Ok, Nativity scenes? I can see how that might "offend" some. But Christmas trees?
A christmas tree, whether pagan in origin or not is a recognized symbol of Christmas, a holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus. When it's put on display by the government it sends the message, intentional or not, that the government is endorsing christianity. That doesn't offend me, it offends the constitution.
My theory is that Tim Allen must have sold drugs to the studio head back when he was a dealer. It's the only possible explanation.
It isn't against the constitution and no court has ever came close to saying that. It is a symbol of the time of year and that's about that. I know plenty of Jewish people that put up Christmas trees. Now I'm an orthodox Pastafarian and wouldn't do such a thing, I have my Festivus pole.
This is something the courts were are pretty much on point with. The effect of making Christmas a national holiday and the public as opposed to religious celebration of it has secularized the holiday and stripped it of its religious significance. The effort to Christianize the country had the effect of secularized the holiday. That is really the beauty of the wall of separation, it protects the state from religion and religion from the state.
I'm about as militant an atheist as you'll find and even I'm not bothered by Christmas trees. Nativity scenes and crosses are another matter.
Rimbo · 11 years, 10 months ago
Or the nativity scene I have in my house, where all of the little people are just crosses dressed up in costumes? Like that?
I like that. You should put smiley faces on them too. The little stickers would be perfect.
I love them in your home of course, not in a display on government property.
Mamalissa! · 11 years, 10 months ago
> It is a symbol of the time of year and that's about that.
I highly disagree. It's a symbol of Christianity (no matter what its pagan origin). I am acutely aware of my identity as an outsider every time I see a Christmas tree. It's also a point of pride, though, that I'm not a part of the mainstream.
> I know plenty of Jewish people that put up Christmas trees.
I've always felt sorry for Jews who put up Christmas trees. In my opinion, they've missed the point.
>The effect of
> making Christmas a national holiday and the public as opposed to religious
> celebration of it has secularized the holiday and stripped it of its religious
It's religious significance in pop-culture may be diluted, but I don't think it's stripped. I don't even think it's been secularized, so much as commercialized.
The commercial interests that benefit most from holiday shopping have also done a fantastic job of ruining a Jewish holiday too. An extremely minor one at that. The Books of Maccabees aren't even in the Jewish bible (some are in Protestant, Catholic, and Greek Orthodox versions of the Old Testament, however). The Rabbis failed at eliminating it from the calendar and cannon because it was very popular among the people - but never was it the only holiday celebrated by masses of Jews. What damage has been done that the most recognizable Jewish holiday is one that is no where near as important as the others?
>I'm about as militant
> an atheist as you'll find and even I'm not bothered by Christmas trees.
I suppose I'm sounding pretty militant right about now, but that's because I *am* bothered by them. Because they do represent Christmas. And I hate Christmas. You can call me a scrooge. But really, I'm just a Jew.
Don't get me started on Channukkah. Too late you did. First off I've always loved Chanukah even though nobody knows how to spell it in English. On the other hand I always suspected that the whole gift giving part was simply lifted from the Christmas, not that I complained about getting presents. What really bothers me about Hanuka is that it makes heroes of the Maccabees. They are the prototype for all the liberation movement leaders that became ruthless dictators. They used nationalism to come to power and then keep it. As has all to often happened in history the persecuted became the persecutors. It is the only period in Jewish history where there were forced conversions, something explicitly prohibited by Jewish law.
OK enough ranting. Give me presents and latkes.
My mother says I'm a gastronomic Jew - I only observe holidays with food, and I only observe them for the food. For example, at our seder my father holds up a Hagaddah and says "we will not be reading from this tonight."
Except for fast days most Jewish Holidays have food. The cliche theme of each holiday is "They tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat!"
Oh yes, forget the latkes give me chocolate gelt.
*joolee* · 11 years, 10 months ago
My mom always gives me chocolate gelt for Christmas, does that make me a bad atheist?!?
mmmm, no but it might make you a bad Christian or a bad Jew. Actually I think it just makes you a good chocophile.
lawrence · 11 years, 10 months ago
The spelling of 'Chanukah' is best represented by a regular expression:
That covers pretty much every moderately accurate spelling I've seen of it.
