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"But we were happy. We had a nice Jewish Christmas. We were content."
December 19, 2010 9:07 AM   Subscribe

Neil Gaiman wants a Christmas tree, just one problem, he's Jewish. And he's not the only one debating this issue. There's a discussion over at slate.com on whether or not Jews should own a Christmas tree.
posted by Fizz (131 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Call it a Hanukkah bush, and have done with it.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 9:10 AM on December 19, 2010 [9 favorites]


My partner and I are atheists. We have a tree. It was her idea.
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:10 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Uh the tree tradition came from the pagans, not Christians. Is that taboo within Jewish Culture?
posted by wheelieman at 9:11 AM on December 19, 2010 [29 favorites]


Although I think next year we're going to get a Chrimbus Bush.
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:11 AM on December 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Uh the tree tradition came from the pagans, not Christians. Is that taboo within Jewish Culture?

Mr. Gaiman raises this point with this mother. It does not sway her the way he thinks it might.
posted by Fizz at 9:14 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, without bothering to read the article, Neil Gaiman of all people should certainly know that the tradition predates Christianity. It's kind of a non-debate.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:15 AM on December 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


My parents were not particularly observant Jews

That's a bit of an understatement.
posted by empath at 9:16 AM on December 19, 2010 [13 favorites]


The argument in the Slate article, as I understand it, seems to be that All minorities should resist All assimilatiion.

So, for example, my extended family who comes from Mexico - where Christmas trees are not traditional - should not have Christmas trees either. Nobody should have Christmas trees unless you have had them, I suppose, as a long unbroken tradition in your family dating back to pagan cultures. That is his argument, as I understand it.
posted by vacapinta at 9:17 AM on December 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


Oh my god, who cares. Do what you want.
posted by something something at 9:17 AM on December 19, 2010 [109 favorites]


Uh the tree tradition came from the pagans, not Christians. Is that taboo within Jewish Culture?

I don't mean to get all Godwiny, but here's the analogy:

"The Swastika originates with Hinduism and Buddhism, not Nazis - so why is it still such a taboo?"

Symbols mean what they mean today, not what they originally meant once upon a time.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:20 AM on December 19, 2010 [21 favorites]


The evergreen tree in your living room at the Winter Solstice has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Christianity despite what everybody calls it. The tree, the gift giving, the jolly elves and the particular elf that brings gifts to kids, are all part of a pagan tradition celebrating the reversal of winter, the lengthening of the days, and the ultimate return of the Earth's fertility for another year.

Taking what evidence is in the Bible at face value, the most likely time of year for Christ's birth would have been late September. Christians celebrate it at the Solstice because the Catholic Church cynically pegged the date to co-opt the traditional Pagan celebration which they were stubbornly refusing to give up.

Now if Neil wanted a Nativity scene, I'd wonder...
posted by localroger at 9:20 AM on December 19, 2010 [10 favorites]


the most likely time of year for Christ's birth would have been late September.

I:E MY Birthday.

Please pile the tributes on the right.
posted by The Whelk at 9:21 AM on December 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


The tree, the gift giving, the jolly elves and the particular elf that brings gifts to kids, are all part of a pagan tradition celebrating the reversal of winter, the lengthening of the days, and the ultimate return of the Earth's fertility for another year.

And also the result of a particularly effective advertising campaign.
posted by empath at 9:22 AM on December 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


I gas fun with the tree concept. I did kind of a Commie Christmas tree, a Soviet military cap badge topped it, and it was decorated otherwise pretty normally. It was more of an installation than a tree. I did a tumbleweed tree one year. The kids still talk about that one. We had regular trees along the way, but I don't put up a tree anymore. There's a huge one in the lobby of my building. The custom has nothing to do eith Jesus. I told my kids the truth about Santa as well. I said 'O.K. it's fun but it's pretend. I have two kids who still speak to me, and when I needed credibility I had it. The Santa stuff and the Easter Bunny stuff is just SILLY! I too think if you belong to a minority religion, there is nothing wrong with embracing it. Small minorities that assimilate wind up disappearing.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 9:23 AM on December 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Also, like most inexplicable 20th century western traditions, it can be linked to Albert and Victoria.
posted by The Whelk at 9:24 AM on December 19, 2010 [7 favorites]


I have a Christmas tree. I also have a voodoo shrine. And I identify as Taoist.

I'd say I'm a pretty typical Jew.

By the way, if I can brag for a moment, Neil and are both being anthologized in a book of Jewish science fiction called People of the Book.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:25 AM on December 19, 2010 [18 favorites]


The evergreen tree in your living room at the Winter Solstice has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Christianity despite what everybody calls it.

Haven't we done this about a bunch of other things already? It certainly matters what the origins of a thing are, but it does not obliterate the common contemporary use and interpretations of that thing. And vice versa.

That said, yeah, do what you want! Christmas trees are fun, and I am a staunchly anti-religious person who adores Christmas.
posted by dirtdirt at 9:28 AM on December 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


The framing of this post is kinda wonky. The Neil Gaiman piece is a memoir bit from his childhood, not an issue that he is presently struggling with.
posted by mayhap at 9:28 AM on December 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


Yeah, the actual person of Santa Claus owes more to Coca-Cola than to the pagans, but his elves come straight down from rural Germany.

Tomorrowful: I don't mean to get all Godwiny,

I hate to break this to you, but you have failed miserably.

And I would counter that symbols mean what they mean for a lot of very deep reasons. Evergreen trees symbolize survival through the winter. If you can find a reference to them in the Bible, I'm all ears. Bunny rabbits and eggs symbolize fertility, not Christ's resurrection; again, Bible or STFU. And you don't even want to know what the Romans originally did in the middle of February, which we now celebrate in the name of the nonexistent "saint" Valentine by encouraging lovers to exchange pictures of bloody hearts.
posted by localroger at 9:28 AM on December 19, 2010 [9 favorites]


It's time again for "Christmas traditions are pagan traditions" eh? Came a little late this year.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:29 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm on record as saying I love Christmas because it steamrolled over every tradition it touched and stuck them all together like a Cultural Katamari full of elves, saints, magis, stars, doves, donkeys, party lights, peppermint, magical babies and flying deer.
posted by The Whelk at 9:34 AM on December 19, 2010 [144 favorites]


Well MSStPT, it's kind of the most obvious way to point out that the entire point of the OP is, well, stupid. The trees, bunny rabits, and valentine cards are more secular than religious at this point and there's really no reason for someone who isn't Christian to avoid them.
posted by localroger at 9:35 AM on December 19, 2010


Yeah, without bothering to read the article, Neil Gaiman of all people should certainly know that the tradition predates Christianity. It's kind of a non-debate.

