Christmas appears to have lost its meaning across the globe in a secularised and a materialistic world. However the Bible hasn’t changed nor the Church. The people have changed over time due to transformation characterised by technology, society and economy leading to an altered reality
Over the years, Information Communication Technology has bombarded people with visual and auditory entertainment which has transformed their outlook. The good old days of sending and receiving greeting cards to friends through snail mail had its own peculiar fulfilling charm. Now people WhatsApp their feelings and thoughts which are transposed into an ephemeral and digital space.
At the click of a mouse, it is possible to scour through shopping websites to order gifts. With this backdrop, a simple pastoral narrative which depicts the birth of Jesus over 2000 years ago at Bethlehem seems anachronistic. Americans like to debate over how appropriate it is to wish their non-Christians colleagues, neighbours and friends “Happy Christmas”. Over time the universal greeting of “Merry Christmas” has been substituted with “Happy Holidays.” There has been a consistent effort to drop the word “Christmas” and substitute it with a secular and cosmetic “Happy Holidays.” Do Americans now believe that to wish non-Christian US citizens, “Merry Christmas” amounts to a non-inclusive act?
Most Christmas carols sung today in the US and elsewhere were written by Jews, obviously these American Jews felt quite inclusive with Christmas. This is a clear example of the growing secularisation and the cultural relativism prevalent today.
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The modern man is no longer ardently attached to a monolithic religious or cultural identity. Therefore Christmas would still be celebrated -- but sans the earlier spiritual fervour. The prophetic words of English novelist Charles Dickens in The Tale of Two Cities can undoubtedly be applied to the post-modern condition of Christmas which is “the best of times and the worst of times… a day wisdom and a day of foolishness, a time of belief and a time of incredulity, a season of light and a season of darkness, a spring of hope and also a winter of despair”.
Today connectivity that the Internet has facilitated acts as the great equaliser. While living in a mix of identities, realities, cultures, gender roles, technologies, economies, geographies and mediascapes, the idea of Christmas is understood differently. The day is not far when such attempts to attach a particular religious significance to any day of the year would wane into insignificance or be rendered totally redundant.
Perhaps a review of values may lead to emergence of different social structures and Christmas would continue to evolve and articulate a certain attitude to life. Christmas festivities would be observed in future. However they may not conform to past rituals but rather adapt to emergent socio-religious requirements.
(Clarence Victor Fernandes is an assistant professor with the Department of Theatre Studies, Christ University,Bangalore. The views expressed are personal)