Putting X Back in Xmas

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New at Reason: Christmas Tree? Chanukah Bush? Kwanzaa Creeper? Cathy Young has all your holiday icon controversy needs.

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  1. I think the Bible now falls under “zero tolerance” guidelines.

  2. Cathy Young makes the insightful point that for all the supposed “controversy” of cleansing explicitly “Christmas” decorations from the public arena, noone seems to complain about the word “Christmas” being the-word-that-cannot-be-said in private stores and malls in the USA.

    People apparently “vote with their dollars” to support companies that take a more secular view of the holidays. Why are people so agitated that the state is just following Macys’ lead?

  3. If I’m not mistaken, my earlier comments on this topic have been deleted. While they could accurately be accused of being humorless or tasteless, I don’t think they warranted being censored. To clearly state the point of my earlier comments, I think people, while trying to inoculate us from a harmless offense, such as Santa in City Hall, can produce an offensive and dangerous result.

  4. In theory, prohibiting public displays or recognition of individual faiths is supposed to result in no offense to anybody. In reality, everyone is upset in one way or another, either because they are not allowed to openly recognize an important day in their tradition, or because people are just so darn willing to be offended, and at all the wrong things.

    As I understand it, the point of the 1st Amendment is to prevent such a scuffle from occuring – so that each person and group of people can OPENLY practice their religion and observe holy days (holidays), and not be told, “Your religion is offensive [i.e. wrong], and therefore I ask that you spare my sensitive feelings and confine your superstitions to your own home.” Government cannot interfere in promoting a religion above others or prohibiting one (or two or twelve) religion. It can punish actions that harm citizens (i.e. no human sacrifices or gang rapes or mob violence), but it cannot say what religious practices are permissible in the public square and which are not. That is left to the individual and his conscience.

    And government includes the judiciary, therefore judges rulings on “permissible” religious activities in the public sphere, are walking a fine line.

  5. My city, so progressive in most way, puts a nativity scene in front of City Hall. The figures and structure are owned by the City, and DPW employees put it together on the clock, at the direction of the Commissioner, acting on the orders of the Mayor.

    I’m trying to solve this problem by getting a group of local churches to take over the responsibility for maintaining and displaying the scene.

  6. I work in a retail store owned by an ethnically Jewish family that is highly secularized. If I know a customer is Christian, I wish him a “Merry Christmas.” If I know she is Jewish, I’ll say “Happy Hannukkah.” The pagans get a soltice greeting, and while I haven’t brought up Eid with a Muslim customer, if I know when it falls, and he is in the shop, I’ll wish him a happy one. I’m an atheist, myself, but it no longer bothers me when people wish me a “Merry Christmas,” because that usually comes from those who don’t know my position on gods.

    My brother, who sends me hyper-religious Xmas cards, is just being a git, however.

    One fun thing I did this Xmas was drop some klezmer into the CD rotation blasting “holiday” music through the store. Even the gentiles liked it!

    Kevin

  7. I’m highly amused by the shrieking outrage that some people are expressing these days over being wished “Happy Holidays”. Despite being a product of Catholic schools (elementary and college) and a regular church-goer, it doesn’t disturb me at all. There are, afterall, several different holidays that fall during December, so it makes sense to use the generic greeting unless you know the religious preference of the person you’re speaking to.

  8. More to the point, Jack, “Happy Holidays,” despite the rantings of some morons who dismiss it as PC nonsense or whatever, isn’t supposed to mean, “Merry Christmas or Happy Chanukah or Blessed Solstice or whatever you celebrate!” It means, specifically, “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,” which, while having the disadvantage of being Christmas-specific, achieves with two words what otherwise would take six to say.

    Irving Berlin’s song, “Happy Holiday,” dates back to the forties, hardly the height of PC sensitivity. Why people seem to miss the obviousness of this particular sentiment can only be chalked up to deliberate obtuseness.

  9. I have always wondered whether I could get public schools to stop teaching something if I could just find enough people who would worship it.

    Of course, the public schools can’t teach the Bible, because it is a religious book.