....I'd suggest reading the article. In it you will find that it's a memoir from when he was eight, and already knew that it did at that age -- and used that knowledge to successfully convince his parents to let them have a tree.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:36 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


@The Whelk: And Chinese food and movies!
posted by Jacqueline at 9:38 AM on December 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Wow, both participants in that Slate back-and-forth are really glib.

It was more of an installation than a tree.

Heh. My roommate just installed a solstice/lunar eclipse tree made of chicken wire, duct tape, translucent paper and stringed white lights from floor to ceiling in the center of the living room. It's beautiful.

We used to have Xmas trees in the house whenever the holiday happened while dad was dating a shikseh. He was ecumenical like that.
posted by mediareport at 9:39 AM on December 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


localroger: "Well MSStPT, it's kind of the most obvious way to point out that the entire point of the OP is, well, stupid. The trees, bunny rabits, and valentine cards are more secular than religious at this point and there's really no reason for someone who isn't Christian to avoid them"

Right, just saying, this fact is in "the sky is blue" territory by now. And as has been pointed out, Gaiman was aware of this, too, just like many, many other people.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:40 AM on December 19, 2010


In Soviet Russia, Christmas Trees decorate you.

But seriously, you don't even have to go back as far as the pagans to find non-Christians tree-ing it up. In the USSR, where my (Jewish) family's from, the godless communists turned the Christmas Tree, along with Santa (Father Frost) and gift-giving, into a New Year's Eve tradition. When we immigrated, it took me a while to absorb that it was a quasi-religious thing here. My parents still put up a tree, largely for my younger sister's benefit.
posted by eugenen at 9:46 AM on December 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Please pile the tributes on the right.

*Begins wrapping a hammer, nails, wood and the most comfy crown ever*
posted by nomadicink at 9:52 AM on December 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


I'm an atheist who could care less about either the religious parts of Christmas (Don't believe) or the gifty parts (Don't like getting stuff; Don't like the hassle of giving stuff cause you have to, not because you mean it).

And so I don't put up lights, or trees, or anything, cause really, I go to my parents house for Christmas dinner and call it a night. But if I had kids*, you better believe the tree and the stockings and Santa would come back in force in my house, even if Jesus and all that side stuff that Christmas used to mean wouldn't be welcome. I can certainly see why a Jewish family would push back against it, but I can also see why a Jewish family would just run with the fun parts and ignore the rest. After all, I don't need to believe what the pilgrims believed to enjoy a pumpkin pie slice on Thanksgiving.


(*As always, my declarations of "what I'll do with my kids" ignores the input of the hypothetical mother, as I have no way of knowing what this imaginary person would or wouldn't lobby for)
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 9:52 AM on December 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


It certainly matters what the origins of a thing are, but it does not obliterate the common contemporary use and interpretations of that thing.

Even if you take that on premise (which I'm not 100% sure I agree with, it seems to give too much power to revisionists), I still think you can put together a very solid argument that the "common contemporary use and interpretation of" a Christmas tree has virtually nothing to do with religion. Same with Santa Claus, elves, reindeer, presents, funny hats, or getting soused on eggnog.

Christians lost control of Christmas — at least those aspects of Christmas — a long time ago. They're part of mainstream Western culture, a sort of communal cultural property that anyone can borrow from, and I think we're ceding a lot of ground to the Dark Side of the culture wars if we let them own Christmas as a religious holiday.

You know who else loves Christmas? That's right. Japan.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:55 AM on December 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Haven't had one in years. Don't really feel the need to cut down a tree to display in my house.

My grandparents owned a lot of land in upstate new York. Every year my grandfather would have a tree picked out by the middle of summer. One day towards Christmas he would come home from working 2nd shift at the plant and decide to go get the tree. He would gas up the chainsaw and head out into the night. After a few hours I would hear thrashing in the bushes near the house, and see the light from his flashlight swinging crazily. As he go closer I would hear him cursing a blue streak "cocksucking tree, fucking Christmas, never again."

After years of this the pickings on his own land were getting slim so he picked out a tree on somebody elses land. He woke me up in the middle of the night to go with him to get the tree. This was a covert operation so he brought a crosscut saw and a flashlight he had tinted red with magic marker. After driving for a while he stopped, turned off the headlights, made a turn and crept the car down a rutted country lane for a few miles. I was the lookout, if I saw a farmer with a gun I was to honk the horn to warn him. After a few hours I saw him emerge from the bushes down the lane, cursing a blue streak. He had lost his saw and his flashlight and got turned around in the dark but he had his tree. After being dragged through the woods for hours the tree was beat to hell and missing most of it's needles.

The next year he had an artificial tree.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:00 AM on December 19, 2010 [14 favorites]


It's times like these that Neil needs to ask himself, "What would Jesus do?" then he'd either leave that tree alone or turn it into a kickass puzzle box!
posted by cjorgensen at 10:04 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the actual person of Santa Claus owes more to Coca-Cola

Please, this urban legend has to die! The US Santa Claus image was created largely by Thomas Nast in the 19th century; the first Coca-Cola ad with Santa wasn't until the 1930s.

DIE URBAN LEGEND DIE DIE DIE
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:05 AM on December 19, 2010 [19 favorites]


My college girlfriend (who is of Eastern European Jewish descent) married a college pal of mine (who is of Filipino Catholic descent). Their holiday card has a picture of their toddler daughter wearing a Santa hat, holding a menorah and looking quizzical.
posted by jonmc at 10:06 AM on December 19, 2010 [15 favorites]


Is there a Scientology stand on Christmas trees (and Christmas celebrations)? Or did this vignette happen before the Gaimans père et mère became big Scientology wheels?

Serious question--I don't know anyone who is an adherent of the Church of Scientology, so have no idea how or whether that affects their seasonal observances.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:07 AM on December 19, 2010


The Bible is pretty unambiguous:
Hear ye the word which the Lord speaketh unto you, O house of Israel: Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.—Jeremiah 10: 1-4
As for Gaiman's story, he was also raised as a Scientologist, which must have further complicated the Christmas season.
posted by Doktor Zed at 10:07 AM on December 19, 2010 [8 favorites]


The Christmas tree is the best part of the holiday season! Everyone should have one.

