UMC.org recently ran a story about the increasing popularity of the Las Posadas tradition from Mexico in the United States. While this may be a new tradition for many in the United States, I believe it fits with and deserves a place in the American heritage of Christmas as a blending of traditions from all around the world.
Many traditional American images of Christmas come from England (carols, figgy pudding, roast goose, etc.) or at least presume a northern climate (snow, fir trees). But Christmas has long been a global celebration, both in that it is celebrated around the globe and that elements of Christmas tradition are transmitted around the globe.
Wherever it’s celebrated, the Christmas story is about something that happened in Palestine 2,000 years ago. In the last 2,000 years, various countries have added to common Christmas traditions around the world. Germany gave us the practice of Christmas trees. Turkey gave us St. Nicholas, and then the USA turned him into Santa Claus. Bohemia brought us Good King Wenceslaus, and Russia gave us the Nutcracker ballet. Stollen, fruitcake, and various Christmas cookies have spread out from their central and eastern European homes. Lights and gifts are traditions that are indigenous to everywhere, and the tradition of making nativity scenes or other artwork that depicts the Christmas story is a global tradition as well.
Certainly, in Christmas as in other areas of culture, there’s always the tension between preserving indigenous traditions and welcoming new traditions. Will cookies displace puto bumbong in the Philippines, or is there room for both? For Americans, while preserving traditions is important, we would do well to remember that our traditions are always already borrowed and blended. And in that tradition of blending, there’s always room for more.