Tag Archives: beliefs

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?

Festivals and More . . .

Presently, I am taking a little R&R in the USA with family and friends.  Since December arrives next week and Thanksgiving was last week, many places, including homes, are decorating for the Christmas season.

As I look around at the decorations, I wonder where did some of the decorations come.  I also see rituals that seem new and different to the original Christmas event.  Even our own family when we celebrate Christmas have a few added rituals as seen in the photo to the right.  For many people, these new and different rituals are a natural part of their celebrated Christmas festival.  In fact, many do not even realize that such rituals were not a part of the original Christmas event.

It is strange how celebrated festivals often become filled with other rituals that have nothing to do with the reason why the festival originally began.  These added cultural rituals often add new and different meanings.   In addition, they may even take away from the original meaning so that it fades into the background.  In a real sense, we can say there are “festivals and more . . .”

Christmas TreeA few extras this Christmas season might include Santa Claus, parades, certain foods, or Christmas trees.  However, none of these should take the place of the real meaning of the festival that we call Christmas.  That meaning being Immanuel, God with Us.

We might ask ourselves, “why do people add new and different rituals to festivals?”  Maybe it is because the celebrated festival is not a part of the person’s heritage.  Or,  it is because the celebrated festival lacks relevance.  I am uncertain why.  Why do you think people add new and different rituals to festivals?