The only ones that bother me are the ones without the initial C, that changes the pronunciation. The first sound is guttural. Of course we could just always write:
I have a friend who always wishes me a happy chewbacca... he's real sensitive.
Better than the guy in our office who always wishes people a Happy "Hock-A-Loogie".
He's jewish too.
I am acutely aware of my identity as an outsider every time I see a Christmas tree.
Do you also feel that way any time Christmas Carols are sung / played?
The greater the art the greater my toleration for overt Christian content. I love Handel's Messiah. A highlight of my holiday season used to be the Downtown Messiah, a reworking of the piece by contemporary folk musicians including people like The Kennedys, Susan Warner, Dar Williams, and David Johansen. On the other hand when I was at the Lincoln Center Festivus Tree lighting I felt uncomfortable when they started singing some spirituals of the "Jesus is great" ilk. I love Da Vinci's Last Supper and Michaelangelo's Pieta but am turned off by lesser works even when they are masterpieces.
The non-religious carols are great. With the religious ones it has to do with how much I like them.
Lots of this has to do with living in Christian majority culture. I don't have any issues with works based on Greek or Norse/Teutonic mythology.
Mamalissa! · 11 years, 10 months ago
For the most part, yeah. I even went to the Downtown Messiah with Gordon one year, and was kindof weirded out by it.
(Wow. I'm really eloquent.)
I've done a messiah singalong - orchestra, soloists, and the crowd does the chorus. Kinda fun, and since it's mostly from Isiah (i.e. old testament) you don't feel like you got hit with a Jesus stick.
Christmas time is weird for (most) Jews, even pretty secular ones. It really brings into focus the fact that you don't share some core beliefs with most Americans, and it can be pretty alienating. That doesn't mean that Jews don't want Christians to celebrate christmas, or that we freak out when someone says "Merry Christmas" to us. For most Americans its a bland seasonal platitude, but many American Jews come from countrys where Christmas meant it was attack Jews season.
What I'm not happy with is the government recognizing Christmas if they do so to the exclusion of other faith's holidays. It's about endorsing a particular religion, as opposed to promoting religious expression. I don't care if the government puts up the ten commandments in a display about laws influenced by various religious traditions either, but I don't want it to be a cover if the real point is to show that the government is practicing Christian sharia.
My problem there is nothing in the Constitution or Supreme Court case law that specifically forbids a government entity from putting up Christmas decorations of any kind. The phrase "separation of church and state" appears nowhere in the founding documents.
In my opinion, simply reflecting the prevalent beliefs of the majority of the country is not endorsing a religion or promoting a state religion.
You didn't tell me you were weirded out. I was thinking about that of course when reading this forum.
A girl named Becca · 11 years, 10 months ago
I think North Carolina is a state that forgot to separate itself from church.
If y'all think the Christmas tree in the main office of the public school where I teach is offensive, just steer clear of the Christmas play I'm helping the drama teacher direct. It really brings you back to the true, pre-secularization meaning of Christmas.
Bender · 11 years, 10 months ago
At the risk of being flamed and called an insensitive luddite, I'd just like to pop my head in and say that I don't quite understand what the big deal is.
I can understand not wanting your tax dollars to pay for decorations of a religious nature but beyond that... I just don't understand how someone else's religion can be offensive. No one is storming your home at night or forcing you to convert at gunpoint. In a worst-case scenario of a pamphlet-proffering proslytizer, you can just say, "No, thank you" and walk away.
When I was in Hebrew school, we had a big assembly that encouraged us to make a stink and complain to our principal and school board if the school choir sang anything but generic winter holiday songs, Chanukah songs and, maybe, Kwanzaa songs. I never understood why singing "Silent Night" was supposed to be so bad. It's not a song of my faith, but it certainly doesn't poison my mind in any way. It's a beautiful song from a culture that is not mine.
I'm going to call you on misusing "luddite!" A luddite is someone that fears and hates new technology.