    But what if I convinced an entire senior high school class to set up a “Church of Hamlet”? They would worship Hamlet the son, and his Ghost father, the virgin Ophelia, and King Laertes and Polonius would be the force of evil. The scripture would teach the moral evils of pseudo-incest, false friendship, and indecision. It would also promote regicide in support of the supernatural.

    Could we get the schools to stop teaching the book?

  10. Merry (belated) Christmas, happy Channukah, and happy Eid. But what the f— is Kwanzaa?

  11. A public school can still teach the Bible as history or literature; just not as divine truth. I’m sure the vast majority of public universities have an “intro to western civ” class in which they read parts of the Bible.

  12. While they may be able to teach the Bible as history or literature, I would bet that all discourse concerning the Bible has been chilled by separation of church and state controversies. School boards are very highly risk averse, after all, and care more about avoiding controversy than nearly anything else.

  13. If anyone cares, the KKK did not put up their cross on Cincinnati’s Fountain Square this year even though the menorah made it’s reappearance. There were a bunch of xmas trees.
    Add all this to the temporary skating rink, and even aesthetically challenged moi is repulsed by the overall effect.

  14. As always, a nice nuanced look at the “culture wars” by Cathy Young. As always, the loudest mouths on both sides fare pretty poorly in the assessment.

    As to teaching the Bible in public schools: Technically, I’m sure a public high school could teach about the Bible as history or literature. In practice, however, it would probably cause more trouble than it’s worth (in the eyes of the faculty). Yes, yes, I know, there’s nothing technically illegal about saying “Here’s a book that influenced a lot of history and literature, sometimes for good and sometimes for ill. Let’s learn something about it so we get a better understanding of history and literature.”

    In practice, they’d be crucified by both sides. From the left, we’d get complaints that other religious texts didn’t get studied in a secular context. Arguments like “Well, this class specifically studies European history and lit, so we stuck to the Bible” wouldn’t go over well. From the right, they’d get complaints about the class being “too secular.” If during a discussion some kid tried to deliver a sermon about Jesus as his Lord and Savior, and the teacher cut him off with “Yes, but right now we’re discussing the way Jesus’s parables are frequently alluded to in literature”, the teacher would be accused of “stifling discussion.” And even though the teacher may be legally correct in his action, the controversy at school board meetings would be more than they want to handle.

    At public universities, I suspect the faculty have more leeway in assigning the Bible for classes on western civilization, but even there I assume they tread lightly. But I have no first-hand experience. I went to a private university for undergrad, and although I’m now at a public university (gasp!) for my Ph.D, I’m in the physics department. When we say “Bible” it’s assumed one is referring to the Feynman Lectures. “A reading from the Second Book of Feynman, Chapter 12, section 3. And Feynman spake unto the sophomores saying ‘Behold, the electric charge generates a field with a divergence proportional to…'”

  15. uh, i went to a public high school and we read biblical passages during a sophomore ap english course section on the aeneid, as part of a compare and contrast exercise, iirc. of course, that was – oh man – like, 10 years ago so who knows what the environment is now.

  16. Yes, you’re right, Phil – “Happy Holidays” originally covered Christmas and New Years. It has developed, however, into a winter-time catch-all. Just as Arabs are Semitic, but anti-Semitism does not mean “anti-Arab” – it’s how language has evolved. “Gay” in the 40s meant “happy and carefree” if you recall. Now it is a political (i.e. a “charged”) word. It is not the objection to “HH” per se; it is the persistant pressure to use “HH” *instead of* “MCaHNY” that makes it objectionable. Just like I hate being required to call myself Caucasian. I have white skin. I do not identify myself as “Caucasion.” And I resent having the term foisted on me. So also do people resist having “HH” pushed forward as an “equivalent phrase”. If it were truly “equivalent”, there would be no need to pressure people to use it.