For me, it's the one tradition I really, truly enjoy. Everything else is just a damn pain in the ass. Not that the tree doesn't come with its own hassles, of course. But unlike the gifts, the songs, the mall, and the family, the tree can be set alight on the 26th.
posted by ryanrs at 10:13 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Slight correction: eggnog is also not annoying.
posted by ryanrs at 10:13 AM on December 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm of the same opinion JKF, and when I have kids I'm thinking when I have kids I'm going to invent my own mythology and call it Shopocalypse. The December shopping madness will be explained as necessary to appease the Gods of Shopocalypse, because if they are not pleased Santa will come for all the children and take them away to toil as slaves making toys in a factory at the North Pole. If we sacrifice enough money to please the Shopocalypse gods, they'll send Santa with all the toy's made by the factory kids and the world's children will be granted reprieve for another year. A decorated tree will be a display of opulence to fool Santa into thinking we've done our part and made a large sacrifice.
posted by Hoopo at 10:16 AM on December 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's interesting.

My wife was raised Jehovah's Witness, and thus didn't have a Christmas Tree all through her youth. I'm sorta-atheist (or at least hostile to Christianity), and thus the religious trappings of Christmas make me itchy.

Therefore, of course, we've got a nice 6 and a half foot tree, because fuck them. It's pretty and sparkly and makes the whole house smell nice.

Jesus is not the reason for the season, and there's no way I need to act like he is. Christmas is a stolen tradition. There's no reason we can't steal it back.
posted by Myca at 10:16 AM on December 19, 2010 [9 favorites]


Yeah, without bothering to read the article, Neil Gaiman of all people should certainly know that the tradition predates Christianity.

This is basically the argument of the eight year old Gaiman. However, it seems to me that while the tradition of having a tree may be pagan, that is not the same as having a tree and naming it as a Christmas tree. I am sure somewhere in Gaiman's ouevre there is something to suggest names have power and this would seem to be one occasion where that can be at least a little true.
posted by biffa at 10:18 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Io Saturnalia!
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:19 AM on December 19, 2010 [10 favorites]


All minorities should resist All assimilatiion.

Bah to the Salon article. We're greater as a collective culture than a fragmented one. Take the stuff you like from other traditions and steal them with zero remorse. Celebrate Hanukkah AND Christmas. And Kwanzaa. And the Day of the Dead, if you like. They're all neat traditions (although the DotD is kind of depressing), and it's not like anyone can really own them. As long as you treat them with respect, I see no issue. And it's not like you have to give up your own heritage.... you can add without replacing.

I love Christmas trees, and I'm not even vaguely religious. Not even a little bit. When I was in my fiercely atheistic years, it was just a neat decoration that was cheap and smelled great at the end of the year. Now that I'm older and less militant, I've picked up on the deeper symbolism of the evergreen tree showing that life continues even in the harshest and darkest winter. And partly because of the life symbolism, I now prefer living trees to dead ones, when I can get them. I'll take a dead one if that's all I can find, because the harvested tree doesn't die, but living ones are better.

In either case, religion is irrelevant. I just like Christmas trees. :)
posted by Malor at 10:20 AM on December 19, 2010 [10 favorites]


All holidays in our family are secular. No one had to write an essay about it.
posted by Brocktoon at 10:20 AM on December 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


I culturally identify as Jewish and was raised Jewish. I never had a tree, never really wanted a tree. It's all alien to me. No stockings, decorations, christmas eve, nada.

I like it. No muss, no fuss. Unfortunately, Christmas Day is the boringest day in the entire year. NOTHING happens that day.

Sure, you can go to a movie and get chinese food, or visit a gentile and eat all of their pepperoni snacks, but other than that, it's the most uninteresting day of the year.

When I met my now wife, she tried to get a christmas tree. The cats ate it and threw up everywhere. So she got a fake christmas tree. The cats ate that and threw up everywhere. She got a fake christmas tree and put it in the closet. The cats got into the closet, dragged it out, ate it and threw up everywhere.

So she converted.

And that's why we don't celebrate Christmas.
posted by Lord_Pall at 10:20 AM on December 19, 2010 [18 favorites]


Or did this vignette happen before the Gaimans père et mère became big Scientology wheels?

Speaking of urban legends people wish would die...(the family dabbled, but who said they were "big wheels"?)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:21 AM on December 19, 2010


Over the years, we've let go most of the trappings of Christianity, but kept the tree. I like trees - to me the tree symbolizes life and the renewal of the world at the equinox. There is a downside though, if you follow A. Whitney Brown's rant about how trees are stealing all the carbon and hiding it away underground for their own. nefarious. purposes. (Sorry I couldn't find media of him doing it. But it was a CBC radio Christmas special a few years ago.)
posted by sneebler at 10:24 AM on December 19, 2010


I literally can't think of a debate less worth having.
posted by cmoj at 10:25 AM on December 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


My family is Hindu, I don't really practice faith in an organized way but as a non-Christian who was raised in Texas, we participated in what I like to call "the commercialized/idealized form of Christmas". This includes everything you'd expect: a tree, candy canes, lights, a visit to Santa.

For my family it was always about making the kids smile and laugh. An excuse to spend some time with loved ones and people we care about. You don't have to be Christian to enjoy that. Besides as we all know, "Christmas is the one time of the year that people of all religions come together to worship the birth of Santa!"
posted by Fizz at 10:26 AM on December 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Oh, just get a bloody tree if you want one. Have a bloody menorah if you think they're cool. Stick a bloody Festivus pole up if it amuses you. Why does religion so often seem to turn people into precious, self-regarding arses? I'm a religion-loathing atheist hellion and I like Christmas trees, Christmas carols, Diwali fireworks and that mad Saint Giglio thing they do in Williamsburg every year. Just because I think the whole idea of saints is madder than a book on sheer unadulterated essence of mad, written by Mad Jack McMad, winner of the world "Mr. Mad" competition (apologies to Blackadder) doesn't mean I can't appreciate the glory of eating fried street meats whilst watching a bunch of guys totter around with about fifty feet of saint-topped metal on their shoulders. You know?

Glad to see Gaiman gets it, at least.
posted by Decani at 10:27 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, this thread again.

