This is not the kind of post I like to write, but sometimes the personal and political are so intertwined it’s not possible to stay on the lofty perch that We at Kmareka feel most comfortable perching on. So We are just going to put it out there.
It’s something most of us are now going through, or will. This week I got a 5am call that my mother was in the Emergency Room. She’s having a hard time adjusting to the loss of my father, and I can’t imagine what it’s like to lose a spouse of over fifty years. All went well, medically. Otherwise it’s clear that we kids will have to call regularly, because our mother needs us.
Today I went by to visit her, and things were good until I left the room for a bit and came back to the sound of the radio. My mother listens to some religious station that always sounds angry. She was all of a sudden very worked up about whether Governor Lincoln Chafee lights a Christmas Tree or a Holiday Tree. She said that The Jews would never call a Menorah a candlestick, would they? I said that I had not seen any giant Menorah on the State House lawn, but we could drive on over there and look. I was trying to get her out of the house. I argued with her for too long, I could not get her to understand the difference between public and private space and finally she told me that I hate Christ.
Readers, you know that earlier this morning I posted a verse from the King James Bible. Unitarians are free, skeptical and tolerant– that’s Tolerant with a capital ‘T’. And me and Jesus have an understanding.
This would just be TMI, except that on the way home I stopped at a Dollar Store, and there was a woman in the checkout line who was talking loudly to all around about how Christmas isn’t Christmas any more. And that Governor Chafee is going to light a Holiday Tree. And The Jews would never call a Menorah a candlestick, would they? And you can’t give presents to children. And people are all bad these days, nothing is good anymore. I wished her peace and goodwill and got out of there.
Clearly this is a talking point going around. Since Christians are about 78% of the population and Jews less than 2% I doubt this tree crisis has anything to do with Hanukkah.
It’s got a lot to do with politics, finding some ammunition against the Governor, and the fun of a symbolic war that doesn’t cost blood or treasure, and stokes a satisfying sense of grievance. When 78% of the population feels dissed, all us non-Christians had better watch our step.
The funny part is that there’s nothing in the Bible about bringing trees indoors. The evergreen and lighting candles at the time of the winter solstice is a custom with Pagan origins. That’s why some Christian denominations ban these observances. And our Pilgrim forebears had no sense of fun at all…
It is not surprising that, like many other festive Christmas customs, the tree was adopted so late in America. To the New England Puritans, Christmas was sacred. The pilgrims’s second governor, William Bradford, wrote that he tried hard to stamp out “pagan mockery” of the observance, penalizing any frivolity. The influential Oliver Cromwell preached against “the heathen traditions” of Christmas carols, decorated trees, and any joyful expression that desecrated “that sacred event.” In 1659, the General Court of Massachusetts enacted a law making any observance of December 25 (other than a church service) a penal offense; people were fined for hanging decorations. That stern solemnity continued until the 19th century, when the influx of German and Irish immigrants undermined the Puritan legacy.
I haven’t seen the State House tree yet, but I was downtown and City Hall has the grandest most extravagantly lit tree I’ve ever seen–it’s like a giant redwood. As a taxpayer I can probably claim a few needles and bulbs as my own contribution. Public art and beauty matters. You can call it a Christmas tree and I won’t get too excited. I appreciate the intent of calling it a Holiday tree, though, because I like being included in my own home state. All the people who can’t miss a chance to stamp a cross on a season that includes holidays of several religions and serious shopping should try extending peace and goodwill instead. It would be the Christian thing to do.