Musings on Christmas in New Zealand
The annual celebration of Christmas is here upon us once more, and students of The Urantia Book are possibly asking themselves that perennial question generated by the knowledge that the actual date of the birth of Jesus is August 21st, not December 25th – ‘what should we do about Christmas?
In New Zealand, Christmas for Christian families/communities continues to be a celebration of the birth of Jesus, but for most of the non-religious people (48.6% of the population as declared at the 2018 census) it is a public holiday with a special emphasis on the family. The way that people celebrate this event for the most part has very little to do with the birth of Jesus – lights, Christmas trees, gifts, decorations around the home and garden, special food at various times of the day, Christmas crackers – but for many people these aspects represent ‘Christmas’.
There have been occasional moves over the years to de-winterfy the celebration here – my daughter learned a song at primary school called “Christmas at the Beach”, but the Northern Hemisphere traditions retain their strong hold on the celebrations here, and so fake snow still abounds in shop windows, along with all the other songs that stem from Christmas observed in the heart of winter.
It can be quite challenging to celebrate this event from a religious perspective knowing that it’s the wrong day- and if Urantia Book readers decide to put that aspect aside, what are we left with? A celebration of family has appeal, but the overlay of commercialisation can render this quite superficial. The call every year for people to donate to charities so that poor children can ‘have a good Christmas’ very much perpetuates this idea that Christmas is all about the presents, and the idea of the family gets submerged under the wrapping paper.
Perhaps we could go back to the ‘pagan’ roots and explore the ancient traditions related to the earth cycles that the early Christians replaced Christmas with. My family celebrates the summer solstice and has done for many years. One tradition we have established is for each family member to record on a large piece of paper things they are celebrating, appreciating, and/or feeling grateful for. These papers are then laminated and displayed every year and have formed a wonderful family history of joys and achievements and general good feelings. Christmas as a festival, then, from its earliest beginnings to modern times, seems to be a little like a pick and mix – people can take ideas and customs from a number of different times and places and put them together to make their own kind of celebration – it will be interesting to see how it evolves over the next few decades, as societies become more and more diverse, and the religious aspects, in particular, become less and less relevant to the majority.