Can we just go back to debating circumcision, cat declawing, questionable leftovers, and the relative merits of the various Assistant District Attorneys on Law and Order?

Bah, humbug.
posted by mosk at 10:28 AM on December 19, 2010


Huh, I always thought my dad made up the term "Hanukah bush". Ours always had a Star of David on top.
posted by Quietgal at 10:31 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I thought at first sight that this was a silly question. It is a silly question, but on reflection the general issue it raises is a bit more serious.

One of the reasons to value diversity is the cross-fertilisation that can occur. If nobody ever adopts anyone else's stuff, we lose out on this. On the other hand, if we assimilate so thoroughly that everyone ends up with the same identical culture, we lose the challenge and stimulation of dealing with difference, which is one of the other reasons to value diversity.

So my answer to the Christmas trees is a resounding maybe.
posted by Segundus at 10:35 AM on December 19, 2010


I have a tree. But I have also been having a FB discussion with one of Quonsar's friends who invoked that Jeremiah verse on me.

Of course, there WERE no Christmas trees in OT times.

Anyway, as far as I am concerned, trees and santa and all that are simply how my culture celebrates the season and it just dovetails with the religious aspects. I think anyone who would like a tree should get one, and anyone who does not want a tree or thinks it is wrong for them to get a tree should NOT get one, and that people should NOT try to tell others whether or not they should get a tree. *ptui*

(P.S.- Back in November of '98 I was in Thailand. In back of our hotel they had a great big honking Christmas tree. So it seems the Buddhists don't have a problem with them.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 10:35 AM on December 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Speaking of urban legends people wish would die...(the family dabbled, but who said they were "big wheels"?)

Wait, seriously? His Dad was their spokesman. He headed the PR office, which is the one that does infiltrations and conspiracy. He replaced the woman who headed the US Government infoltration of the 70's. Do you know what dabbled even means?
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 10:36 AM on December 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Speaking of urban legends people wish would die...(the family dabbled, but who said they were "big wheels"?)

That's not an urban legend. They were huge wheels in the UK Scientology community, per the UK Scientology community. David Gaiman was especially prominent in various church-sponsored health and substance abuse recovery initiatives; one of the Gaimans' daughters works for a Scientology detox and wellness center, and the other is an administrator for the church itself.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:36 AM on December 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


Like Lord_Pall, I'm a Jew whose usual response to Christmas is "yawn"--seriously, do you have to close everything? Even the Chinese restaurants around here close on Christmas! (How can I have a traditional Jewish Christmas dinner if there are no Chinese restaurants? Folks, get with the program.) But who cares if you're a Jew with a Christmas tree? Trees--not Christian. Stockings--pretty universal. Santa--completely secularized. Give people gifts! Go for it!

(Incidentally, my paternal grandmother, who was raised Orthodox, gave me a Santa doll for my first Hanukkah.)
posted by thomas j wise at 10:40 AM on December 19, 2010


why do people feel they have to kill shit to impress a deity? who the hell thought that would be a good idea?
posted by kitchenrat at 10:45 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


That's not an urban legend. They were huge wheels in the UK Scientology community, per the UK Scientology community. David Gaiman was especially prominent in various church-sponsored health and substance abuse recovery initiatives; one of the Gaimans' daughters works for a Scientology detox and wellness center, and the other is an administrator for the church itself.

I stand corrected. I'd chiefly read interviews where he downplayed that for the most part, describing the family as "Jewish Scientologists," and I understood it to mean that the family just had a more temporary interest that never got all that serious and it ended after a few years.

Do you know what dabbled even means?

I do. But as I say above, I was working on different and incomplete information.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:46 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


When I went to a friend's for dinner two weeks ago, she had a tree decorated in blue and white. There were also stars of davids, shins, nuns, gimmels, and heys. This is also the woman that introduced me to strip dreidel, though, so I guess I'd understand of it wasn't for everyone.
posted by honeydew at 10:51 AM on December 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


I'd chiefly read interviews where he downplayed that for the most part, describing the family as "Jewish Scientologists"

Yes, it seems to be something he would prefer not to discuss (for which I can't blame him, especially if that's not his own philosophy), but the rest of his family is and has been very devoted to and active in the organization.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:53 AM on December 19, 2010


Ahh, syncretism in action.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:01 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't see how the Christmas tree's origins in pagan tradition has any bearing on this debate - after all, Judaism also predates Christianity. Jews were not allowed to participate in any form of worshiping other gods - which of course includes pagan traditions - because that's pretty much all there was before Christianity came along. The fact that Christian holy days were often the times of mass-slaughter of Jews, the fact that there is a lot of anti-semitism built directly into the Christian Bible and religious tradition, and the fact that the Christmas tree has - despite modern protests to the contrary - officially symbolized "wood for the cross, green for eternal life, red for the blood of Jesus" are all significant arguments against Jews having Xmas trees, but the pagan origins are actually an equally strong barrier.

I think there may be a deep-seated human need to decorate, especially when the weather starts making the scenery bleak. For religious Jews, there is already a holiday that fills that need: Sukkot (the fall harvest holidays where we build and decorate booths). For nonreligious / secular / unaffiliated Jews who wouldn't dream of building a sukkah, why not have a Xmas tree -- if you're not getting (or choosing not to get) what you need from your own religion, why not poach what you can from other people's? Once someone doesn't see a problem with assimilation, it doesn't make sense to punish them by refusing to allow them to assimilate. The battle - if there even is one - is already lost.
posted by Mchelly at 11:01 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Do you know what dabbled even means?

Put that under the category of 'things that read way harsher than they wrote.'
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 11:03 AM on December 19, 2010


I am all for taking Christmas away from religious people. In America, Christmas is an American holiday that commemorates the birth of Jesus, a major figure in folklore popular in America and around the world. Jesus was believed by some to be the son of God, another major figure in those and other folk traditions. Another fictional character is Santa, who is seen as more real than Jesus or God, because children actually believe in him, and adults dress up as him to perpetuate the children's belief.

