Imagine you’re a visitor from another planet and have never heard of Christmas. The beliefs and rituals celebrated during Christmas would look very puzzling: cutting down trees to put in our living-rooms, putting an array of trinkets on them, covering everything in lights, and telling stories to our children about an absurdly generous man who uses reindeer to fly around the world in a sled. Why would any rational creature engage in the silly behavior associated with Christmas?
As a holiday rooted in religious rituals, the heart of Christmas is to the spirit of community. The purpose of evoking such a strong spirit of community around this time goes back to Christmas’ pagan roots and celebrations associated with the Winter solstice. Marking the darkest time of the year in the northern hemisphere – where these traditions originated – festivities served to bridge the transition through the most difficult conditions. Coming together serves to rekindle the spirit of community and a sense of joy when it is most needed at this potentially most desolate time.
Although we now have the luxury of modern technology sheltering us from harsh mid-winter environmental conditions and a great deal of the celebrating population now lives in warmer climates or perhaps even the southern hemisphere, the origin of Christmas as a bridge through the darkest times is still central to its rituals and symbolism. Bringing greenery indoors and putting lights on everything reminds us of life and flourishing, decorating it with ornaments that mark important family milestones reminds us of our lives together and the joyful sentiments associated with this sense of communality; lastly, the mythical stories of Santa Claus represents the ideal of altruism – the glue that bonds social groups together into communities.
Even though we have an abundance of goods, plenty of heat and lighting, and social media to keep us perpetually connected with others, we need to remember the heart of the Christmas spirit: the spirit of community. Classical sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies describes the joy of community when he states that man is “his best and happiest when he is surrounded by his family and his own circle.”
Holiday calibrations can serve as tonic for our souls, nourishing it with the spirit of community in an age marked by rampant individualism, or they can perpetuate this individualism if we lose touch with the heart of these beliefs and rituals. I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and hope that their holiday celebrations may serve as a light amidst darkness, providing life amidst desolation, rekindling a sense of warmth amidst the cold.
To receive email updates when new articles are published, insert your email address below.