenell,

 

Thanks for that link and post. I'll see if I can find the other parts of the series to watch.

 

It's always interesting to see how creative we humans are in inventing and modifying our traditions in order to keep them as markers in our lives. I have to admit, if I had discovered these pagan influences in Christmas in my younger days, I probably would have taken the Puritanical stance, labeled Christmas as compromised, and refused to celebrate it any longer. But now that I am on the back side of 50 (and don't even take the biblical accounts in the Bible of the birth of Jesus as literal history), I don't have quite the reactionary approach that I once did. I suspect that religions always "compromise" (in a good way) in order to keep what they think is central to their past culture relevant to modern culture. Christianity has evolved and, in some respects, there is no going back.

 

The legend of Santa Claus is, for me, an analogous overview of my own journey. When I was little, I was told that Santa was real (with all the accompanying stories and, of course, toys). I believed in Santa. I couldn't figure out how he brought us toys as we had no chimney or how he could fly around the world with enough toys for all the boys and girls in one night, but to disbelieve was too big a risk. Besides, everyone believed in Santa (in my small world).

 

When I was "old enough", my parents told me the truth. Of course, I still continued to get presents at Christmas, but the magic was gone. I found out how mechanistic (and expensive) Christmas was. What my parents never did, however, not being Christians, was to tell me the real story of Saint Nicholaus (as near as we know it). I didn't discover the "truth" behind the legend until I was grown.

 

All of my children have been helped (I hope) by being given something of the history behind the myth of Santa Claus. I don't think myths are lies or are harmful. But I think we should discover and relay the seeds of truth behind them if we can. That way, we know why we have the myths and it isn't just because "it's always been this way", which the study of history often shows us not to be the case.

 

Anyway, I'm going to try to find the other parts of this series. I'm not afraid that real history will take the magic out of Christmas for me, probably because, in my way of thinking, God continues to be incarnated in our world everyday as we follow the Spirit. That, to me, is what keeping Christ in Christmas is all about.

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Jenell,

 

I've watched the rest of this series and really enjoyed it.

 

It's interesting how many "anti-Christmas" videos authored by "true Christians" there are next to these History Channel presentations. Just a couple thoughts on this. I suspect that many of these Christians who want to "put Christ back in Christmas" approach Christmas from the viewpoint that what Christmas is currently missing is worshipping the baby in the manger as God. For them, Christmas is about worshipping the Christ-child, much as the shepherds and astrologers do in the gospels. That particular viewpoint no longer works for me because I don't think Jesus "came" in order to seek worshippers. Just my take on it. So, for me, while I enjoy the birth of Jesus accounts in the Bible and the manger scenes and Christmas plays etc., I take a different interpretive approach.

 

That approach could be said to be, metaphorically, the joining of heaven and earth. In this approach, the dualism that has plagued Christianity for 2000 years is minimized. We see, in Christmas, heaven coming to earth, the two becoming one. And when that happens, as the angels remind us, there is a celebration to be had. This is a point that this series did a good job in bringing out, that Christmas was initially a celebration, even if pagan in origin. When heaven meets the earth, we no longer have to categorize everything as sacred and secular. It is not "secular" to have Christmas trees, or presents, or ivy, or egg nog, or a big feast, or even a nip of something that "cures whatever ails ye", for God, our Creator, is present in all of these things. Life itself is a gift from the Creator. All is sacred. All is to be celebrated as a gift (in moderation, of course).

 

This doesn't mean that I support commercialism, for I think that commercialism taken to the extreme actually devalues the goodness of creation. As in many other things, we should seek moderation. But I'm not opposed to the modern way of doing Christmas. Christmas is, like many of our holy-days, a compromise. And, as the video said, 98% of Americans celebrate it in some form. If people want to throw out their Christmas trees and no longer buy presents in a way of protest, that is their option. But I will, as Scrooge said, keep Christmas in my own way. :) I enjoy going to Christmas Eve service at my church. But I don't go there to worship the baby Jesus. I go because it reminds me that heaven and earth are really one and that, ironically, if we find heaven on earth, it is often in children that we do so. ;) And that, to me, is a cause for celebration -- all year 'round.

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Jennell - thank you for posting that link. I remember watching it once upon a time. I didn't have a reaction like you had at first viewing, I think because my dad always encouraged questions and we were taught to find answers if we could so the first viewing wasn't quite as much of a shock for me. :P I think I was kind of relieved to know I wasn't a heretic in uncovering these "secrets"!

 

Wayseeker - that is one of the most beautiful metaphors for Christmas that I've seen. I still think of Christma as "sacred", as in not mundane. As Thanksgiving is a day to remember specifically to be grateful, Christmas is a day specifically to remember that there is no separation between creator and creation.