Anyway, that's how Christmas works in my brain. My roommates and I are jews-turned-atheists, catholics-turned-atheists, and buddhists-turned-atheists, and we have a christmas tree with presents under it because it's fun and cute and for no other reason. Also, the star on top of our tree is the Death Star.
posted by Jon_Evil at 11:04 AM on December 19, 2010 [9 favorites]


Am I the only one who finds it strange that Gaiman is writing about wanting a Christmas tree?
posted by New England Cultist at 11:04 AM on December 19, 2010


Our more orthodox cousins, profoundly treeless, were both scandalised and impressed by this. But we were happy. We had a nice Jewish Christmas. We were content.

"A Nice Jewish Christmas" could be an outstanding title for a holiday music album...
posted by nanojath at 11:07 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


This has been a huge issue for my family, actually.

You see, my mother is Jewish. Raised Orthodox, in fact, and was briefly disowned by her parents when she married my father, whose religious upbringing was nebulously Christian.

We were raised celebrating holidays within both religious traditions, which led to some confusion, sure, but this was mostly about my mother not wanting to read me the nativity story in my children's illustrated bible or my dad having a sulk because no one gave him an Easter basket. My mom has always understood the importance of Jewish holidays, and those traditions, because she was both raised and believes in Jewish stuff. But, though she tried to be a good sport while my dad was alive, she never really seemed to get the magic of Christmas, if you know what I'm saying.

But like I said, she did her best. And so Christmas, for the first eight years of my life, was all about the ceremonial construction of our artificial tree (we never had a real one), and lights everywhere, and fake evergreen streamers wrapped around our banister. The North family traditional dinner was cheesy, but felt magical (New England clam chowder, Waldorf salad, plum pudding). I loved Christmas. Loved loved loved. I used to shove my head atop the Christmas tree skirt and squint my eyes and pretend that the winking lights were literally magical. I believed in Santa for longer than almost every other kid in my school, mostly because I wanted to. Santa made me happy. Very very happy.

It wasn't the gifts and it certainly wasn't Jesus. It was the lights. The snow. The smell of artificial evergreen spray. And the Christmas movies. And the lights.

My dad died when I was eight, and my mom, grief-struck, held on to the traditions for a few years, then when I was fourteen or so, unceremoniously threw our tree in the trash. We always "celebrated"--exchanged gifts, did something for dinner--but it didn't feel right. It felt very wrong. I really mourned the lack of Christmassy-Christmas, coveted my friends' family trees.

Last year, my husband, who comes from a similar Jewish/Christian muddled background and whose family has, likewise, eschewed Christmas, and I decided to reinvigorate these childhood traditions in a way that honors our agnostic belief systems. We celebrate the solstice. I mean, that's a real, physical, scientific and natural thing. And it represents the return of sunlight, the end of a long winter. So, totally worth celebrating!

So we have a tree (dinky, small, and fiber optic. But still! Magical!) and lights and both this year and last have invited friends over to eat a yule ham, drink mead, and try to stay up and greet the dawn. We watch our favorite old holiday films (Emmett Otter's Jug Band Christmas, Santa Claus: The Movie, Pee-wee's Christmas Special, among others) and bask in wonderful holidayness and ask our friends to share traditions, too.

It's awesome. It makes me very happy.

This year I ended up having some interesting conversations (*cough* arguments) with my family about the whole thing. For the first time, I told my mother how much the tree, and those traditions, had meant to me. I realize that for her, as a Jew who was not raised with this being a magical, special thing, it might not resonate as strongly for her. When I mentioned that I hoped we could do something a little Christmassy together this year, my sister (areligious, but Jewish-identified) responded that she hates this stuff; my mother told me that she thinks trees are tchachkes. And I was like, wait a minute, these are important traditions from half of my family. Mom seemed surprised. But a few days later called me up and said she picked up a fake tree for ten bucks from a thrift store and that she wants to make Waldorf salad this year. Best Christmas present ever, you know?

I don't expect the glittery holidays of my childhood at home anymore--that's what solstice is for--but I'm glad I said something. Maybe it's just because I was raised with it, but I really do think the Pagans did something right in the way they celebrated the dead cold of winter. There's something deeply *right* about lights and sparkles and togetherness on the longest night of the year, or near it. I understand that Jews in Christian countries have an uncomfortable relationship with these Christmas traditions, but I'd hate to throw out the sparkly, wonderful baby with the Jesusy bathwater, if you know what I mean.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:08 AM on December 19, 2010 [31 favorites]


I am all for taking Christmas away from religious people.

You can actually go ahead and have your Christmas without "taking" it away from anyone.

Favorite weird de-Christianized culture: Japan
posted by nanojath at 11:09 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


This seemed a little weak for an FPP, but perfect for here: The History of Jewish Christmas Dinner.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:10 AM on December 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


(Of course, I respect those who love the Jesusy bathwater. It's just not my thing, belief-wise.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:10 AM on December 19, 2010


"de-Christianized Christmas in other Cultures" I should have said, obviously Japan has never had much Christianity to "de-". But their Christmas traditions... it's weird stuff.
posted by nanojath at 11:13 AM on December 19, 2010


Speaking of appropriating other cultures fun holiday traditions, I've long though Sukkot looked fun. Not the prayers, the services, and the other religious stuff. Just the part where you build a fort in the backyard.

In late September or October, Jewish families spend a week living in a temporary structure which looks a lot like a kid's clubhouse / treehouse / fort. For the most part, I think "living in the fort" means eating meals and sleeping in it. From the Wikipedia articles, it looks exactly like camping in the backyard. It doesn't look like people cook in the fort, skip bathing, etc. So it's not like roughing it in the wilderness. Instead the emphasis seems to be on constructing the shelter and sleeping in it.

Jewish mefites, got any details? Is this commonly observed (building and sleeping in sukkah, specifically)?
posted by ryanrs at 11:15 AM on December 19, 2010


Jews were not allowed to participate in any form of worshiping other gods - which of course includes pagan traditions - because that's pretty much all there was before Christianity came along.

This is such a weird way to look at the history of religion. What do you mean by pagan? Prior to Christianity, the word didn't have it's current meaning.
posted by empath at 11:17 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


But their Christmas traditions... it's weird stuff.

5 years back a pizza chain called Pizza-La had their delivery guys wear Santa outfits in the weeks leading up to Christmas. On Christmas Eve I had a pizza delivered by a short, skinny Japanese Santa on a scooter.
posted by Hoopo at 11:18 AM on December 19, 2010


Friend of mine has a Christmas tree, but he calls it the Tree of Thor. He's not Jewish, though.
posted by scratch at 11:19 AM on December 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Christians lost control of Christmas — at least those aspects of Christmas — a long time ago. They're part of mainstream Western culture, a sort of communal cultural property that anyone can borrow from, and I think we're ceding a lot of ground to the Dark Side of the culture wars if we let them own Christmas as a religious holiday.

