Other Discussions on Religion

Mexican Xmas


     The Puritans were right: the Christmas message gets lost.  But what is the
Christmas message? There is in Catholic countries one which is almost as
bad as our commerial hucksterism.  Take Mexico.  Gone are the days when
Mexican State and Church fought bitterly. Mexico and the Vatican have
diplomatic relations. The official party, PRI, is using the Church, as
happens in many countries. The Pope is happy to bring lost sheep back into
the fold. After visiting Cuba, the Pope is planning his fourth visit to
Mexico. Mexican TV keeps count:  " (X) days before the coming of the Pope,"
as though he were the Messiah.
      The Pope's visit has many implications for the Unitrd States. The Pope has
issued a Christmas message condemning the globalization of the economy,
i.e. the American economic system. He calls on rich countries to cancel the
debts of poor ones. He has issued a message lamenting the use of force on
Iraq, i.e. American military policy. He constantly condemns birth control
and family planning, thus encouraging Mexicans to have children whom misery
will force to migrate, legally or illegally, to the United States. He
condemns the expulsion of illegal immigrants.  It should be remembered that
the Pope is a nice old man whose academic background is strictly
theological, so that he has no idea of modern approaches to social problems.
      There is, however, another aspect of the Catholic Mexican Christmas.  It
is symbolized by the pinyata, a charming custom introduced into the United
States. Few people who have a Christmas pinyata know its symbolism.  It is
the invention of Franciscan missionaries, who adapted a Mayan,
pre-Christian custom. The pot symbolizes the human body. From the pot
protrude seven points, which symbolize the seven deadly sins. They hurt the
person whom they hit. The person with the stick is blindfolded, symbolizing
blind faith.  (That is curious, since in Catholic symbolism, the blindfold
normally symbolizes the blindness of the pagan.) The stick represents human
willpower. When it breaks the pot, out of the pot pour God's abundant
gifts; the seven points are transformed into the seven virtues.  Remember
that when your children break the pot! And remember the Franciscans.
      Forget the Christmas tree, a pagan symbol which in the United States  has
become a "Christian" symbol.  The Christmas symbol is the nacimiento, the
Nativity scene.  This year again, the Mormon Church (!) in Palo Alto has
put on display its magnificient display of  nativity groups from all over
the world.  That is what Christmas is about: reverence before the miracle
of birth. It is curious that all around the world the Christ story strikes
a deep note. Whether you take the Christ story literally or regard it as a
collecion of pious legends, the struggle of a good man's struggle with a
nasty world, his fortitude, his despair, his defeat and his final triumph
is a story which has echoed throughout the ages and will continue to do so.

Ronald Hilton - 12/21/98

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