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As in any matter, each of us have traveled our own individual journey to where we are now in our ideas, beliefs, and feelings about any particular issue or thing. My own journey to where I am now on Christmass has certanly been influenced by my life experiences. I was still trying to hang onto the shreds of belief in the "magic" of Christmass, when my mother made that decision when I was 8 yrs old to just "discontinue" Christmass. It was really quite traumatic. Not only were any and every element and trapping of Christmass elminated from our home, including not being allowed to watch Christmass themed movies or programming on tv but I was no longer allowed to participate or even observe anything related to Christmass at school. I was quite artisitc, especially in drawing animals, and has almost always been awarded the honor of things like drawing the reindeer in the big Christmass mural most classrooms did on a side chalkborad. I was no longer allowed even that. No attending the Chirstmass party, no participating or even attending to observe school pageants....I remember being one of a tiny handful of kids being herded off to the side, feeling ostracized, most the others being from either Jehovah's Witness or Jewish families.

 

Oddly, for me, the greatest loss of the magic wasn't about toys and gifts, it was the "Christmass Spirit" of hope and love and human compassion. Even as a child my favorite movies of the season, by far #1, "Its a Wonderful Life", and some like "Miracle on 34th Street", were strong on these themes. When I left home, these were the first part of Christmass I quickly restored to my seasonal experience. I resumed common Christmass observances, the decorations and gift giving and all that, as my husband's family took for granted, and for my children. But I long remained ambivalent, even negative, about a whole lot of Christmass stuff. My mother had rejected not just the secular and pagan parts, but even the nativity, arguing Jesus couldn't have been born in winter, and the whole thing smacked of the Sun God mythology. Jesus' gift wasn't his birth, but his death and ressurection kind of stuff.

 

I had done what a lot of people naturally do when they have something precious taken away, such as sometimes someone that discovers they can't bear children will engage in a reaction formation to deal with their grief, their loss of a hope, by deciding they were better off anyway, children are nasty brats that are a drag on lifestyle and finances and so they wouldn't want one anyway. They can even come to despise children. Some of that had happened to me, especially as a child, when I had to try to fend of other children's amazed curiousity and often cruel reactions to my not being part of Christmass celebrations.

 

My journey bringing Christmass back into my life much involved, as I saw with society throughout this historical series, one of re-creating Christmass in a form that uniquely satisfied my own feelings about life, love, the Christ story. I did resume appreciation of the celebrations, the guady and bright decorations and lights and music, but with my own "content of meanings" attached to them. My return to gift giving was mainly to my children, and a few carefully chosen gifts to special friends. My gifting now is still mainly to grandchildren. I've somewhat altered my gifting to friends and aquantances, a few small gifts of appreciation here and there...most my gifting to loved ones and closer friends I now do throughout the year either at birthdays, or as random "just because" as I finnd things I think a certain person would appreciate.

 

I've come to a position on any celebratory aspects as Christmass trees and other decorations, elements of Christmass of pagan and secular orgins, to see the orginal "meanings" hold no power, I can make these things mean whhatever I want to NOW. Most of my decorations are things I've reused for years, many years I put up very few. I was never really caught up in that commercial aspect, the Ego driven competition to have the most beautiful, most expensive, most extravagant, most extensive display than anyone else's. In most my decorations, there are little meanings attached, when and where I bought or otherwise aquired them, what was going on that year, and many have become faded and worn over the years. but still hold some significance to me.

 

The most lavishly decorated Christmass I observed in my life was the first year my younger sister came here to begin her 5 yr ordela of cancer treatments in Houston...it was our first Christmass together since that last one we shared together when I was 8 yrs old, and she only 5. We went to a tree farm and chose the tree, the first live tree I'd had in years. And the biggest, most lavishly decorated tree I'd had in my life. In the following 4 years, we still decorated, but each year, almost as if in tune with her physical decline and out fading hopes of her recovery, it became less and less, until the year she passed, on Dec 20th, it was back down to not much more that a small artifical tree on a corner table with a simple scene with a few figurines around the base.

 

So very much have I adapted Christmass in my life to my own journey, and each year, very much to where I was at the time. Actually, quite like I see has happened with people and society overall in the history of Christmass as presented in this series.

 

Jenell

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As to the commercialism....the extravance of spending and promoting of merchandise as we see so evident in the observance of the holidays around is, that everybdoy seems to profess to abhorr, even as they ultimately fall right into it themselves...if you think about it, upon watching the last segment of this history series, and holding its central theme in mind, the present state of Christmass is very much a continuation on that theme..it is the "next segment" of the series. We see around us, or at least I do, the overall state of our society, where people are now, being reflected, represented, realized, in how we are "doing Christmass." All the elements of extravant consumerism, in a society obessed with living big, spending big, seeking happiness and even a sense of security in being able to buy things and spend and live beyond our means without thought beyond the immediate moment, things of no lasting value or even real value at all, much of it tinged with a desperate despair for the future, as if we might as well live it up today, for tomorrow we die....

 

It will be interesting to observe in the coming years, the ways in which "how we do Christmass" adapts and transforms along with the changes we know are coming, must come, in our present circumstances and state of society, just as it has done throughout history.

 

Jenell

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Jenell, thanks for sharing your past experiences of Christmas and how you have adapted it to your life today. We do much the same with Christianity, do we not?