This is correct. It's a major secular holiday of gift-giving, to which some Christians also attach a religious significance. We had a tree every year growing up, and even angels on it sometimes. But it was such an atheist household that I literally could not have told you who Jesus was or what he had to do with Christmas until probably high school.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:22 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


What do you mean by pagan?

Prior to Christianity, it meant "not Jewish." Or, at least, it's Hebrew equivalent did.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:32 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


PhoBWanKenobi: I'd hate to throw out the sparkly, wonderful baby with the Jesusy bathwater, if you know what I mean.

I think you mean: Don't throw the bathwater out with the baby Jesus.
posted by Kattullus at 11:33 AM on December 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


We decided just to celebrate Yule.
Yule trees, logs, goats, ham, presents. and none of the dogma.
posted by Balisong at 11:38 AM on December 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think you mean: Don't throw the bathwater out with the baby Jesus.

You know, I suspected a brilliant play on words was lurking somewhere beneath the surface of that.

But I was distracted by the sparkling lights, and couldn't think of one.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:39 AM on December 19, 2010


Symbols mean what they mean today, not what they originally meant once upon a time.

Exactly. And since most people who celebrate Christmas aren't really Christians (either non-practicing, atheist, or of another religion), it doesn't really matter any more. I get trying to fight against assimilation or loss of culture or whatever, but a "Christmas tree" isn't really a symbol of Christianity in the way that a menorah is a symbol of Judaism.
posted by 1000monkeys at 11:48 AM on December 19, 2010


For a Jew to celebrate Christmas does feel like a leap after years of oppression and genocide. So I recommend that Christians get and use a Hanukkah menorah in solidarity. More lights, latkes; what's not to love? Christmas trees smell good, and are an excuse to have something purely lovely and totally impractical in the house. They have no religious symbolism, unlike St. Nick or the manger. Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men and Women is a message I can embrace, despite being an atheist. If a member of an oppressed group, or any body else, wants in on the fun, works for me.
posted by theora55 at 11:51 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


But their Christmas traditions... it's weird stuff.

"Colonel Saunders" lol
I'm calling him that from now on. It will be my new Christmas tradition, pagan iconography be damned.
posted by The World Famous at 11:53 AM on December 19, 2010


do whatever the heck you want and just make sure you, your wife (or whatever) and kids agree. and if your kids do not, screw them and give them nothing.
posted by Postroad at 11:55 AM on December 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Jewish mefites, got any details? Is this commonly observed (building and sleeping in sukkah, specifically)?

Pretty much universally observed in the Orthodox community (except for those who live in homes without outdoor space - here's a great shot of how it looks in one of the Chassidic sections of Brooklyn). Less common in other branches - the synagogue will build one, but individual families are less likely to. Where the weather is nice, people do sleep in them, otherwise the only requirement is to eat your meals there (and only when the weather is nice - if it's raining enough to ruin your soup, you eat inside). It's by far my favorite Jewish holiday, but I do have to admit I sometimes describe it to non-Jewish friends as being "like a giant Xmas tree you eat inside."
posted by Mchelly at 11:57 AM on December 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's pagan.

In fact, if you go by the St. Boniface origin story, it's not only pagan, but anti-Christian: According to legend, Boniface cut down the tree of Thor (an oak) as a 'fuck you' to Norse paganism, and a fir grew in its place; whereas we cut down firs...
posted by Sys Rq at 12:04 PM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm skeptical of Gaiman's story. No eight year old Jewish kid whose parents are concerned about Christian influence has read all the Gospels and drawn theological conclusions about conflated narratives.
posted by TheShadowKnows at 12:20 PM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Prior to Christianity, it meant "not Jewish." Or, at least, it's Hebrew equivalent did.

What's the Hebrew equivalent to pagan? Goyim? Doesn't that usually get translated as gentile?
posted by empath at 12:44 PM on December 19, 2010


No eight year old Jewish kid whose parents are concerned about Christian influence has read all the Gospels and drawn theological conclusions about conflated narratives.

You'd be surprised how deep in the weeds we managed to get in our third grade religion classes. Thoughtful kids spend a lot of time trying to make what they read make sense, and ask a lot of pointed questions.
posted by empath at 12:48 PM on December 19, 2010


Postroad: "do whatever the heck you want and just make sure you, your wife (or whatever) and kids agree. and if your kids do not, screw them and give them nothing"

"Santa doesn't like ingrates. Sorry, maybe next year!"
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:05 PM on December 19, 2010


Goyim? Doesn't that usually get translated as gentile?

Goyyim means "nation." As far as I can tell, the Hebrew word for pagan is "עובד אלילים" meaning "idolater" or "heathen."

Although looking at some original Biblical texts, such as Lamentations 1;10, the word there that is often translated as "heathens" or "pagans" is goyyim.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:06 PM on December 19, 2010


localroger: "Yeah, the actual person of Santa Claus owes more to Coca-Cola than to the pagans, but his elves come straight down from rural Germany."

Nah, Santa's helpers are no bell-toed felt-wearing prancing Hollywood midgets over here. Ours are quite a bit different.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 1:08 PM on December 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


An interesting post.

I'm not Jewish (total Anglo-protestant background), but have always been fascinated by the Jewish culture and traditions. My Jewish friends say I have dos pintele yid. I can read biblical Hebrew. I know and observe more mitzvot than most of said Jewish friends. I light Shabbos candles every Friday. I build a sukkah when I can. I just put away this year's hannukiah.

But I also do a Christmas tree every year. (Well, maybe not this year, because I can't afford one.)

My beliefs are basically agnostic, if not outright atheist, but for me there is something about the rituals -- the symbolism -- that expresses hope during a bleak season. And for me it is just that. It's deeply personal. But it also is an outward expression of hope for humanity. That's what it is for me, anyway, and I say let everyone do or not do as they choose.
posted by trip and a half at 1:11 PM on December 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Thanks, Mchelly. Non-Jewish Americans should totally co-opt Sukkot.

