What Rituals . . .

It’s that time again!  To name a few, it’s time to gather around the decorated Christmas tree, unwrap Christmas presents, and to eat that big turkey and all the sweets, especially pumpkin pie with lots of whipped cream.  I love the many rituals associated with the Christmas season, or at least I love the eating ritual.

Rituals are acts done in accordance with specific social customs that have become normal protocol for specific festivals.  Moreover, rituals are clothed in symbols.  Symbols are objects, acts, events, a quality, or relation that serves as a vehicle for conception – the vehicle is the form, and the conception the symbol’s meaning (Langer 1960).   That is, symbols are something tangible, being a formulation of a notion, or belief (Geertz 1973: 91).

In brief, symbols are something that stand for something else.   Paul Tillich states,

This is the great function of symbols: to point beyond themselves, in the power of that which they point, to open up levels of reality which otherwise are closed, and to open up levels of the human mind of which we otherwise are not aware (1956:107).

With the above in mind, the rituals of decorating, unwrapping, and eating are clothed in symbols of Christmas trees, presents, turkey. and pumpkin pies.  Many of these rituals with their associated symbols have nothing to do with the origin of the historical story of Jesus.  In fact, most have been added in time.   Nevertheless, the rituals and symbols give meaning to the Christmas festival itself.

This is often the case.  No matter the festival, people add rituals with associated symbols that have nothing to do with the origin of the festival.  Nevertheless, people find meaning in these rituals and symbols that commemorate certain aspects of the original event or story. 

The question is whether those who celebrate the Christmas festival will perform rituals with their associated symbols that remind them of the historical event of God coming to live among them, Immanuel?  Even more important, will they even know the original historical event and why they are celebrating Christmas with its many trimmings of Christmas trees, presents, turkeys, and pumpkin pies?

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