Today in class my students and I discussed the importance of traditions. We all agreed that they help a country keep its identity and cohesion giving its citizens people a sense of balance. When we learn a language, it’s important to learn the culture and of course the traditions which belong to a certain country which are the manifestations of this culture. This understand helps us to communicate and understand each other better. Of course being American I feel that Christmas traditions are no less a vital part of this holiday season than in any other country. But some of them are being thwarted by the eternal debate around the Constitutional separation of Church and State.
As the number of “declared” religions and the secular groups that belong to these churches has multiplied since my childhood not to speak of the pressure from atheist groups, it’s becoming more and more complicated to publicly celebrate the cherished rituals of Christmas the pinnacle event of Christians the world over. The question I’m asking myself is…how important are traditions? Do atheists have a point when they say that we need to apply the constitutional dictates of separation of church and State? It seems that in the United States the line between religion and government is a little more confused than in some other western countries. We still include “God” in our Pledge of allegiance…we still end every political speech with “God Bless America” and Christian crosses line every cemetery whether it be military or civilian the country over. Mmmm…I remember when I was growing up in California the activities we participated in in my home town:
Have they all disappeared? Well fortunately not… most of our Christmas traditions have survived and are living on but some are in danger especially those which are perhaps more religiously oriented. In Santa Monica, California some people have rebelled after being refused permission to mount the annual Nativity scene in the local park which has been a local tradition for the past 60 years. Here’s the way they reacted: Churches Thwart Nativity Ban By Putting Up Living Displays In Santa Monica Watch the video – Yahoo! News
Here are some reactions from the locals:
- “I’m atheist, and I see no problem with this. Let people enjoy their holiday without harassment. Jeez, life is hard enough.”
- “The Separation of Church and State was meant to go both ways, The Government is not to be ruled by the church, but nor are they supposed to infringe on the the Practice of Religion.”
- “Something tells me atheists are likely to never complain about getting the day off on Christmas.”
- “Although I am a strong supporter of church and state I applaud the religious groups innovative solution to the issue. It seems that their response is even more beneficial to both the church and the state by havng personal and personnel commitment to the depiction. Other groups, religious or not I assume are able to do the same kind of public presentation. As long as there is respectful interaction between groups both get to send their message and strengthen community involvement…a Solomon’s answer if I can interject a third perspective.The first amendment (to the US Constitution) “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, OR PROHIBITING THE FREE EXERCISE THEREOF; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances…”
- “lol. How appropriate that the city is named after Saint Monica, too!”
A living Nativity scene? How will the atheists act now? The debate goes on.
All of this reminds me of a song sung by the American actor Zero Mostel from the American musical Fiddler On The Roof released in 1964 by Jerry Bock about the importance of traditions (here we speak about the Jewish traditions of a family living in Tsarist Russia: the father, the mother and five daughters. The father, who is a devout Jew, believes in tradition as a way of keeping his family and community together despite the outside influences threatening the stability of his universe):
What do you think? While we ponder all of these hot debates, let’s not let it ruin our joy of celebrating the festivities which come with Christmas, or Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa…or Ramadan…I think we all agree that “Merry Christmas” can be said to anyone. It only symbolizes the love of humanity and what we can offer each other. The external artifices are only symbols of this undying faith in humanity whatever our philosophy may be.
So Merry Christmas to all!