The border between religion and culture at Christmas time in Scandinavia

The border between religion and culture at Christmas time in Scandinavia


Cultural heritage in the Nordic
countries is often seen as being bound up with a Lutheran tradition. It’d be
good to explore some of that: What does ‘cultural’ mean in ‘cultural
heritage’ usually? Part of our project is to explore how people
understand culture and also how culturalisation has become part of the
discussion about citizenship. Previously, citizenship was something
that you got when you became a citizen in a country, for instance. We see a tendency that citizenship has been intertwined more
with culture, and that people have to – new citizens, immigrants – have to perform
their citizenship more than before, and also to embrace part of the culture
in the place where they have become citizens and so it’s to prove to
prove how they are proper citizens in a way. And some scholars refer to this
as ‘feeling rules’, how there are expected rules – feelings – that you have to
to show in order to be recognised as a citizen, and in our project, we
explore Christmas in particular and Christmas is a time of the year
with a lot of feelings attached to it, and we’d like to see how what kind
of feelings children are expected to have and particularly immigrant children
are expected to have related to Christmas, and also what kind of
feelings are expected from and in TV programmes,
and in activities produced by the broadcasting in Norway and Denmark related
to Christmas. It’s is to operationalise culture quite
concretely and to see how it’s connected to two large discourses on citizenships
and how culture and religion are intertwined, and how new citizens are
expected to have some kind of – or are they expected to have some kind of
feelings towards Christmas? Do they have to embrace Christmas in
particular ways in schools? And what is expected from them implicitly
from TV programmes produced this part of the year. What is heritage? How can we
define it? Heritage is also a very fussy and
elusive concept in this big concept of Christian cultural heritage, and the
particular situation in the Nordic countries are that these institutions,
they are obliged formally to transmit Christian cultural heritage to
the world public and our interest is to see how do they do that? Many people use
the concept ‘heritage’ in discussions, in different kinds of discourses, but these
institution institutions they have to do something about it at least once a year, and that’s in Christmas. But also we are also of course interested in how
heritage has been used and developed in scholarly discussions and debates, and here
heritage and also heritagisation (as the concept is used) means to set things
apart, sacralise some elements, activities and to give them a special
place they are not used all the time, they are fixed and they return
at certain points throughout the year. And they can have a
religious root, a Christian root, but they can also have more secular roots. For instance, in the Nordics, we have these Disney shows that people
expect before Christmas in order to have a proper Christmas. When the TV
channels try to remove particular TV programmes from their agenda, they are and
still even if TV production has changed enormously, people still complain very
intensively when their heritage when that heritage programmes are removed,
so heritage comes in different forms and heritage can be both religious and
secular rooted, but the heritage and the heritagisation is
when something becomes a more fixed kind of a museum: you like it to be as it has been, and some scholars talk about ‘museumification’ when certain
things or activities get this heritage quality is cultural heritage. Is cultural heritage in Denmark and Norway only Christian. What does the ‘Christian’ bit in Christian cultural
heritage mean? That’s also something that we’d like to explore, we’ll explore
it empirically, and we don’t have all the answers on that yet, but this project, it is a new project, but we have done some some preliminary and a
pilot study showing that where people or where, for instance, headmasters
draw the line between Christian and culture,
so for instance things associated with a lived Christian practice. If the church suggests new songs, for instance, into the service with the school
and these new songs are associated with something too Christian, some things
get too Christian, then they refuse to use them, so it has been inside the canon, not
articulated, but you can see it when they transgress it, then these things are too Christian for us, they say, because it’s too evangelical, it’s not part of culture so then to see how the lines are drawn, the borders, how they are negotiated, and for instance in
in Norway it’s allowed, they decorate the Christmas tree in schools, but pupils are not
allowed to walk around it and sing songs around it, it’s not something that the
school initiates, but in Denmark for instance to walk to sing songs
going around the Christmas tree is something that they consider culture and
not Christian, so they can sing hymns in schools around the tree but
they don’t do that, at least in the school where we interviewed the headmaster,
in a multicultural school, so there are differences in how the Christian and
their Christian culture is defined, also in Norway and Denmark. Far from
being something fixed and understood then Christian cultural heritage is rather
fluid? It’s fluid and it’s elusive, but it
also has fixation points, but it’s interesting to see how the fixation
breaks up and how new fixation points are established and we also look at
how new kinds of heritage are developed and formed, so-called
‘heritage formation’ and schools in Norway for instance they are not allowed
to have the traditional school service the last week before Christmas because
every activity before Christmas should gather all pupils, and then they
have to develop, to create new traditions, new culture, new heritage, and
we are very interested in looking at what do they do then? Some headmasters have told us about outings that they do in the forest for instance,
walking in parades into the forest, singing songs, some of them part
of the canon used traditionally in the church, but now in another space,
another place where they sing and they walk with lights in their
hands into the forest into a big bonfire in an open space which is also
recognisable from other other traditions in the Nordic Norse tradition, and they
pick up these different bits and pieces, putting them together and
making a new ritual, a new heritage that can gather all pupils across both
religious and cultural divides, so it’s a heritage formation and one of the
essential things about heritage formation is to have enough continuity
and also to be a credible activity, a practice for the
people participating in it, so they build – building a new
heritage is extremely complex but for instance these outings into the forest,
they resonate well and they are very well approved by both pupils
and parents and across religion and that brings me to my
next and final question, which is why is it important for society to be aware of
these processes and some of the trends and forces that you’ve mentioned today?
It’s very unresearched, very few scholars have looked into this before, and to look at the inbetweens, to look at the places that we look into they are
quite fussy, unregulated places versus their schools and to see how, why they
are important for the schools, for the pupils, for the community, for the how
they build community in a contemporary society, and how they do other
things than teaching the subjects, but also how they build community
locally, and how they do that with tools coming from different sources. The old
answers, the old solutions are to some extent being still done, but they are to
look into the new developments as well and to see how both school and TV public
broadcasting are actors in transmitting what culture and
what cultural heritage and also Christian cultural heritage is to
this broad public is important in order to understand contemporary society.

Author: Kennedi Daugherty

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