The Transplanted Christmas Tree
There cannot be Christmas without children. On Dec 25, you will truly appreciate this paraphrase: "The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to children."
On this day, children all over the world turn color blind to appreciate the pastel-perfect joys of Santa Claus and his reindeers, Yule logs burning by the fireplace, sylvan snow-topped cabins with their smoky chimneys, and ornamented Christmas trees with presents piled up. There may be Christmas carol sorties into your home, bringing much mirth and the familiar Ho! Ho! Ho!
Never had such a transplanted festival create a sense of oneness among children. Take away Christmas and you take away a seasonal joy entitled to them. It is so innately appealing to children that they universally provide the finest celebratory squeals in honor of the most famous birth ever recorded -- and contested -- in history.
Wherever there is a Santa, a Christmas tree or carols sung, few adult killjoys dare reprimand children that none of the scenes and lilts of nativity are well, native.
Christmas traditions had drifted to much of the world on crests of colonial waves. The sinews of raw power may be flexed to determine new rulers, codicils, industries and taxations but in its veins flow a more permanent infusion of culture, languages and traditions. Take away some newer traditions and you will be up against an army of children. Or, adults for that matter.
If you are one to ponder over alien semiotics and cultural subversion as some philosophers do, listen to the lyrics of the Spanish-English carol Donde Esta Santa Claus. When the tempo nears its apogee, hark ye the Ole! Ole! Ole! There is nothing Christian in this. In fact, even today, few Spaniards -- frenzied football and matador fans alike -- realize that the trademark Iberian rally cry literally invoke (the intervention of) Allah! Allah! Allah! It is tradition that goes back a millennium to the Moorish Caliphates of Spain.
Traditions are our heritage.
Christmas may come in nuanced forms, but the one which universally prevailed is the Germanic variant. If you have a plastic Christmas tree bedecked with lights and decorations, play a soft O' Tannenbaum (O' Fir Tree) to enliven the atmosphere. The song is better known as O' Christmas Tree in another German tongue -- English. Even the Vienna Choir Boys, purveyors of the finest caroling traditions, switch between both languages to stamp the Teutonic nature of a universal Christmas.
And touching on Vienna, the city lies on a cultural fault line that has a bearing on Christmas. It was here that the great Austrian statesman Klemens von Metternich made a startling observation: Asia begins at the Landstrasse (a street in Vienna).
He was right.
Move eastwards and Dec 25 is postponed by the stubborn chronometry of the Julian calendar to Jan 6 or 7. This is the day when much of Orthodox Christianity celebrates Christmas, from Belgrade to Athens to Moscow to Istanbul. Only in a non-Christian Jerusalem can there be three Christmases celebrated by legacy custodians -- on Dec 25, Jan 6 and Jan 7.
The failure to celebrate Christmas together is no mere calendrical curio; it is a truncated event that that symbolizes a splintered Christendom. Croatians and Serbs may share a common tongue and may have intermarried beyond overt differentiation, but they remain age-old nemeses.
It gets deeper. Despite their common European heritage, Americans and Russians display a mutual suspicion that is so primeval, and so ingrained that it could not have sprung from 80 years of Bolshevism. (They are both market capitalists today).
It is primeval allright, dating back to 1054AD when the Eastern Church balked at the ecclesiastical demands of Roman Catholicism. The split was venomous and even today, long after the subsequent protestant and charismatic revolutions within the Church, ingrained prejudices remain colored by the Roman lens.
This event led to centuries of biased theological scholarship and a subsequent obscuring of Dec 25.