Last week, there was a bit of a dustup in Boston. It seems that the city was announcing the annual lighting of the Holiday Tree. This got certain fundamentalists’ knickers in a twist, who are on a crusade to make sure that nobody disses Christmas. The leader of this particular faction is the ever-loathesome Jerry Falwell, so I was all set to reluctantly stick up for Boston just on the prinicple that, pending any other strong feelings on an issue, opposing Falwell is usually the safe move.
But then I happened to hear one of Falwell’s minions talking about the issue, and heaven help me if the guy didn’t make sense.
Falwell’s people had done something ingenious, something that should have occurred to me in the first place. They went to the guy up in Newfoundland who gives Boston the tree, for free, every year, and asked his opinion. And he was mad as… er, heck. He said he gave them a CHRISTMAS tree, and if they wanted something else, they could get it from someone else next year.
The city of Boston quickly caved, and the Christmas tree-lighting is still on schedule for tomorrow.
That got me thinking about the whole Christmas thing. Every year, a bunch of people get all bent out of shape about Christmas celebrations, decorations, observances, and anything else that might in some way be considered a state endorsement of the holiday. And every year a bunch of other people get all bent out of shape defending the very practices that so bothers the first.
As a self-declared agnostic, intellectually I have to side with the first group. But this is one of those cases where I simply don’t think it’s that big a deal, and absolutely not worth fighting over. It’s on the same level to me as the “IN GOD WE TRUST” on our currency.
The vast majority of the United States celebrates Christmas. That is a fact, and one that is not likely to change any time soon. So right off the bat, doing ANYTHING to change the status quo is a hell of an uphill battle.
Secondly, speaking historically, there really isn’t a heck of a lot “Christian” about Christmas. It doesn’t really celebrate Christ’s birth — historians say that he was born in the springtime, not in the dead of winter. The origins of Christmas actually date back to the Roman conquest of Britain.
The Romans — who were nominally Christian at that point — were looking for ways to subvert the native Celtic religious beliefs and traditions, as part of assimilating them into the Empire. They took their Winter Solstice holiday, complete with all its accompanying rituals, hallmarks, symbols, and the like, and wrapped them up into the “birth of the savior” thing. Trees, garlands, wreaths, and the like — they are all Pagan in origin.
Let’s take another pragmatic approach. December 25 is a dreary time of year. It’s the beginning of winter, right around the solstice. It’s the end of the year, a time to wind down and prepare for the new year. Most everyone could use a little time off.
And what are these holiday traditions that have the anti-Chrismas forces in such a dither? Singing. Eating. Spending time with family and friends and other loved ones. Exchanging gifts. In general, being happy and joyful and cheery.
Nope, can’t have any of that. Especially if someone’s doing it with a — gasp! — RELIGOUS intent!
Yeah, I suppose, technically things like making Christmas a national holiday and putting up decorations and trees and creches and the like might bend the spirit of the “no establishment” clause. But it’s not black and white. It’s gray — and so gray as to be almost white. We have far more important things to worry about than people being merry one day a year.
Besides, I dunno if the retail economy could survive the loss.