Like many families of all faiths and none, we’ve enjoyed celebrating Christmas this year.
We celebrated with a buffet of cultural and religious elements.
We began with Advent, with the opening of an advent calendar, and the burning of candles.
We put up a tree, decorated with lights, baubles and sentimental ornaments. This year our tree had no specifically Christian symbols on it. It had a robin on top, a “Father Christmas” (the original British faery version) hanging from it, and various stars and snowflakes.
We celebrated Yule on the solstice, with the singing of Yuletide songs, lighting candles on a log (and eating a chocolate log). This year we moved home, so we no longer have a woodburning stove, so we couldn’t do what we did in previous years where we made and decorated a log and burned it.
We celebrated Christmas with carols and lessons at the two churches in our small village, and we went to church on Christmas morning and saw lots of friends.
We gave and received presents, enjoyed a feast, and shared drinks with our family.
Christian elements are important to our celebration of Christmas, but I’ve noticed more this year, just how many of the things I love to do at Christmas are part of a wider culture of midwinter celebration. Though I’ve been aware of the dividing line since my teenage years, this year I felt Christianity’s offering has sat in equal status alongside other sources.
Religions have always accumulated elements from the faiths around them. We call this process ‘syncretism’, and while it is condemned as heresy by many religions, its creeping tendrils are inexorable.
And this makes me wonder about post-religious culture. I can’t help but think it will be, and perhaps should be, as syncretistic. It should draw in religious symbols and traditions, it should free us to participate and enjoy them, without concern for what is says about our religious identity (just as most Christians erect a tree without undue angst).
I’d be very happy to live in a society that had shed its theism. But it would be a loss to lose the traditions and celebrations that were inspired by it. Just as it would be rotten to celebrate Christmas with all the pagan and non-religious elements removed.