Saturday, December 11, 2004

Why a Christmas Tree?

This is a question you could ask anyone of any religious persuasion, unless they're Nordic pagan, I suppose, but all the genuine Nordic pagans have died out. Probably the ones we have left are like our renditions of ancient Romans in 60's movies (they always spoke with English accents, for some reason).

Christmas, of course, probably like all holidays at this time, is a more or less invented holiday: it was originally Saturnalia. Whether or not Bodhi Day (Dec. 8) actually happened around this time, I don't know. And an exact date is really secondary. The "meaning" of holidays is what we impress upon them.

The news in Denver, recently, wasn't very encouraging:

This year, Jesus came anyway. A local evangelical Christian church called the Faith Bible Chapel sought but failed to get permission for a religious-themed float with a choir singing hymns and carols. By coincidence, Denver's mayor chose this year to change the traditional banner on the roof of the City and County Building. "Merry Christmas" was out. "Happy Holidays" was in.

Like a spark in dry tinder, the result was a flare-up that caught even some church leaders by surprise. A holiday rite that had drawn thousands of paradegoers annually suddenly became a symbol, for many Christians, of secular society run amok.

In our house, we use our Christmas tree as an expression of our family. There's photographs of family members, good-luck charms from China, Kwan-Yins from a local Chinese Pure Land Temple, keepsake ornaments from Kofukuji and Takaozan, and simply ornaments including, but not limited to my son's old pacifier, a "Baby Bop" on a sled, and penguins, Santas and a Christian religiously themed ornament or two. There used to be an old candy-cane, but my son ate that this year. Yuck.

Putting up the tree then is a celebration of who we are, and what we give to each other that really matters: ourselves.

Who gets to decide what "Christmas is," in our society? Does Bill O'Reilly? (Is that a role model you want near your adolescent daughter?) Does Faith Bible Chapel? Does the corporation that owns all thoee Westfield Shoppingtowns?

If everybody says, "You gotta do Christmas my way or the highway," doesn't that strangle all the good stuff about Christmas, if you're actually gullible enough to buy into that?

Anyway, we'll respectfully disagree with everyone and have a great time.

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