Eedookh Breekha

by Sammie Audion Unfortunately, we live in a time where teachers in Montville, N.J., get fired over telling the class that Santa, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy and Elf on a […]

by Sammie Audion

Unfortunately, we live in a time where teachers in Montville, N.J., get fired over telling the class that Santa, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy and Elf on a Shelf are not real. At the same time another teacher being told that an artificial tree in Bangor, Maine had to be removed and it did not have any religious based decorations. Sure enough, every year some group within the conservative wing try to make a claim for ‘the war on Christmas’ while every major store starts their Christmas sales earlier every year. To write about Christmas in this climate is certainly not easy. Therefore, this article is not trying to celebrate or criticize this western tradition, but rather shine a light how it is celebrated – or not – at different places and in different cultures. Particularly, it is not intended as a new chapter on the war on Christmas but rather to create an opportunity for tolerance and understanding.

In order to understand the approach of different religions and cultures to Christmas, it seems appropriate to look at the purely historical aspect of Christmas:

While the time of Jesus’ birth is quite clear from a traditional religious viewpoint, scholars are not exactly in agreement on a date. Based on the writings of Luke and Matthew describing the political environment at the time, the majority of scholars identify his birthday as most likely occurring between 6 BC and 4 BC. This period associates Jesus’ birth with the time of Herod the Great. Matthew 2:1 states that “Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king”. Most scholars agree that Herod died in 4 BC. Luke 1:5 mentions the reign of Herod shortly before the birth of Jesus, but places the birth during the Census of Quirinius, which the Jewish historian Josephus indicates that Cyrenius/Quirinius’ governorship of Syria began in AD 6 and mentions a census sometime between. [Source Wikipedia]

The time of the year is also not quite clear. Scholars don’t believe the grazing their flock during the winter seems plausible, while others say there where mild winters at the time. Some claim that late December was the time, while the Quran references that Mary shook a fruit branch, which carries its fruit in summer. Many scholars however draw a parallel between Christmas and Saturnalia, the Roman feast for Saturn, was associated with the winter solstice as well as the pagan celebration of the winter solstice. Which both could be reasonably argued, as it was hard at the time to change the cultural habits of the people without TV, newspapers and social media.

Eedookh Breekha – which is Aramaic, the language Jesus would have spoken – means ‘blessed be your Christmas’ (but – fun fact – also Happy Easter).

Hence, based on the rather blurry historical background and different religions and cultures, a wide variety of ways to celebrate or recognize Christmas must be expected – and in this context, it does not seem to matter if we call these Holidays Christmas, midwinter (Anglo-Saxon), Nativity (meaning “birth”), Gēola (Yule – for December/January Season), Noel (from Old French noël or naël), or Saturnalia (Greeks and Romans). It certainly is a holiday to celebrate love and family.

Looking at different traditions around the world might make us chuckle or perhaps even awaken some interest in other cultures and show us perhaps that people around the world are not as different as we might think.

One beautiful celebration is the Giant Lantern Festival (Ligligan Parul Sampernandu) which is held on the Saturday before Christmas Eve in San Fernando – the “Christmas Capital of the Philippines.” Eleven villages take part in the festival and compete trying to build the most elaborate lantern. The festival attracts spectators from all over the country and across the globe.

The Swedish City Gävle celebrates by building a Yule Goat in the center of the Castle Square for Advent. The goat is supposed to guard the Christmas tree and is made of straw. This Swedish Christmas tradition has led to another “tradition” of sorts – people trying to burn the goat down.

In Austria, a demonic creature called Krampus roams city streets frightening the children a little and punishing the bad ones. This in this tradition, St. Nicholas’ has an evil accomplice – said Krampus – who captures the naughtiest children and ‘might’ whisk them away in his sack.

On Iceland, 13 tricky troll-like characters called Yule Lads (jólasveinarnir or jólasveinar in Icelandic) visit the children across the country over the 13 nights leading up to Christmas. For each night of Yuletide, children place their best shoes by the window and a different Yule Lad visits leaving gifts for nice girls and boys and rotten potatoes for the naughty ones.

In Caracas, Venezuela, people head to church in the early morning Christmas Eve – but they do so on roller skates. This unique tradition is so popular that roads across the city are closed to cars. They return home for the less-than-traditional Christmas dinner of ‘tamales’ (a wrap made out of cornmeal dough and stuffed with meat, then steamed).

In Ghana, many people observe a traditional folk libation ritual at Christmas time. In it, people drink from a cup and then pour some of its contents on the ground as a symbolic offering to their ancestors.

So, Christmas – or any other holiday celebration or tradition for that matter – might give us an insight into another culture, give them ‘a face, a story’ and with that perhaps some understanding. This might ideally lead to more tolerance. And tolerance is certainly something we do urgently need in this time of polarization that we currently live in.

In that spirit: Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays however you might celebrate.

Sammie Audion – Staff Editor

 

 

 

 

 

 

The photographs illustrating our story were taken at these two sims: Radient Fire – A New York City Christmas and Mistletoe Resort.