Originally Posted by Panserbjorne
I'm confused by this, can you explain? I know that religions tend to borrow from each other, is that what you're referring to? Things like the Christmas tree being a spin off of the yule log and the like? The statement kind of rubbed me the wrong way, but it may well have been that I'm reading it wrong. Thanks!
Not philomom, but I have a feeling she's probably referring to things like the Christmas Tree. Some think that the passages in the Old Testament talking about the Ahserah pole apply to the practice of bringing in an evergreen tree and decorating it with ornaments. I personally find this a bit of a stretch. There's quite a bit of debate among scholars as to what exactly the Ahserah poles were including the issue of whether or not they were actual poles. Although the ritual of bringing in bits of greenery into ones home as part of a religious celebration is certainly a common element amongst religions all the way back to the Egyptians. The consensus amongst the controversy appears to me to be that the current iteration of evergreen tree in the winter goes back to Germany. There's a bit of legend about a Christian (missionary?) trying to convert the Druids. In his attempt to convince them that the oak tree wasn't sacred he cut one down, the tree fell, crushing everything in its path except a single Evergreen. He attributed this to Christ which then lead to the practice of bringing in trees as holiday decorations and then somewhere down the line hanging decorations on the trees (possibly as offerings to thank the spirit of the tree?)
Since I'm neither carving up the tree, painting it gold, nailing it to the floor, or planting it next to an altar I feel comfortable with our Christmas tree. I think this idea that you can somehow find the "true" expression of Christmas without any outside cultural influences is going to be near impossible. As you mentioned different cultures and religions borrow from each other all the time which seems both reasonable and understandable. It would be hard for people to live together without influencing each other in one way or another.
I suppose that can also include things like the fact that December 25th was picked as the date - or the practice of The Twelve Days of Christmas. There are a multitude of religious celebrations around this time of year. Saturnalia to name one, but there really have been a multitude of sun welcoming festivals through out history. I don't necessarily blame Christians for trying to utilize the similarities between "sun" and "son." On the other hand, the public outcries in the United States about the supposed "war on Christmas" and the admonishment to "Keep Christ in Christmas" as it relates to our public, secular holiday seem to me to be a bit misguided and ignoring the HUGE elephant in the room - mainly that other faith traditions could make a case that we should take Christ out of their festivals and celebrations. Christians really did co-opt the holiday and the United States currently is far too diverse to claim anything more than a civil, secular religion when it comes to Christianity (Although I know other Christians like the dominionists will disagree with me here - to each his own).
I want to be clear, though, I mean no offense meant to the OP - I think it's appropriate for Christians to try to discern what it means for their family to "keep Christ in Christmas." It's easy to lose focus as it can be easy, as the OP pointed out, to just focus on the present part. Being honest about the ambiguities of the origins of our traditions is probably a first step if one wants to do so with a clear conscience, but (and again other Christians will disagree with me here) I see nothing wrong with practicing the traditions that most resonate with me. They're a tool to help me connect with God and a way of expressing my faith. Then again, I'd locate myself more towards the liberal end of the spectrum so it's entirely likely that other Christians will disagree.
For us we try hard to focus on things like Advent and St. Nicholas Day. We still exchange presents, but we try to also encourage the kids to share with others - buying food for the local food pantry or purchasing gifts for Toys for Tots are all ways that we've chosen to do this over the years. We have an Advent spiral and are working on incorporating our own family liturgy to accompany the lighting of the candles. We do give gifts in connection with St. Nicholas day, but I like to focus on the historical Bishop Nicholas. Our kids know that the gifts they receive on St. Nick's day are from us. We're clear that we do so as a way to remember and honor the historical figure.
No nativity scenes here as I've never found a set that I was comfortable with. Most of them look far too white in skin tone to me to be accurate and I don't want my kids to think that Jesus was white (the same is true for other images of Jesus as an adult...I don't want them to think of him as a white man with long hair). We do exchange gifts on Christmas Day, but none of them come from Santa. I think through it all what matters most is our intention - including Bible readings (small ones at this point as my kids are young) and a bit of our own liturgy is probably what brings the focus a great deal more clear. The rest is just a way of taking what would be awfully abstract and make it more concrete.
We're also exploring incorporating The Twelve Days of Christmas this year leading into Epiphany which is outside of our backgrounds, but has been helpful this year.