Friday, November 25, 2005

the church year down under

Sometimes the Church Year feels like a Northern Hemisphere colonisation of downunder Christianity. Just like so much other baggage, the missionaries arrived in New Zealand carrying a Spring Easter celebration of new life. But it’s autumn here in Aotearoa New Zealand. Eggs are absent and bulbs are dormant.

And how to celebrate Christmas light into darkness when summer days are long and all you want is a cold drink rather than a warm candle. Yet imperialistically the coloniser swept on. I mean, what would happen on a UK Anglican synod floor if it was suggested that given Downunder has lived according to Northern Hemisphere church year rules for 200 years, that Easter will now be in August until 2205.

Last week here at Opawa we celebrated the end of the church year. In a matter of weeks the Southern Hemisphere is heading into holidays and it actually makes a lot of sense, come late November to look back over a year. We turned the entire church into a walk through journey featuring all the church ministries and activities. We pulled out the bouncy castle and turned some sausages.

What’s more, at Opawa we have our Annual General Meeting in February. And it actually makes a lot of sense to think and dream, for the Southern Hemispere is heading into a new year, refreshed and ready to go.

In between we have Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. Which has felt this week like a great, big theological pause between church year ending and annual church year beginning. And in this ceasing from activity, there is a reminder that the energy of our church is found and formed in Christ. It is Incarnation and theology and God that will generate momentum and movement, life and resource.

So maybe this Northern Hemisphere liturgical colonisation enforced on the South, might, in the subversive grace of God, be enriching a down-under theology.

Note: some parts of this post are hyperbolic in intent.

Posted by steve at 05:56 PM


  1. I’ve thought for a while noew that we should celebrate Christmas on June 22 – the shortest day. Why? Because I believe God would have chosen the coldest, darkest day to be born on this Earth, after all, he chose to be born in a stable. Essential to his incarnation was that he did it humbly, so it would make sense he chose the shortest day of the year. Even if we didn’t know exactly which day he was born, it would make sense we celebrated his birth on the shortest day; and this is why the Northern Hemisphere chose December 25.

    I don’t know the logistics of Easter – is it celebrated at the same time as the Jewish passover? I know the story is that it replaced a pagan festival and even adopted its name, but did the festivals coincide? If not, surely we should celebrate Easter at the time of passover. I’m not sure whether the timing of passover, or Jesus’ death, finds greater theological meaning in a certain seasonal context, but it would be worth looking at.

    One thing’s for sure, I’d support moving the southern hemisphere celebration of Christmas to June 22 🙂

    Comment by A.J.Chesswas — November 25, 2005 @ 11:33 pm

  2. here in Finland we celebrate midsummer too – definitely of pagan origin – but it’s possible to reclaim that for God too

    God is light – and when His light shines -even the blackest darkness recedes


    be blessed

    wont allow my url
    but anyway I’m over at the heavenly train 🙂

    Comment by Lorna — November 26, 2005 @ 10:43 am

  3. I’ve wondered for a while why it is when I watch Neighbours and they portray Christmas celebrations, there is so much winter-based symbolism. Perhaps you don’t need to change the themes of the dates [though it’s worth thinking about, imho] -25 December could still be Nativity- just the seasonal and climatic references and reflections. the Nativity date is probably a convenient fiction in origin [though there is an argument for it being about right, there are also contenders for Jesus having been born in September -at Rosh HaShanah- or in the spring at Pesach or Shavuot] so making new connections would be interesting. To add a further consideration to AJ Chesswass’s thoughts; Jesus being born at a time of [for many Aussies, I suspect] drought and oppressive heat would seem just as appropriate to develop symbolically as the darkness motif, perhaps? There’s certainly more biblical imagery to draw on [try checking out winter imagery sometime].

    There is arguably a value in Christians keeping the same Kalendar but it being enriched by interillumination with local conditions.

    Comment by Andii Bowsher — November 27, 2005 @ 12:21 am

  4. Ummm… (reply to Andii)… we do ditch the snow downunder – in church anyhow, even if it still sprinkles our shopping malls and santa’s hot suit.

    we have contextualised christmas to the summer situation, but it would still be nice sometimes to be able to more fully enter into the light into dark aspects.

    part of the problem is the sheer busy-ness factor. It would be nice to have the “end ofs” separated from the christmas things.

    So christmas time for us is end of school year, exams, breakups, more breakups, preparing for christmas (practically and spiritually) and preparing to get away for summer holidays.

    tis the season to be busy!

    Comment by lynne — November 27, 2005 @ 5:08 pm

  5. Interesting thoughts.
    We tried to celebrate Christmas yesterday on our tertiary campus. Cooking up a BBQ in kiwi fashion didn’t fit with the dreary cold day. Neither did singing reindeer & snow featured Christmas carols. People requested the awe inspiring carols of stars and saviour born (light of hope amidst dark & cold). These would fit better with mid-winter, and the bleakness of mid year student blues. June 22nd would be in the peak of assignment scrambles and overwhelming course blues. Any comments on linking Christmas hope to such a context?

    Comment by Helen Spencer — November 29, 2005 @ 11:17 am

  6. In my work as Community celebrant for the Presbyterian Church, I am constantly looking for ways to have spiritual ceremonies which reflect the seasons of the Southern hemisphere. The key is to tie the spiritual message in with the time of the year I must say I have left Christmas alone because there is enough going on then , but I have done several ceremonies and reflections based around Matariki and Midwinter. A useful resource is Celebrating the Southern Seasons, by Juliet Batten
    The christian celebrations were quite deliberately located to coincide with pagan festivals because they emphasise the message So Easter, rebirth, resurrection, takes place in spring. Christmas takes place at midwinter the return of the light the king born of a virgin mother.We have become separated from our ties to the natural rythms of life. So if you want to celbrate in tune with nature take an underlying theme(rest and reflection over new year-looking back) or the promise of the return of the light in midwinter

    Comment by Nicky jenkins — December 5, 2005 @ 2:57 pm

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