 

Yvonne, thanks for the positive feedback on my Christmas metaphor. I am toying with the idea in the back of my mind of writing something (maybe a small book) on the subject, not of heaven and hell, but of heaven and earth. The gist of it would be to explore the notion that heaven is not so much a "place" that we go to after we die (though I am certainly not opposed to any such place), but that heaven is God's transforming Presence with and in us. Whereas the OT Jews often thought of Yahweh as "up" in heaven or in the Temple, in Jesus and in the early church we see the notion (and I believe the truth) that God's dwelling place, His Presence, is with and in us. I think the NT writers point to, but struggled to find the words for (as do I), the idea that we find in Jesus (in his birth, life, teachings, death, and resurrection) that there is a new creation in which, as juxtaposed against the Genesis creation account, heaven and earth are now one, overlapping, interlocking, intertwined, inextricably linked. As we live in this reality where we know and experience "emmanuel", God with us, heaven is manifested here on earth. In this light, I think Paul was right that Jesus was the first-fruits of the new creation, the first of a new kind of humanity, where God was not only "in Christ", but where God's Presence is in all of us -- if we would tune to it and live by it (what the Bible calls being "led by the Spirit").

 

Anyway, not to derail this thread because I think the Christmas story fits into this. Heaven comes to earth. People found the Presence of God in this person from Nazareth -- and continue to do so. This is, perhaps alluding somewhat to Jenell's post, the idea that Christmas isn't just about what happened 2000 years ago; it continues today. God's Presence becomes incarnate in each one of us as we become more "Christlike." This obviously doesn't mean that we seek to be worshipped (at least most of us), but that we can experience heaven NOW as well as later.

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WS, sounds like an excellent idea to explore in a written treatise. Your comments reflect much a similar concept of heaven as my own. There is really so much in Jesus' words about the "kingdom of heaven" and "the kingdom of God" as being something we can seek to "enter into" in the here and now in our lives, and of the path of seeking being to seek within ourselves. I'm not too clear in my understanding, distinction, between "kingdom of God" and "kingdom of Heaven" as Jesus and others in the bible allude to, whether these are just different terms for something that is the same thing, or are they different things? And is references to simply "heaven" to the same as the "kingdom of heaven" or again, something different? Maybe you've formed some ideas on that better than I have. That is an area I'd like to have a better understanding of, myself.

 

Jenell

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Jenell, it's a very interesting subject, especially considering that almost all of Jesus' teaching centers on the kingdom of God. I've only barely scratched the surface of it in my own pursuits and understandings. Like many things in Christianity, there are varying layers of interpretation held, not just by Christians, but by the Jews themselves.

 

Nevertheless, I think the following are fair and balanced statements to make about the kingdom:

 

1. Yes, the "kingdom of God" and the "kingdom of heaven" refer to the same thing in Jesus' teachings. Here's how they line up:

Matthew - "kingdom of God" - used only 4 times; "kingdom of heaven" - used 32 times

Mark - "kingdom of God" - used 14 times

Luke - "kingdom of God" - used 32 times

John - "kingdom of God" -used only 2 times

Neither Mark, Luke, or John use the term "kingdom of heaven". Why is this so? It is well-known that Matthew was written to Jewish audiences to convince them that Jesus was/is the messiah. Therefore, being a good Jew, instead of using the word "God", he substitutes the word "heaven". But the concept is the same. Both refer to God's rule on earth - 'Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.' Mark and Luke have no such aversions to the "divine name", so "kingdom of God" is used.

 

2. John is writing to a different audience from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, a much more Greek audience. As noted, he only uses the "kingdom of God" 2 times and never the "kingdom of heaven." John takes a different semantic twist. Instead of using the phrases "kingdom of God" or "kingdom of heaven", John calls this "eternal life." So, in John, we find the phrase "eternal life" used 17 times. What about the other gospels?

Matthew - "eternal life" - used only 3 times

Mark - "eternal life" - used only 2 times

Luke - "eternal life" - used only 3 times

 

3. So I think it is fair and exegetically honest to say that all four gospels talk about this kingdom but, as good Progressive Christians of their day, use different words to make their messages understandable to their respective audiences. :)

 

Of course, this doesn't really begin to touch what the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven or eternal life refer to conceptually. I have my own beliefs about it, but some say that it is a literal political reign, some say that it is a spiritual thing, and others say that it is the church. And, of course, still others say that it is a place we go to when we die. What is clear, imo, is that it was the central focus of Jesus' teachings. Therefore, I think we are wise to learn as much about it and its various interpretations as we can and then, after (or during) our explorations, to try to live out that kingdom to the best of our ability with the Spirit's empowerment and guidance.

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FWIW, the Anchor Bible Dictionary article titled "Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven" says that some scholars think that the 'heaven' version (actually, the Greek is plural 'heavens'), was a circumlocution to avoid saying the divine name YHWH. If this is correct, they would be theologically equivalent.

 

George

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Might be interesting to lay out occurence of each form, kingdom of 'God' ot 'heaven', to examine in context, how it is used, to see if there are any evident patterns that emerge that might reveal nuances in meaning as they were used.. Then do the same be each gospel writer.

Sounds like a good project, but its late and I've taken my evening meds, and doing good to type this, lol. I am very good at seeing patterns, relationships, commonalities and diferences in things like that. Maybe will do it later.

 

Jenell

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