Tuesday, December 23

What Spirit?

I´m not religious. I believe, just not in the panderings of organised religion. So when Christmas comes, there also comes the inevitable `what is this about?` thoughts.

It was easier when I was alone. Christmas was a time to eat, drink and be merry with my friends. Go out. Treat myself. Buy special little things I wouldn´t buy usually. Meet up with people I wouldn´t see often. Have fun and be indulgent.

But with children it is different. We have tried to think about and plan what is best for the children on many things. My husband and I gave up smoking when our children came. We made decisions about bringing up children bi-lingually and researched the best way to go about doing this. Christmas was another decision we had to make.

One of the good things about living in Austria is that Christmas is celebrated as the birth of Jesus. Living in a Catholic country, the Catholic version is the dominating force. Christmas is more a religious celebration rather than a focus on `getting`and `presents`.

Christmas starts in the beginning of December where people meet at Christmas Markets to warm themselves with mulled wine and cider and punch. Families bake cookies together to give as gifts as well as for when friends and family visit in the leadup to Christmas.

The 24th of December is a family day. This year we will go to the zoo in the morning as a family with friends. We will come back to find that the Christkind has visited and has decorated the tree and placed presents underneath. The children do not run straight to the presents, but sit around the Advent Wreath and sing carols about the birth of Jesus and Christmas. Then we eat together as a family. Usually sausages and sauerkraut. Then the candles get lit on the tree, symbolising the light that lead the three wise men, and we sing some more. Just one present usually. Then the children go to bed while the parents go to Midnight mass. Afterwards the village meets and greets each other outside of the church with some punch and cookies and wish each other Merry Christmas. People may hang Santa all over their house. But Christmas is something else.

I love Christmas here. I love that the focus is on the rituals and the religion and not on the presents. I love that children are being socialised to think about the giving, like the presents that were given to Jesus. I love the sense of family and community that is created throught this Christmas celebration. I love that the children understand ritual and sense of purpose actions. That the children are participating in something that has been celebrated in the same way for hundreds of years.

I get a bit frustrated that there seems to be only one religion here in Austria. It doesn´t seem to acknowledge that a large proportion of the population are Muslims and a handful are other religions. Muslim children are taken to the Catholic church by the kindergarten as part of the celebrations. They are taught to sing carols. We made a decision that we will teach our children about different ways that Christmas is celebrated. We will teach our children that other religions do not believe in Jesus and that he was born. Other religions which are just as valid as the Catholic religion.

We decided that Christmas for our family is a celebration of family. Of being together. Of being happy. The gifts are a symbol of these feelings. The tree is part of this togetherness as we all decorate the tree together. Each year we each choose a new decoaration and have memories in our future times together. We celebrate the Christkind on the 24th with our Oma as a symbol of the Austrian community we live in. On the 25th comes Santa which is how our other culture celebrates. But these are only Symbols. Of beliefs. Merry Christmas.


Blue in Green said...

I am sending you this message from a plane. Hope it posts correctly and you can read it. Have a very merry christmas. Hope you will visit st ives sometime next year, when its sunny.

Broni said...

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!

Christmas in Austria sounds wonderful. I am very jealous. I love the whole season of Christmas. From December 1 to Jan 6th ... I love Christmas ... especially since little MB has come into the picture.
I love all of the traditions and rituals .. and the focus on Christmas being more than an event in the commercial/marketing calendar.

I can understand what you are saying in regards to focusing on only one religions traditions and religious acceptance (and celebration) of our differences can only enhance a culture .. however ... what I have found is that as a result in Australia ... we have sort of lost Christmas to the political correctness police. When I was teaching ... I would like to put up decorations in my classroom. So as not to offend anyone of different beliefs I kept them non-religious. You would not believe it. I was lectured to from the political correct police from both sides. First that we should not have any decorations up that celebrate a holiday that is Christian as it might offend people of other religions ... even if it is just Santa and reindeer ... and then I was lectured to from the Christians saying that I shouldn't have non-religious decorations up and that I was demeaning the message of Christmas by not putting up something in reference to Jesus. Don't you think there has to be a way that we can celebrate special religious festivals for all relevant groups within a community within offending anyone ... well that is my hope ..

I agree with you on how your focus Christmas with your family and hope to do similar when MB get's older. .. Christmas should be about family .. love ... peace, goodwill and understanding to everyone ... no matter what they believe.

Thanks for sharing this ... Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

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