Christmas trees (belatedly)
So I’m back at work, after the extended break occasioned by the automotive industry’s travails in the face of the overall economic meltdown, already missing the friends now absent (some voluntarily, more involuntarily) due to my factory’s Reduction In Force, and as I’m winnowing down the inevitable email backlog I see one entitled “Christmas Trees” among them.
Well, I’m a sucker for festive decorations of all sorts, and the trees of Yuletide are the pinnacle of holiday decoration – Halloween competes well in the decorate-your-house marketplace (and positively owns the decorate-yourself category of course) but I can’t think of any other object on which people seasonally expend more effort for sheer beauty than the Christmas tree.
What better to cheer myself up, then, if not a series of lovely trees extravagantly garlanded for the season? I opened the email, and enjoyed a series of gorgeous images of such, woodsy marvels liberally bedecked with brightness and color and sparkling lights, proclaiming luminous joy to shine out in the darkness of the winter’s long nights. Beautiful!!!
Such a pity, then – such a dulling, miserable comedown – to read the cold, exclusionary, reactionary and inhumane sentiments that accompanied the images.
“THIS is a CHRISTMAS tree… THIS is a CHRISTMAS tree… THIS is a CHRISTMAS tree…
They are not Hannukah bushes, they are not Allah plants.
Say it with me! CHRISTmas, CHRISTmas, CHRISTmas!!! Take a stand!!!”
… and more in that pathetic and hateful vein, with the inevitable exhortation to reject any non-sectarian (or ‘wrongly’ sectarian) greeting and insist that only the Christian holiday is legitimate, that only “Merry Christmas” is acceptable and anything else an insult.
I say it again: this attitude is pathetic and hateful. That is not to say that the people who forward such emails necessarily are; I know the person who sent it to me, and he is a good guy, a gentle man and a gentleman both. Nevertheless, he quite spoiled my day with this well-conditioned disregard for the feelings of the non-Christians he works with.
I’m sure he’s aware that at least one of the people he addressed (me) does not share his religious views; I make no secret of my atheism. I’d bet money that among the others he copied on this email are people of faith who aren’t of his faith; it was a long list of addressees, and I know for a fact that there are several Jews and Muslims, and at least one Buddhist and one Sikh working at my plant. (Well, the Buddhist is among the RIFfed, but the point remains.) I didn’t check to see if anyone I knew to be non-Christian was among the email’s addressees, but then, neither did my good friend who did the addressing, apparently, or I would not have received it.
Perhaps like my neighbor, a sweet lady of years whose ‘ electrical gadgets’ I am always ready to repair, he believes that I must really be a secret Christian, because I’m a ‘nice guy’ – and the sheer bigotry of that thinking escapes his notice, as it often does hers. Not as explicitly as that, probably; more likely, he ran through his head a list of people he gets along well with, and unconsciously assumed that since they were all ‘nice people’ (he’s not a person who would choose to get along with an ass, though he’s probably better than me at tolerating a fool) that they would all agree with the message he was sending along with the pretty pictures.
Well, I’m sorry, my friend; thank you for the truly sweet images of the well-bedecked trees, but the message you included with them is a message of fools and asses, and knowing you to be neither I am compelled by our friendship to point it out to you.
There is no wrong in seeing Christmas as primarily a religious holiday, if that is what it is to you. There is no harm in seeing the season of midwinter as being – to you – primarily about celebrating the birth of Christ. Even to those of us who don’t share your belief, it is at a minimum a beautiful idea, that an omnipotent God would choose to share human frailty for a time. Such an idea is a thing of joy, and to those who believe it true as well as beautiful… well, how could you not celebrate such a thing?
Joy like that should be shared, and at least on the simplest level it is; I challenge you, for all the talk of demagogues and hatemongers, to find me a single non-Christian in your life who has actually been offended by a sincere wish that he or she have a Happy Christmas. Be honest with yourself, and ask whether you have ever, even once, had a Jew demand that you retract the wish and substitute one for Happy Hannukah, or had a Wiccan demand you say Happy Yuletide instead, or even had one of us horrible militant atheists insist bitterly that you take it back and wish us a generic Happy Holidays instead. It’s never happened, has it?
Of course it hasn’t. We’re your fellow human beings, your brothers and sisters here on this Earth, and it isn’t naturally in us to return a warm greeting with cold snideness, especially in the deep of the winter season when we are reminded how much darkness surrounds our little lives. This is not a time to cast aside good wishes, whatever the cultural trappings they come in, it is a time to embrace one another, to share and make glad the darkness, make warm the cold nights.
Neither is it in you, my friend, and in your heart you know that your god would not approve of making a war of his birthday. I know this, I who do not believe in gods, because I know that gods reflect the hearts of their followers, and I know your heart. It is the same as mine is.
Be well, be glad. The trees are bright, the dark nights pass. Spring is coming soon.
Happy Holidays, my friend.