A Solution to Nativity Scene Battles

Giorgio Barbarelli da Castelfranco, “Adoration of the Shepherds”


’Tis the season to be political. Fox’s Bill O’Reilly is once again decrying the “war on Christmas” and battles over nativity scenes are once again breaking out across the land. Last year there was furor over a scene placed in front of a courthouse in Henderson County, Texas. This year a lawsuit has been filed in Santa Monica, California.

This poem by my father gives us a different take on these nativity scenes. It takes as its basis the fact that Christianity, like all religions, is syncretistic—which is to say, it is an amalgamation of rituals and symbols, some articulated by inspired individuals (Jesus and his followers), some taken from earlier religions.  Another way of putting this is that every religion is a symbol system that human beings employ to come as near as they can to the (ultimately unknowable) mind of God.The universe will always have mysteries that we cannot penetrate, and humans use whatever materials—whatever symbols—are at hand to do what they can.

Devout followers may deny the affinities between the crucifixion of Jesus and the dismemberment of the Egyptian god Horus or overlook the fact that Jesus was probably not born in December, the time of the winter solstice and the Roman feast of Saturnalia. After all, they like to believe their religious symbols are “pure.” Examined carefully, however, Christmas proves to be more inclusive than they think.

Christmas at the Courthouse

By Scott Bates

The wise-men are Egyptian,
The virgin birth, Antique;
The evergreen is Roman
The manger scene is Greek;

T’is the Saturnalian Season
When solar gifts are cool,
So Happy Birthday, Horus!
From our Multiculture School.

If rightwing evangelicals embraced such an open version of the Christmas story, maybe we wouldn’t be having all these battles. Then again, maybe they want people of other faiths to feel excluded.

Fa la la la la.

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

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