What can the Skeleton Warriors of Papua New Guinea teach us about Christmas.
I didn't expect to be blown away by the sheer beauty of a people that paint themselves as skeletons, but it happened.
What is it about these men that took my breath away?
They embrace life. To paint your body with the visage of death reminds us of the precious and fleeting nature of life. More than that, their willingness to play with their traditional art form. This is a quality we have lost in the us vs them culture we adopted over the last several decades.
This is most evident this time of year with some people's reaction to Christmas.
Culture, tradition, and religion
It is undeniable that Christmas has a special significance to Christians, but it is also an American cultural institution. Movies like Elf, The Santa Clause, and Miracle on 34th Street, not to mention Rudolf, the Night Before Christmas, and A Christmas Carol, all provide secular images that have become cultural fixtures over the years. Don't even get me started with How the Grinch stole Christmas.
My point being, while, yes, there are some cultural institutions that should be abandoned in the name of inclusion and diversity, we as a culture need to learn to play with the images we have inherited, rather than reject them all blindly.
We have lost too much of our culture to hostile copyright laws to trash what little of the public domain we have left.
If a cultural image bothers you, ask what about it is so troubling. Is it something inherent in the image, or is it baggage you are carrying with you.
There is too much either/or thinking.
Santa Claus can be both a Christian reminder of St Nicolas of Myra, and a secular figure who sells Coca-cola. He doesn't have to be one or the other.
If we don't learn how to reconcile the contradictions facing us in these images, we will never be able to cope with more fundamental ones like how all life is sustained by death. Hydrogen must die to give light to the plants. Plants and animals must die to sustain our lives. We ignore these issues by telling ourselves that plants can't feel or think, but they still have to die.
Truth often presents itself through paradoxes. The sooner we get comfortable with that, the sooner we will start to find peace in our hearts.
Play with your culture
If we don't play with the images we have inherited, they will go away, and if we don't make new ones, we will follow soon after. We like to think that we are rational creatures, but we are also emotional ones. Logic speaks to our reason, but images speak to our emotions. For too long, we have abandoned our emotional natures to fend for themselves, gleaning what little nourishment they can from pop culture.
We are the agents of our culture. It doesn't belong to us. It has only been entrusted to us until we leave it to the generations after. Leave it better than it was when it was handed down to you. Don't short circuit the culture out of some short sighted need to react to the past rather than create the future.