Different things make people in or from different parts of the world nostalgic, whether at Christmas time or at others. Today my wife was making sarmale (stuffed cabbage) with pickled cabbage leaves. It made her feel Christmasy, but the aroma did not have the same effect on our son.
I also remember a group of German students singing a song one Christmas during my student days. It was to the tune of “Judas Maccabeus” by G. F. Händel. At the end they said they were sure that the English speakers felt strange hearing that melody at Christmas, associating the tune with the hymn “Thine Be The Glory.” “But,” the German students said, “now you know how we feel at Easter.”
Repetition affects memory, and this is one reason why religions have always used annual and other repeated festivals to communicate religious beliefs, practices and values. And it is a reason why you don’t necessarily have to be religious to find yourself getting in the ‘Christmas spirit.’
And so it seems that there may be psychological aspects of holiday celebrations that we can all agree on – even though an awareness of the usefulness of holidays for reinforcing ideologies may make some people or the more eager to fight to have their own message hitched to the reinforcing repetition. But an alternative approach would be to focus on the element of nostalgia and embrace it for its own sake. Instead of debating the historicity of the birth and infancy stories in the Gospels (you can find some of my thoughts on that subject online here and here), why not focus instead on the making of happy memories? Do we really need to debate the rationality of lighting candles, or on the other side of the spectrum whether they are “Biblical,” when we can find the atmosphere they create “magical” without having to believe in magic literally?
As the world becomes a smaller place, we will more and more often find ourselves coming across other traditions and customs which are full of nostalgia for others, but not for us. Sometimes life leads those latecomers to our Christmas experience to become full of nostalgia for us. In other cases not – but we may still be able to appreciate them.
With that in mind, here is a Christmas image that does nothing for me personally nostalgia-wise. But I offer it to my friends down under and in more southern parts of this hemisphere, as a token of goodwill for the holidays.