Editorial: All can share in this festival of Christianity


People take pleasure in cross-cultural experiences, especially immigrants who will see Christmas as an endearing feature of their adopted homeland

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

A clergyman writing of Christmas this week posed the question: is it a Christian festival or can anyone join in? The answer is easy. It is most certainly a Christian festival and anyone can join in.

Not only can anyone join in, just about everyone does. All over the world tomorrow people of many different religious traditions will be exchanging gifts, sharing a feast and wishing each other well.

They will do so in the knowledge that Christianity has made Christmas universal. The date may coincide with a holy day in other traditions and incorporate pre-Christian symbols of the winter solstice and hopes of spring, but as another clergyman wrote in the Herald yesterday, "When did anyone here last light a yule log?"

It is the Christian account of the birth of Jesus that has captured the imagination of every generation for nearly 2000 years.

Christ's values of tolerance and inclusion need not be taken so far as to deny or downplay the origins of this remarkable day. Others are not offended or oppressed by the fact that it is Christian, people take pleasure in cross-cultural experiences, perhaps none more so than migrants.

The sights, sounds and symbols of Christmas will be among the most familiar and endearing features of their adopted country.

The pageantry of the season owes a great deal to commerce but that, too, can be overstated. If commerce alone was sustaining Christmas it would have no more grandeur than Mothers Day.

Commerce capitalises on the urge to give and celebrate for the simple joy of Christmas.

Not many of us celebrating in New Zealand tomorrow are practising Christians and probably would not give ourselves any religions identity. But in our attitudes, values, manners and moral and cultural references
we are more Christian than we realise.

It came as a surprise to everyone in the West, soon after the dawn of the new millennium, that religion still has political force in the Islamic world.

At the 10th anniversary of 9/11 this year vengeance had been taken on Osama bin Laden and his network of terror had long ago been disabled. But they were just an extreme perversion of a religious identity that is now demanding the right to be expressed at the ballot box.

Elections all over the Middle East, most recently in Egypt, have parties with a religious character. The Arab Spring, rightly celebrated in the West as it spread this year, is unlikely to produce the secular liberal democracies possibly desired by those who took the lead in overthrowing secular dictators.

The truth is, secular is a Western concept, derived from the Christian idea of separation of church and state inspired by Christ's injunction, "Render to caesar the things that are caesar's and to God the things that are God's." Westerners, that is to say "Christians", have absorbed this idea so deeply over 20 centuries that it is taken for granted.

But its merits might not be obvious to a culture that makes no distinction between religion and government. The emergence of Islamic democracies, and the West's response to them, may require a new respect for religion in the West as well.

Respect for Christianity should come easily at this time of year. Its boundless good will is transmitted in that simple wish we offer all our readers today. Happy Christmas.

- NZ Herald

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