  17. Joe, how*ever* did you get the impression that I am ‘horrified’ at ‘acknowledging that people are different than me’? I am QUITE well aware of that, having lived most of my life among people with vastly different and varied religious and political beliefs and cultural traditions. I think your question should be directed to those people who find a sincere wish of goodwill so terribly injurious to their feelings. As it is they who in part are working to silence those of different beliefs, it is they who require a closer magnifying glass in this instance. If someone wished me a happy Channukah, I would take that opportunity to explain that I do not celebrate that holiday, but I would be willing to learn about it from them, and to explain my own beliefs. I would never pressure them not to say such a thing again because it might make someone feel awkward. Awkwardness is a part of life, at any rate.

    And I don’t know where you found those song lyrics, but they would certainly NEVER come out of my mouth.

  18. “Kwanzaa” is a “what-about-us?” psuedo-holiday invented by a tribalist with a vested interest in keeping racism alive and well. It’s a running gag among whites and an embarrasment for blacks.
    What could be more ridiculous than “Kwanzaa candles”? Geez…

    Happy Secular New Year, all!

  19. “Hey there Mr. Muslim
    Merry fucking Christmas…”

    The horrors, Rebecca, the horrors of being asked to recognized that there are people who aren’t like you!

  20. Aren’t there any “comparative religions” courses anymore?

  21. I don’t know much about Kwaanzaa but it does seem a bit strange to be having an ‘African’ celebration of harvest when December is the middle of summer for most of Africa.

  22. Even those of us who know what Kwanzaa is ask ourselves “what the f— is Kwanzaa?”

    I’m tired. Go google it to find out.

  23. I don’t see any conflict between respecting an individuals right to express his religion and keeping religion out of government. We just have to remember the distiction between private and public land.

    The Jewish laws regarding Channaka command Jews to publicize the miricle of the oil burning for eight days. We do this by placing the menorah’s in our windows facing the street.

    Any Christians who wish to publicize Christmas are welcomed to put their Christmas trees right in front of their window. In fact, if you want to put a 100 foot Christmas tree in your front yard, I’ll support your right and even protest on your side if the zoning board tells you it offends the aesthetic regulations. If you want a communal tree for all the Christians, place one in front of your Chruch. You can even rotate which Church you use, so you can include all demoninations in the same event.
    Just please keep the religous symbols out of government property. You have the right to use your property to express your religion as much as you want, but you have not right to use government property to fullfill your personal religious needs. This request applies equally to all religions. The menorah that Chabad lights on the elipse in DC is just as inappropriate as the Christmas tree.

  24. Good points, Douglas.

    For one man’s thoughts on Kwanzaa, check out this link: http://www.aim.org/publications/guest_columns/kline/2003/dec19.html

    There’s also an article why black Christians should not celebrate Kwanzaa, so (big surprise!) expect them to talk religion: http://www.nationalcenter.org/P21NVBarberKwanzaa1203.html

    And yes, comparative religion courses are still taught in some schools, though I’ve never taken one.

  25. Bring back Festivus!

  26. Joe, you misunderstand again. Never said I would wish a Merry Christmas to someone I knew was Jewish or agnostic or pagan – I said I should not be urged to say “Happy Holidays” for *fear* of offending someone. If I do not *know* someone does not celebrate Christmas, then saying “Merry Christmas” is not intended to be insulting or intimidating or rude. You are assuming that I run around saying, “Merry Christmas – you got a problem with that?” I’ve condemned nothing but the propensity to *assume* offense was meant in an innocent and well-meant greeting. You do not seem to recognize the distinction.

    Fear not! I shall continue wishing people a Merry Christmas, for there is no happier message than “peace on earth, good will toward men”.

  27. “I think your question should be directed to those people who find a sincere wish of goodwill so terribly injurious to their feelings.”

    Why are you so determined to say “Merry Christmas” to people who don’t want to hear it, when “Happy Holidays” works just as well? If you know your “wishes” are injuring someone’s feelings, and continue to offer them in the same way, and then condemn that someone for not feeling the way you think they should, then you are not motivated by goodwill.

  28. My secret and most anti-libertarian wish is that I could somehow manipulate all of this anti-Christian energy somehow into banning all of those bloody annoying lights.

    I have already forfeited the use of my car radio during the month of December — and I don’t even try to shop until the second week in January.

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