Christmas symbolism in the sweltering south

I’ve always been fascinated by symbolism.

There’s a kind of poetry to the symbols in our lives, beginning with the obvious and often superficial like a corporate logo, national flag, or coat of arms, but progressively deepening as we learn to speak their language.

We see meaning everywhere in the universe, and symbolic meaning is the most delightful of all.

In his book Spirit of the Liturgy, Benedict XVI wrote about the symbolism of Christmas occurring as it does at the darkest, coldest peak of winter.

Christmas in the Northern Hemisphere symbolises (among other things) the light entering a cold, dark world.

To his immense credit, Pope Benedict went on to wonder what that means for we poor unfortunates in the Southern Hemisphere, for whom Christmas is a time of often intense heat, flies, and cognitive dissonance at wintry traditional carols and accoutrements.

I drew a line at being asked to sing “In the bleak midwinter”, knowing that Christmas is typically in the mid-30s Celsius.

“In the bleak mid-winter / Frosty wind made moan; / Earth stood hard as iron, / Water like a stone;” …sang the choir, sweat pouring from their faces in the sweltering loft, as the congregation dropped like flies.

Benedict demurred at the idea of shifting the Southern calendar to put Christmas in the winter down here, arguing, essentially, that the Northern symbolism is a reflection of the meaning inherent in Christmas, not the other way around.

In short, it’s up to sweaty Southerners to find meaning for themselves.

In theory this shouldn’t be too hard.

We’re all primed for making meaning anyway, and we’re great at finding new meanings as we discover new facts about the world and new perspectives on our place in it.

For example, people used to think that the sun, the moon and all the stars sat in a kind of heavenly dome surrounding the earth. Continue reading

  • Zac Alstin is associate editor of MercatorNet. He blogs at
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