It could replace Columbus Day, which has fallen out of fashion. Maybe move it up a couple weeks since mid-October can be a bit chilly. The week starting on the last Sunday of September looks good. You can hit the hardware store on Saturday, build a fort over the weekend, and start sleeping in it on Sunday night.

Wow! A new backyard camping holiday! I think it will be fairly resistant to consumerism, too, as long as the emphasis is on constructing something (vs. buying camping gear). I suppose Home Depot will try to get in on the action. It's hard to imagine people camping outside the store to buy plywood, though.

Should I send a proposal to my member of congress, or is there a specific government agency that handles these things?posted by ryanrs at 1:18 PM on December 19, 2010


I know several non-Jews (including myself, and some die-hard Christians) who have appropriated the tradition of eating latkes for Hanukkah. Thanks, Jewish people!
posted by Soliloquy at 1:25 PM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I remember visiting the Wafi City Mall in Dubai in December a few years ago. Wafi City has an overarching Egyptian theme, with pyramids and obelisks and so on. And they had lights up to celebrate the UAE national holiday, also in December, plus their Winter decorations, which were done with a Narnia theme. If you're counting, that's four different themes simultaneously. And boy, did they have some big trees.

Myself, I'm an atheist, so I just put a wreath on my apartment door. It's pagan enough I don't feel like I'm selling out too badly, and my true goal is to create a sense of investment and community on my floor to reduce crime and nuisance. Plus, my door is always closed, so I don't ever have to see the fucking thing.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 1:29 PM on December 19, 2010


I liked Neil Gaiman more before his online presence grew to occlude the sun.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:42 PM on December 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


The Jewish reclamation of Christmas is just part of the Jewish reclamation of Christ:
Christ was a Jew, his religion was and remained the Jewish; and if now we Jews protest—more thoroughly protestant than under you—against the entire Christianity, against the Augustinian-Thomist and against the Augustinian-Lutheran Christianity and against all and each type of Christianity, old and new? How, if we protest in the name of Christ, in the name of the real Christianity of Christ because this is the real Judaism? More powerful today is our protest than ever formerly. Today Judaism protests no longer without Christ, but rather Judaism with Christ; today Christianity protests against Christianity: our true Christianity, i.e. the real Judaism of us real Jews against your false Christianity. We come to the point of saying that we alone are Christians, as soon as we want—and come to it also through what we did not want and do not want: through our renunciation, through our passion story and via dolorosa!—We are Christians as soon as we give this doctrine of Jesus and the apostles its true Jewish interpretation and acknowledge its place.—Constantin Brunner / "Speech of the Jews: We want him back!". In Der Judenhass und die Juden, p. 435.
posted by No Robots at 1:55 PM on December 19, 2010


the DotD is kind of depressing

I beg to differ. Any holiday that includes brightly-colored candy skulls is pretty much awesome by definition.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 2:23 PM on December 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Northern Exposure covered this in the episode entitled "Seoul Mates." Joel wrestles with wanting to get his first Christmas tree, and he and O'Connell eventually bond over its decorating.

Not to take away from the thread; I just really like Northern Exposure.
posted by Eideteker at 2:34 PM on December 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


In Russia, Santa (grandfather frost) comes on New Year's Eve. There's a decorated tree with presents under it and a big family dinner. No Jesus required! Caviar sold separately! I love it and my family celebrates every year. As Jewish as we wanna be!

See, they may have killed 100 million people but the Commies didn't fuck EVERYTHING up! Russia Christmas!
posted by prefpara at 2:38 PM on December 19, 2010


I should just copy and paste my response from the last thread like this (there seems to be at least one every year) which is basically this: hi there, I'm a Jew who has no Christmas tree, no stockings, no visits from Santa. Wasn't raised to want those things, no Chanukah bush or anything like it, doesn't get offended when people wish her a Merry Christmas. Have fun everyone.

I do have an addendum, though. When I went into labor with our son almost three years ago, my husband (who happens not to be Jewish, but is not into Christmas at all) drove us to the hospital, and dropped me off at the door. As I rushed inside, he called out the passenger side window - "WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO ABOUT SANTA?!!!!" I laughed then, and I laugh now remembering it.
posted by pinky at 2:47 PM on December 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


I have been waiting for someone to pop into this thread and remind me what ended up happening with Fleischman's tree - thanks Eideteker! Man, I love that show.
posted by naoko at 3:04 PM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


We always have a Christmas tree. I've been very longingly looking at the Menorahs. I'd like to celebrate everything, even if it's not religiously meaningful to me, which should be okay in America, because if I have to see non-Hindus/non-Indians carrying around bags with Ganesha on it because they think an elephant god is humorous or makes them seem cultured, then I can do whatever I feel like, like making a nativity scene out of toy penguins.
posted by anniecat at 3:10 PM on December 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


The child of a Catholic mother and a Catholic raised atheist, our christmas was mostly about presents and a nice dinner.

My two favorite parts were going to the forest with my dad to cut down a 6 foot branch from a pine for our tree, building a nativity scene by myself and burning the tree in a vacant lot on January 6, our last day of vacation.

Being an obsessive reader trying to make sense of religion, when I was 8 and 9 I kept a menorah in my room, right next to an almanac with exact sunrise and sunset hours.

The nativity scene was the best. My aunt Graciela would build a very large one, taking up most of her patio. Being very Catholic and very Mexican, these are some highlights of her nativity, from bottom to top:

1- A red lit hell section with a whole hierarchy of demons.
2- Pre-hispanic underworld gods and creatures.
3- Fallen angels (normal nativity angels painter red and black and gold, with cracked wings).
4- Aztec human sacrifices.
5- Indians fighting conquistadores.
6- Zebras and lions and dragons living together.
7- Among the normal shepherds, Juan Diego and the Virgin of Guadalupe.
8- All kinds of Catholic saints mixed with pre-hispanic minor gods.
9- The nativity itself.
10- Angels and archangels.
11- Santa Claus with the flying deer and sled.
12- UFOs
13- A very bright light inside a perforated tin pyramid with eye motivs, to represent God.

Myself, I made nativities from age 5 until 11 or 12. Out of clay, plasticine, legos, paper, wood and sometimes playmobil figurines. My favorite: Dinosaur nativity and outer space nativity.

