Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Holidays put flesh on mystery

You're standing in a long line of impatient shoppers, listening to "Winter Wonderland" for the 15th time that day and holding a credit card that should have been locked away a dozen charges ago. Who would blame you for wondering: What's the point? Why celebrate Christmas anyway? It's not as though Dec. 25 is really the birthday of Jesus. It's just another day.

And if you're feeling particularly grouchy, you might wonder why we celebrate religious festivals at all. Why Hanukkah? Why Easter? Why Eid al-Fitr?

Well, part of the reason, of course, is that everyone loves a party. Everyone loves a feast. Holidays break up the year, giving workers a reason to rest and families an excuse to gather.

But these festivals feed our souls, not just our bodies. They remind us of the great mysteries of faith -- and more, they invite us to relive them, to enter the story, to make it real in us.

In Hanukkah, which was celebrated earlier this month, observant Jews do not merely remember the miracle of the oil that lasted for eight days. They light candles on the menorah and experience the illumination themselves.

There's something about engaging the story with our own flesh -- whether it's lighting the menorah or taking part in a Nativity pageant -- that makes spiritual truth come alive.

(By the way, Hanukkah is not the most significant Jewish holiday. It has been blown up in importance in this country by its proximity to Christmas. As the Judaism 101 site says, "It is bitterly ironic that this holiday, which has its roots in a revolution against assimilation and the suppression of Jewish religion, has become the most assimilated, secular holiday on our calendar." Christians who decry the secularization of Christmas sympathize.)

Do religious rituals or festivals help you to enter the mystery of your faith?


Anonymous said...

I always thought Hanukkah was attributed to a civil war and lights were just a cover story to address the true bloody story of civil war.

Armed Hasmonean priests and their comrades from the rural town of Modi'in attacked urban Jews, priests and laity alike, who supported Greek reform, like the gymnasium and new rules for governing commerce. The Hasmoneans imposed, at sword's edge, traditional observance. After years of protracted warfare, the priests established a Hasmonean state that never ceased fighting Jews who disagreed with its rule.


Nick said...

This is my first Christmas really far away from where I grew up. It does bring new meaning. Do I have "stuff" on my wish list? Yeah. A lot of it is household stuff for my roommate and I though. I'm not as anxious about it as the simple things such as walking into our first stop on Christmas Eve and being tackled by a hug from my Mom as I go in. I'll get to see my family again and the family cat. (If you're a cat owner, you understand.)

I recently wrote on this topic and how Christmas does remind me of wonder now. I read John 1:14 where the Word became flesh and realize that if that is true, and I believe it is, it ought to change everything for me. Sadly, like many today who have had the spell of modernism and familiarity cast, it doesn't always. I hope to recapture more wonder this Christmas.

Danbo020759 said...

Religious rituals and festivals, for me, serve to intensify my faith in that they are opportunities to see large groups of people who share the same values and exhibit the same values that Christ espoused. The power of love (which is Christ) is phenomenal.

It is also a time for great sorrow for me because these rituals and festivals magnify the presence of those who have no faith -- one need only review the blogs to find those who, instead of joining in the discussion of the topic, choose to nitpick and secularize the issues. It's distressing to realize that these people have turned away from God -- you can sense the emptiness within.

There is always a joyful hope, though, that these proud people will one day turn back to God. Maybe they will stop blaming Him for what has happened (or not happened) in their lives and instead embrace Him as a source of great solace, as their Father.

A very Blessed and Holy Christmas to all. For God so loved the world, that in the fullness of time sent His only Son.

Anonymous said...

Danboo, "It's distressing to realize that these people have turned away from God -- you can sense the emptiness within."

We didn't turn away from God. One could only do that if we ever believed in invisible sky daddies. Emptiness? Why? Just because you don't see why one would live w/o God there is no reason why so many others (there is close to billion people on this planet that identify itself as non-religious) would need such imaginary friend to fill in emptiness. We don't need gods of the voids to fill in things that are supposedly missing. We have real friends and family that makes the difference.

We attribute the seasons to the right reason (tilt of the axis). We are not the ones to invent the seasonal holidays to "incidentally" co-terminate with pagan holidays or steal ideas from other religions (xmas trees, easter bunny etc...). We are not the ones feeling the need to fill in any void. We are not the ones to explain complexity with greater complexity and then fail to explain it. We didn't invent god of the gaps.


Anonymous said...


You appear to have gone to great lengths to educate yourself in matters of world religion. Why is that? Wouldn't the concept of "sky daddies" be sufficient to back your belief system (of non-believing)?

Danbo020759 said...


Your anger betrays you. But I pray for your enlightenment, nonetheless.