Sunday, December 10, 2006

GIFT Challenge: The Christmas Mystery

Christmas is a strange time for an atheist. Of course, it is essentially a Christian religious festival. Or a pagan mid-winter festival if that takes your fancy. But what is Christmas for me, who is neither Christian nor any other religion?

Christmas still registers as important for me, even when it is devoid of religious meaning. This is because Christmas has gone beyond being a purely religious event. I can have a tree with a star on top, sing carols about religious events, give presents and send cards without being a Christian because these practices are part of our shared culture and set of traditions. These traditions are still meaningful because they reflect our history and culture.

But why am I going on about all this? Because I have just read Jostein Gaarder's The Christmas Mystery as part of Carl's GIFT Challenge. I loved Gaarder's novel Sophie's World- it is a post-modern journey through the history of thought and philosophy which ends strongly in favour of rational thinking. Which is why I was surprised to find that The Christmas Mystery is a religious story. In the novel, a young boy in Norway discovers a mysterious Advent calender. Inside each window there is a piece of paper and written on these pieces of paper is the story of a young girl, Elisabet, who journeys through time and across continents to be present at the birth of Jesus. It's a sweet children's story, with a positive message of peace and tolerance. Gaarder includes a modern day mystery to be solved and there is some well-researched information about the spread of Christianity in Europe.

But the overtly religious content turned me off. Of course I asked myself the obvious question, 'What the hell did you expect from a book called The Christmas Mystery??' Hence my ponderings about the meaning of Christmas.

The Christmas Mystery is not for me. Read it to your kids if you want to teach them about the religious meaning of Christmas, but don't bother if, like me, Christmas for you has become about something else altogether.


Brandon said...

I agree that Christmas can be weird for an atheist. I can't relate to the religious aspect of it, so, like you, I give it my own meaning. I don't make a huge deal out of Christmas, but I do enjoy the atmosphere and the traditions--for me, that's what it's about.

I can do without the shopping, though...

Carl V. said...

I agree that Christmas really is a season that can be easily celebrated by anyone. So much of it is about family and caring for our fellow man and giving...things that can and should be important to everyone regardless of religion, etc.

That story you read sounds interesting mostly because the idea of a mysterious advent calendar and time travel could really make a fascinating story.

Glad you've joined in!