I think that Christmas is the holiday, based on Biblical events, that is most influenced by layers of human traditions.
The original story is surrounded by simplicity, even poverty. A child being born in a backyard and put into a makeshift cradle. The first visitors to congratulate were people doing the simplest job, Shepherds.
From this, with its many theological layers, it has developed into what we have now. A mixture of silly songs and wonderful hymns and an overflow of food as well as simple meals where homeless share equally. Not to forget the power of commercial pressure alongside simple joys.
In my native Sweden, this season seems to be a mixture of old folklore, European Christian traditions and American popular culture. Our “Father Christmas” is not S:t Nicolaus but “tomten”. He was the little man around the house you should keep well with so he didn’t cause you mischief. Our Christmas food is a lot of everything because in the old times the household pig was slaughtered and for once there was plenty.
But now the traditional 7am morning Christmas Day church service is often exchanged with a late evening worship on the 24th. And people have hardly opened their presents when shops starts their New Year’s Sale on Boxing Day.
The Christmas season starts at the first of Advent when we light the first candle and continue with one more each Sunday. We put the Advent star in windows, leading the way to Bethlehem, as it were. Since Winter in Sweden is a time with few hours of daylight we love lighting candles. It fits well into the Christmas message of Jesus arriving as the Light of the World. On that theme, we also celebrate the day of Lucia, the Queen of lights, on 13th December. A tradition that started as late as the 1920’s.
As Europe become more diverse I cannot rely on society in general to shape my traditions. Christmas is a time when I make a choice of how I celebrate. The heart of everything is joy in the miracle of God being born a human. Then it is about sharing that joy with family, friends and strangers as it is fit. May you have a “God Jul”.
This has been published in Das Heilsarmee Magazin.