Neil's comments about teaching "Christmas Traditions Around the World" were originally posted in Rotation.org's old "Psalm 13 Lounge" where Rotation friends used to share their frustrations and consolations. As you can see, they touched a nerve. We later moved this discussion into our Birth of Jesus forum as a resource and collection of ideas.
Though this discussion started many years ago, you are welcome to post your thoughts. Over the years, various "for sale" Rotation curriculums have included "Christmas Around the World" units. Rotation.org even used to have some, ...but they eventually fell by the wayside during various edits of our site.
"Putting the Birth of Jesus back at the center of our Advent teaching"
Over the years, various churches and curriculum publishers have created "Christmas Around the World" -style lessons, either in traditional or Rotation format. These lessons can be summed up by the phrase, "How do children in Sweden celebrate Christmas?" Similarly, publishers will offer or churches will ask for lessons about "The Friendly Beasts" at the birth of Jesus.
I get it. Some churches get bored and look for attractive creative "themes" for their Advent Sunday Schools. So they get attracted to making Knack and Swedish meatballs and making Pepparkakor (ginger snaps, woohoo!),
The problem is, Christmas is not about traditions. It's about the Birth of Jesus, the Coming of the Messiah, why, how, who for. What we need to do is GET CREATIVE about TEACHING that story, not how they eat pumpkin and walnut pie in Albania, or why Danes roast chestnuts, or a better way to make marshmallow mangers).
Similarly, "The Friendly Beasts" are not part of the Christmas story. They are completely cute, but completely peripheral. The humble setting in to which Christ was born IS theologically relevant. I know, I know, kids love animals. But this is Sunday School, not public school. (Forty years of dumbing down Advent hasn't worked.)
[I do love some of the creative ideas that have camels and sheep teaching about Jesus, but some of the "beast" resources settle for "cute" and the food lessons settle for making a tangential connection to Jesus. The kids remember the craft and not the content. At its core, Rotation is a reaction against "settling." Creative ideas are not our goal, they are our starting place. You can see creativity PROPERLY applied in our Writing Team Advent lesson sets.]
No, I'm not part of the "Keep Christ in Christmas" faction that wants to re-insert religion into a growing secular society. I want to keep the FOCUS ON CHRIST in our Sunday Schools --and do so creatively.
A Proposed Test:
If your Sunday School kids can tell you the Christmas story from Matt and Luke, and know a little of John 1, and understand the basic meaning of it for their lives, then it is ok to do a rotation on "Christmas around the world" and "the friendly beasts." Until then, I suggest churches stick to creatively focusing on the Bible's story, and not the sentimental traditions from a bygone (and perhaps "never was") era.
Looking forward to someone who can set me straight.
P.S. Came across this disturbing "gingerbread Jesus" which kind of says what I'm trying to say. Great discussion starter, don't you think?