Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Clash of Ritual & Diversity

Merry Christmas One and All!

Though I mean that genuinely, I know I'm taking a risk in expressing it.
Even though Christmas—for those who celebrate it—is typically treasured as a time of joy and family connection, in many communities it is a delicate negotiation. Most cmties value diversity and many feel that celebrating Christmas reinforces Christian dominance in the wider society, or pays homage to a culture of materialism. For some, erecting a Christmas Tree is being insensitive to the phenomenon of cultural hegemony, both because the Christians co-opted that symbol from the pagans, and because it has become so inextricably associated with gaudy displays of excess. 
It's ironic that the message of Christian charity and accepting people for whom they are has come (two millennia later) to be more divisive than bridging. And it's all the more poignant because ours is a culture that is starved for ritual and celebration. Instead of embracing Christmas as a time for the whole cmty to pause and rejoice in the year just completed, for some groups it has become a battleground, where common facilities are considered off limits for any kind of spiritual practice, for fear that some will feel excluded. 
To be sure, bad things happen in this world, and cultural imperialism is one of them. Rather than embracing sterility though (while fair, it's incredibly dull), I prefer to make room for the fullest possible enjoyment of all the cultural heritages that touch my life. Better, let's start creating our own rituals (or adapting the old ones for current needs—just as the Christians shoehorned the Christmas Tree into their cosmology).
When my son was a pre-teen (about 20 years ago) he became, as many young boys do, enthralled with fire. Going with the flow, we created a ritual called Sky Dragon that we celebrated every March 3. It was the annual burning of our brush pile, marking the end of winter pruning and the advent of spring. Some years the flames would leap so high that the volunteer fire department would call to make sure everything was OK.
Over the years, Sandhill has celebrated much more than birthdays and anniversaries. While it changes over time and we never do everything every year, we've taken time for New Year's, Birgit, Valentine's Day, Sky Dragon, Spring Equinox, Passover, Easter, May Day, Summer Solstice, Fourth of July, Lammas, Labor Day, Rosh Hashanah, Fall Equinox, Sukkot, Thanksgiving, and Winter Solstice—as well as Christmas.
Maybe we just like parties, but I much prefer the rich complexities afforded by a calendar dotted with many opportunities to cook a special meal and have everyone over for stories and laughter, for ritual and remembrance.
In whatever way you relate to this season, I hope your day was like mine—full of love and connection. And to all, a good night.

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