Thursday, December 06, 2007

A Fresh View of Christmas

Since Thanksgiving, our family has been introducing our new member to American holiday traditions and customs. Since he is from Japan (and here on exchange) we are finding many things that are absolutely new to him, but are "old hat" to us.

For instance, he's really excited that we will be putting up a Christmas tree, decorating it, and putting presents under it. We all laughed together when he said it would be just like he saw in the movie, Home Alone. Something I'd never thought about because what I saw in that movie that represented Christmas was "normal" to me.

Then we sat down to watch some Christmas specials. One thing he loves is Rudolph-the-Red-Nosed-Reindeer. Watching the show with him was like seeing it all over again for the first time. We've watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Rudolph's Shiny New Year, and have plans for several more specials. Why? Because we realized how much our culture is influenced by things we take for granted but that others can't refer to the same way. The communication gets stunted without those commonalities.

At church tonight, our pastor mentioned that the Book of Revelations has a lot of imagery that the culture from 2,000 years ago would have understood easily. But for us, those icons and analogies have been lost over time. That sounds like a huge concept until you sit beside someone from Japan and explain the Grinch and the cultural traditions that "everybody knows" in the U.S.

The light bulb went off for me. I understood that culturally in America, we have general knowledge and understanding of certain common things. In Japan they have them too. One example is the symbol of paper origami cranes. To our exchange son, these are a common symbol of peace and a memorial to the children/people lost to the devastation from the Atom bomb. But to me, I had no common knowledge of the significance until I read a story called, Sadako and the 1,000 Cranes, that our exchange son's mom sent .

The picture above is of my hubby's mom, Grandma. and the pumpkin pie she made for Thanksgiving. Our exchange son has already put in his request for another pie for Christmas:-D He loved his first pumpkin pie. Yet, this was a common tradition and cultural food for us. Eggnog, Rudolph, and Advent. All these and so many more are completely new, fresh, and fascinating to our young man. Because of his reactions and interest, they all feel new to us again too. What a wonderful benefit to hosting an exchange student! We get to experience Christmas through the youthful eyes of wonder.

Can you imagine us now reading the old culture of Revelations? Can you imagine someone from the first century trying to figure out Mickey Mouse, cars, or computers? They'd be as confused as we are trying to decipher a different culture. Even explaining to someone from another country all the nuances of U.S. culture is a challenge. A joyous one that really makes me think on my feet, but still a challenge. There are a lot of "Why?" questions and I'm so glad for them. I delve deeper to answer.

I guess the most important thing I learned today is that cultural icons, common knowledge, and recognizable events can color our understanding and view of the world. Entire concepts are taught visually and we respond with complete comprehension. In two seconds we watched the Grinch's heart grow from tiny and full of resentment to huge and full of love and generosity. That silly cartoon is now a common reference point in our family.

So why is it sometimes hard to "get" the Bible? Because we don't have the same common references as the people who wrote it. How do we overcome that hurdle? By being open-minded enough to learn about cultures from the past, present, and logically using that knowledge to recognize the analogies and references as we study and learn about the Bible, God, and others. Every little bit we learn builds more bricks in the bridge of communication.

And by the way, I'm asking our exchange son lots of questions too.

Thanks for visiting:-D
Post a Comment