Saturday, December 16, 2006


The New Jersey town I live in had a huge evergreen in the town square. For some reason I’m not aware of it was cut down and replaced with a smaller one. Now there’s a giant electric menorah next to it, put up at the same time the tree was decorated with colored lights.

I get that the idea is equal time for conflicting holidays, but as in the recent Seattle Airport debacle, where a rabbi sued to have menorahs erected next to Xmas trees, the reasoning is fucked, because XMAS TREES ARE NOT RELIGIOUS SYMBOLS!

It would make sense, if it was one of those stable scenes with the manger and all, which are obviously about the birth of Jesus, which the Christmas holiday was mostly about at one time or another.

But the tree? It’s a Germanic tribal thing, originally for the pagan celebration of Yule, and when reintroduced during the 16th Century as a Christmas-holiday-add-on, was preached against as a pagan tradition having nothing to do with Christ’s birth.

The menorah is obviously a religious symbol. The tree isn’t. It doesn’t shout “JESUS” or even “CHRISTIANITY”.

It shouts gifts and lights and childhood memories and family gatherings and all kinds of commercialism and the song “White Christmas” written as many have pointed out by a Jewish songwriter, Irving Berlin.

Would "I’m dreaming of white Honnakuh" have been more successful or relevant or meaningful? No, because Hannakuh is not associated with sleigh bells and snow and all the rest of that stuff that Christmas is, which STILL HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RELIGION!

Does Dickens’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL have anything to do with religion, or Jesus’s birth? Nope. Or IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE? Or A CHIRSTMAS STORY? Or any of the other classic Christmas movies—MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, SCROOGED, ELF, etc.?

Nope to that too. Almost anything you can think of associated with Christmas in this country in these times has nothing to do with anything having anything to do with religion, let alone the birth of Christianity.

A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS is about the only thing that even indirectly refers to the original event the whole thing is supposed to be based on.

So, if you don’t celebrate Christmas because you don’t believe in Jesus, or what his followers supposedly believe in, then you’re missing the point of the holiday, because it has almost nothing to do with that now.

And even if it did, XMAS TREES DON’T!

Unless you want to concede that the “spirit of Christmas”—kindness and sharing and gift giving and “peace on earth, good will to men” and all that—is somehow only a product of Christianity or the teachings of Jesus.

Christmas, as it’s celebrated in this country at least, has very little to do with Christianity, despite the name of the holiday. It’s about a million other things before it’s about that, if at all.

Hannukah isn’t. It’s a commemoration of an event in Jewish history, remembered every year in Jewish religious rituals, and little else (although my little boy and all his friends, whether Jewish or not, know the “dreidel deidel” song, which he learned in school and to my knowldgede no one has ever objected to in this community, though there continues to be objections to Christmas carols that have any reference to the word "Christmas," let alone any birth).

Christmas, though remembered in church services as the celebration of the birth of Jesus, outside of those churches is about, like I said, a lot of other things, none having anything to do with any specific religion.

Maybe that wasn’t always the case. But it is now and has been for awhile. So demanding towns and cities and airports and other private and public spaces incorporate the symbols of various religions everywhere there’s a Christmas tree, is a phony issue, and a distraction from the real grievances of plenty of "races," ethnicities, religions, and classes of people yet to be resolved.

Although a little “Christmas spirit” might help.

(Oh, and PS: I'm not against menorahs in public places, or anywhere else for that matter, nor am I against the celebration of Honnakuh, I've celebrated it many times with Jewish friends, or against any other religious holiday for that matter. I'm just against making a big issue about Xmas trees as some sort of religious symbol that demands reciprocity for every other religious symbol. That's all. Happy Hannakuh.)

(PPS: Check out the Speaking of Faith site I added to my recommended list, and their program/article on the documentary Counterpoint, for some real religious reconciliation efforts.)

1 comment:

Jamie said...

Your Jewish pal Rose agrees, but the name "CHRIST-MASS" tree does speak a bit to a certain religion...
Meantime I have a Hanukah tree In my living room decorated with multi-colored lights, candy canes, angels and Santa Clauses. My god doesn't mind at all, he just "vants that I should be happy"