Gordondon son of Ethelred · 11 years, 9 months ago
I usually just post a link but this is a Times Select column which means only subscribers can read it. So I'm copying and pasting.
A Holiday for Us All
By ORLANDO PATTERSON
Published: December 23, 2006
Christmas seems to bring out the worst in America’s culture warriors. The Christian right continues its crusade against those waging “war against Christmas.” Multiculturalists have nearly banished “Merry Christmas” and “Silent Night” from the public domain and are now going after outdoor Christmas trees. Atheist activists like Sam Harris are goaded into defending the outing of their Christmas trees with the argument that it’s all secular anyway.
Harris is only partly right. The whole truth about Christmas is far more interesting and reveals why all can enjoy it. It is the perfect example of America’s mainstream process, a national rite that dissolves the boundaries between sacred and secular, pagan and civilized, insiders and outsiders.
From the very beginning Christians have always had a tenuous hold on the holiday. The tradition of celebrating Jesus’ birth on the 25th of December was invented in the fourth century in a proselytical move by the Church Fathers that was almost too clever. The pre-Christian winter solstice celebrations of the rebirth of the sun, especially the Roman Saturnalia and Iranian Mithraic festivals, were recast as the Christian doctrine of the re-birth of the Son of God. Like many such syntheses, it is often not clear who was culturally appropriating whom. Certainly, throughout the Middle Ages, Christmas festivities like the 12 days of saturnalian debauchery, the veneration of the holly and mistletoe, and the Feast of Fools were all continuities from pagan Europe.
For this reason, the Puritans abolished Christmas. As late as the 1860s, Christmas was still a regular work and school day in Massachusetts. By then, however, its reconstruction was well on the way in the rest of the nation. America drew on the many variants of Christmas brought over by immigrants. It is telling that, in the making of Santa Claus, it is the English Father Christmas, derived from the pagan Lord of Misrule, rather than the more Christian Dutch St. Nicholas that dominates.
The commercialization of the holiday began as early as the 1820s, and by the last quarter of the 19th century a thoroughly unique American complex had emerged — ornaments, Christmas trees and the wrapping of gift boxes. Christmas further evolved in the 20th century with department store displays, Santas and parades, the outdoor Christmas tree spectacle, postage cards and secular Christmas songs. All American ethnic groups contributed to this national ritual.
The re-Christianization of the holiday emerged in tandem with its commercialization during the 19th century. Secularists did not distort or steal Christmas from Christians: in America they made it together. What’s more, as the cultural historian Karal Marling shows, the festival’s most compassionate aspect, charity, came mainly from the influence of Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol,” which, however, drew heavily on the largely invented accounts of a romanticized Merrie Olde England by the American travel writer Washington Irving.
The outcome of all this is a uniquely American national festival perfectly attuned to the demotic pulse of the common culture: its openness and vitality, its transcending appropriation of eclectic sources, its seductive materialism. It is, further, a mainstream process that dovetails exquisitely with more local expressions of America like Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, the former a reinvention of a minor Jewish rite, the latter a pure invention, in a manner similar to the wholly fictitious Scottish highland tradition that pipes up around the New Year. Kwanzaa borrowed heavily from Hanukkah, right down to the menorah, in fashioning the American art of mirroring the mainstream while doing one’s own ethnic thing. Decorating public Christmas trees with menorahs should be a soothing natural development in this glorious hall of cultural mirrors.
Ejecting Christmas from the public domain makes little sense, and not simply because religion only partly contributed to its emergence as a national rite. It should be possible to enjoy Christmas while recognizing its muted Christian element, even though one is neither religious nor Christian, in much the same way one might enjoy the glories of a Botticelli or Fra Angelico in spite of the unrelenting Christian presence in their art. In much the same way, indeed, that one might enjoy jazz, another gift of the mainstream, without much caring for black culture; or the American English language that unites us, in spite of Anglo-Saxon roots that are as deep as those of Father Christmas.
Orlando Patterson, a professor of sociology at Harvard, is a guest columnist.
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