Dec 5, 2015

Christmas spirits

I have always associated liberal western democracies with a clear separation of church and state, like the US, so I am often surprised in Germany. For reference, about 30% identity as Evangelical, 29% Catholic, and 33% do not identity with any religion. For a country where fully a third is unaffiliated, religion and state remain much more closely twinned than in the (obstensibly) more relgious US.

There are religious taxes- tithes- that you basically have to opt-out of when you start a new job. The whole system in Germany is basically an opt-out rather an opt-in system.

In the German school system, you are required to take one of three faith based classes: Catholic, Evangelical, or Ethics. Since there is no longer a Jewish population, Judaism is not offered. Nor, as some Persian classmates pointed out, is Islam, whose adherents make up 5% of the German population. Our [German] teacher got a little defensive about this pointing out that they don't teach Christianity in Iranian schools either. He suggested that for parents wishing to have their kids take classes in Islam, that there are private Turkish schools.  This kind of sounds like a bad idea to me, since I believe that separation fosters alienation and mistrust, but I guess it's worked so far in Germany.

Another interesting point is the Christmas events around town. Christmas market is in full swing. There is a manger scene under a massive Christmas tree in the middle of the square, but apart from that there is little overt Christian symbolim. Most of the market is devoted to being a festive market with lots of food, wine, and things for sale. There is tons of decoration, tons of fresh pine boughs, not so many manger scenes, wise men, or Christmas stars.

The city hall was turned into a massive Advents calendar, countng down the days to Christmas in the windows. Advents calendars originated with the German Lutherens, and while today many are quite secular (in fact, I have two), the origin is very religious and associated with the daily devotionals of Advent. Would a city hall in the US do the same? Or would it simply self-censor to avoid even the potential of litigiously aggressive non-Christians?

Speaking of Advents calenders, the first one was a marketing element from a metal medical cabinet manufactuer, just filled with cheap chocolate. The second was a sweet gift from Saori filled with really good coffee. So we have been enjoying the coffee this lovely saturday morning.

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