As the city recovers from a few crazy days leading up to the New Year and more laid back visitors settle around the district for January, Christmas probably seems a distant memory. Still, I think it’s worth taking a moment to pause and reflect on what that ‘holiday’ has become.
Perhaps Christmas is now closer to its origins as the week long Roman festival of Saturnalia. There was widespread intoxication; going from house to house while singing naked; rape and other sexual license; each Roman community selected a victim who was forced to indulge in physical pleasures throughout the week. At the festival’s conclusion on December 25th, Roman authorities believed they were destroying the forces of darkness by brutally murdering this innocent man or woman. Even after Christian leaders co-opted the festival in the 4th Century and made the final day a celebration of Jesus’ birth, they found it hard to change the way the event was observed. The origins of Santa Claus are even more bizarre.
Today New Zealand observes Christmas largely as a commercial opportunity and family time with a minority retaining any Christian connection.
Faith communities – usually in church congregations – continue to try and make Christmas about more than an obligation to buy things for people who don’t actually need any more stuff.
‘Glory to God, peace on (and with the?) Earth and goodwill to all people’ was the first Christmas message and still seems relevant today and year round.
Of course making such a vision reality would see a radical shift in relationships between families, communities and countries. Resources would be used and distributed very differently.
For most of us it’s probably more convenient to leave that particular message out of Christmas, but I like to imagine what would happen if we all took it seriously.