I was teaching at the local library the other day, sitting next to a very stately evergreen tree decorated with twinkling white lights. I made some offhand comment about a rabbi teaching under a Christmas tree and one of the women in the class corrected me:
“Holiday Tree,” she said.
“Excuse me?” I said.
“It is called a Holiday Tree, not a Christmas Tree.”
“You’re kidding,” I said intending to say more, but she cut me off.
“I am not kidding, and it is wrong to call it a Christmas tree. Even here in the Bible Belt we are sensitive to the diversity of our population. Calling it a Christmas tree alienates people who aren’t Christian, people, I might add, such as yourself, Rabbi.”
I don’t understand the phrase “I might add.” It implies that she might not add, but since it is said in the context of actually adding it is misleading and redundant. I didn’t mention it seeing that it probably wasn’t germane, but I am sharing it with you so that you might not make a similar mistake yourself. I restricted my comments to the topic of the tree:
“What holiday is this Holiday Tree celebrating?” I asked her. “The Jews have a tree holiday called Tu b’Shevat that comes in a few of months. It celebrates the first stirrings of spring as the trees slowly come back to life. It is like Easter for trees: winter death giving way to spring resurrection. But we don’t cut them down or decorate them. We actually plant saplings. So if this Holiday Tree has to do with that, we are very premature and off-base.”
“Oh please,” the woman said, “I never heard of this Jewbishwat. It has nothing to do with that.”
“Is there another holiday in December, other than Christmas, that comes with tree decorating? Hanukkah has nothing to do with trees. Nor does Kwanza as far as I know. The Druids may have a tree worshipping holiday around the Winter Solstice, so are we changing the name to be more welcoming to Druids?”
I am certain that if this woman was capable of saying “You asshole” she would have said “You asshole!” In fact she may have said it silently to herself. I wouldn’t blame her. I was being an asshole. Instead she turned very red and said in a staccato voice that sounded like a computer a cheap 1950’s sci-fi movie, “It is a Christmas Tree, everyone knows it is a Christmas Tree, but saying it is a Christmas Tree is rude and offensive, so we call it a Holiday Tree which is much more inclusive and respectful.”
She is wrong on all counts, other than the point that call it what you like, this is a Christmas tree. Saying that the tree is a Christmas tree is not rude or offensive, anymore than calling a Hanukkah menorah a Hanukkah menorah rather than a holiday candlestick is rude and offensive. What is rude is denying the true nature of a thing. What is offensive is stripping the tree of its meaning in order to placate… whom? Is anyone offended by the fact that a Christmas tree is a Christmas tree? Do Christians celebrating Christianity offend anyone? If you are so offended then move to Teheran or the Meah Shaarim section of Jerusalem where Christians and Christmas are quite rare.
What is rude and offensive is thinking that non-Christians are so stupid as to believe that calling a Christmas Tree a Holiday Tree makes it any less a Christmas Tree or any more relevant to those of us who do not celebrate Christmas. It is a stupid and insulting act of political correctness that feeds the paranoia of those Christians who feel they are under siege in this country.
I love Christmas. I love the story (we Jews tell similar ones about Abraham and Moses), I love the music, I love watching shoppers trample one another over bargains (it reminds me of my youth shopping with my family at Filenes’s Basement). I love Christmas Trees. I love the lights, the ornaments, the smell of pine (or Pine-Sol, depending on the kind of tree it is). Unless you have to set them up and take them down yourself, Christmas Trees are a pure delight.
Yes, there are aspects of Christian culture that frighten me, both as an American and as a Jew. Yes, there are trends in this country that hint at a coming dark age and the rise of an American Theocracy. But calling a Christmas tree a Holiday tree is not going to change that. There are real religious battles to be fought, but this is not one of them.
Anyway, have a happy/merry ___________ [Please fill in the blank for yourself so as to feel I really care about you and your unique cultural and religious heritage.]