Friday, December 28, 2007

Next Year Holiday or Christmas Tree for Roosevelt Island?

Has a tiny little corner of the Cultural Divide concerning Christmas and the other winter seasonal holidays reared it's controversial head here on Roosevelt Island? Is Bill O'Reilly about to champion the cause of re-naming the Roosevelt Island Holiday Tree to Christmas Tree?

I ask these questions because a recent letter writer to the Main Street WIRE (PDF file) described being unhappy and "pained" that the signs for a "Holiday Tree" on Roosevelt Island disrespected "sacred" symbols such as the "Christmas Tree, lights and carols...". According to the letter writer:
What is a “holiday tree?” Do you mean Christmas tree?

It is very painful to see the “holiday tree” signs all over the Island. As an Islander for over 15 years (more than half my life), I am truly disappointed over the path RIOC is taking regarding Christmas. Is the term “Christmas tree” offensive to some? If so, why should their feeelings be respected while the traditions and beliefs of thousands of Christian Roosevelt Islanders are stepped on and violated? Cultural diversity should not mean putting down certain people in order to please others.

Roosevelt Island has always been a place where diversity is respected and celebrated. RIOC needs to understand that Christmas trees, lights, and carols are sacred to Christians. Do not disrespect us by not calling them by their historical names! Christmas is one of the most sacred times of the year RIOC, please be considerate!...
I hesitated to post on this topic because there are few if any subjects more divisive than religion in the public square, particularly this time of year, with well meaning and respectful individuals on either side as well as others, unfortunately, who seek to inflame the controversy. I did not see anything positive coming from a post on this subject.

However, on December 21, the Wall Street Journal published this commentary by the historian John Steele Gordon titled, A Brief History of Christmas, that I thought was instructive and made a positive contribution to the issue. According to Gordon:
Christmas famously "comes but once a year." In fact, however, it comes twice. The Christmas of the Nativity, the manger and Christ child, the wise men and the star of Bethlehem, "Silent Night" and "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" is one holiday. The Christmas of parties, Santa Claus, evergreens, presents, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Jingle Bells" is quite another.

But because both celebrations fall on Dec. 25, the two are constantly confused. Religious Christians condemn taking "the Christ out of Christmas," while First Amendment absolutists see a threat to the separation of church and state in every poinsettia on public property and school dramatization of "A Christmas Carol."

A little history can clear things up.

The Christmas of parties and presents is far older than the Nativity. Most ancient cultures celebrated the winter solstice, when the sun reaches its lowest point and begins to climb once more in the sky. In ancient Rome, this festival was called the Saturnalia and ran from Dec. 17 to Dec. 24.
So what is the answer? After a brief summary of the antecedents of the Christmas Nativity holiday Gordon concludes:
So for those worried about the First Amendment, there's a very easy way to distinguish between the two Christmases. If it isn't mentioned in the Gospels of Luke and Mark, then it is not part of the Christian holiday. Or we could just change the name of the secular holiday back to what it was 2000 years ago.

Merry Saturnalia, everyone!
Some food for thought. Beliefnet, an excellent religion and spiritual web site, has a modest proposal by a catholic priest to move the religious Nativity Christmas to June and let the retailers and consumers have December 25.

Via Queens Crap, a Daily News article by the very same John Steele Gordon on How New York Invented Christmas.
... the Puritans outlawed Christmas altogether. When it was revived in 1660, it was a calmer affair, and still celebrated on a community basis. It was New York City that changed all that, pioneering the family — and very child-centered — holiday that has since spread around the world. This is not surprising, perhaps, seeing that Santa Claus is New York's patron saint.
No, really. The Dutch ship that brought the first settlers to Manhattan was named for St. Nicholas, the patron saint of old Amsterdam as well as children.
It was long a Dutch tradition for children to get presents on St. Nicholas Day, Dec. 6, often put in their shoes or stockings for them to find in the morning. The children of non-Dutch families, noticing how well the Dutch children were making out on Dec. 6, were soon successfully lobbying their parents to give them presents as well. Often these presents came on Christmas instead of St. Nicholas Day.
One other point on this topic. I wish people would stop using the word "War" on Christmas. Their is no "War" on Christmas in America. There is a disagreement and dispute over the proper role of the State in celebrating the holiday but there is no war. To use the "War" analogy makes a mockery of the sacrifices made by the service men and women of the United States Military who are fighting and dying in a real global war.


RI 360 said...

I enjoyed reading this post. I grew up as one of three Jewish kids in the entire grade so the issues were always clear to me. The facts were the facts. While I agree that PC has its place sometimes it goes too far.

I enjoy looking at a beautiful Christmas Tree but I don't use it so why rename it for my benefit as I am not offended. I don't expect we would ever re-name a Chanukkah Menorah all holidays as to do so would result in a candle count quandary (between Chanukkah and Kwanza) and dilute each holiday. So I say why dilute Christmas by changing the fact that the tree is a Christams Tree. We all know the truth.

If we want to be PC ensure each faith is represented if they desire to be. There is no need to dilute or lessen another man's tradition.

Anonymous said...

To RI 360-
Up until your last sentence, I was in agreement with your sentiment, however, as a women, I take great offense that you think tradition somehow belongs to the male gender. -