TL;DR: Children don't care that much about strict religious symbolism, but winter is cold and dark and boring and anything creative and nice to look at is welcome in the house.
posted by Dr. Curare at 3:27 PM on December 19, 2010 [12 favorites]


Schmeck the Halls: How Jewish songwriters created Christmas
posted by ovvl at 3:35 PM on December 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Astro Zombie: In my orthodox schooling, they mostly called used the term "avodah zarah", which seemed to mean roughly "idol worship".
posted by vasi at 3:36 PM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Jewish mefites, got any details? Is this commonly observed (building and sleeping in sukkah, specifically)?"

My aunt and uncle do this every year. They don't actually sleep in it though, because camping in a backyard in Los Angeles is the worst experience ever (I've done it. In their backyard. In a tent though. It sucked.).
posted by iamkimiam at 4:57 PM on December 19, 2010


Yule trees! Yule trees for everyone! Jews, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, atheists and everyone! Let's do the yule tree! Let's do it now, and let's do it hard!
posted by Dumsnill at 5:27 PM on December 19, 2010


I'm skeptical of Gaiman's story. No eight year old Jewish kid whose parents are concerned about Christian influence has read all the Gospels and drawn theological conclusions about conflated narratives.

That bit rung so true that I broke out into a big grin. I learned early that parents are loathe to discourage voracious reading, even when the subject matter is pursued as a sort of intentionally irritating rebellion.
posted by desuetude at 5:41 PM on December 19, 2010


Damn thread. Made me want latkes.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:44 PM on December 19, 2010


Just get a Squidtivity and be done with it. Cthulhu commands it!
posted by bitter-girl.com at 6:04 PM on December 19, 2010


No Christmas trees for me. I understand that this deeply offends secular Christians, who seem to consider it a personal attack when other people attach religious significance to things that they enjoy and believe are secular. But a Christmas tree is never going to be secular to me. It's fine by me if other Jewish people want Christmas trees, but I don't celebrate Christmas, so I don't have a Christmas tree. I like to look at other people's, though, because they're pretty.
posted by craichead at 6:05 PM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sidhedevil: Is there a Scientology stand on Christmas trees (and Christmas celebrations)? ...
Serious question--I don't know anyone who is an adherent of the Church of Scientology, so have no idea how or whether that affects their seasonal observances.


I am not a Scientologist but I walk past a Dianetics Centre every day and it is extensively decorated right now, complete with plastic tree. I gather that Scientology claims cross-platform compatibility but there are some implementation kinks.

I'm an atheist and I'm still so attached to the idea of the Christmas tree as explicitly pagan that I made little Fimo(TM) tree ornaments of sacrifices to Essus. I am a little heartbroken that I live in the southern hemisphere now because nothing I used to do for "Christmas" makes any sense - all the business about having a big festival of lights, and celebrating your faith that the sun will come back makes no sense at all at summer solstice in Australia. (Not that I believed my serving a large roasted joint of meat in symbolic sacrifice would bring the sun back to Seattle, but let's face it: by late December, you do whatever you think might help to brighten up the grey. Besides, Fimo!)
posted by gingerest at 6:21 PM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


On the plus side it's Pagan, on the minus side it's German Pagan.

However when it comes down to it. Indoor wickermen are impractical for a number of reasons so the tree it is.
posted by Artw at 6:28 PM on December 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Indoor wickermen are impractical for a number of reasons

Hard to find the right sacrifices. (That was the worst part about the remake of The Wicker Man; Nicolas Cage was just a regular guy, not a wound-tightly religious devotee like Edward Woodward in the original, so it didn't make any sense that SPOILER.)
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:31 PM on December 19, 2010


What do you care what anyone thinks? If a tree with shiny things and flashing lights would make you happy, then get one. It's that simple.
posted by Daddy-O at 7:03 PM on December 19, 2010


What do you care what anyone thinks? If a tree with shiny things and flashing lights would make you happy, then get one. It's that simple.

3D, anatomically correct, and very graphical depictions of first century Roman style executions would make me happy. Do you know where I could get one?
posted by Dr. Curare at 7:20 PM on December 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm a devout agnostic, but was raised Christan, and I have no theological issue with carrying on the tradition of having a Christmas tree. I consider it firmly within the sphere of a cultural holiday, rather than the religious holiday.

For us, all of the explicitly Christian aspects of Christmas were really contained within the tradition of going to church on Christmas Eve.

The rest of the holiday wasn't about Jesus, it was focused on making a special effort to celebrate family traditions. My great-grandmother's poppyseed cake, the filled cookies my aunt learned to make as a child, visiting with the cousins otherwise only seen at funerals and weddings, sending cards to acknowledge thoughts of friends and relatives whether they're part of your daily life or have drifted away, telling stories about ornaments on the tree, reminiscing about Christmases past, etc. Even the mad amounts of seafood that we ate on Christmas Eve, ostensibly a nod to Seven Fishes, was really an excuse to reminisce and compare the Baltimores of several generations.
posted by desuetude at 8:04 PM on December 19, 2010


Hey Whelk! What's up, I got some myrrh for ya! Up in this piece. Yaa'mean? I'm sayin' myrrh in the house. Myrrh!

Myrrh!

Myrrh!

KNOCK KNOCK

~Stop me if ya heard this one~

who's there?

MYRRH!!
posted by Mister_A at 8:36 PM on December 19, 2010


Wonderful put it next to the Frankenstein.

Wait what? Sense? What the hell is-

Oh you're all getting plagues. Big ones.
posted by The Whelk at 9:08 PM on December 19, 2010


Yeah, I've never been too sure on why anyone would be too happy to get a Frankenstein. I mean, classic monster, possibly the first work of SF, beautifully tragic and all that, but really at the end of the day it's a big stinky zombie with bolts in it's neck.
posted by Artw at 9:43 PM on December 19, 2010


So, some friends of mine got married this summer (one of a number of friends' weddings this summer, actually) and they are huge gamer geeks. Awesomely so. The husband is the GM who got just about everyone I know in the DC area enveloped into his gaming sphere, and tonight six of us were over at their apartment playing Paranoia: High Programmers, which is awesome in it's own right.

Neither of these friends are religious in the slightest. They got married at the Duke Chapel (which is, in reality, a massive cathedral) but managed to slip in spiritual quotes from G'Kar (of Babylon 5) into the program under the radar. Their party-favors at the reception were dice with the "6" face featuring their names and the date around the symbol of the Horde from World of Warcraft. Fun couple.

Anyway, they had a tree decorated in their apartment tonight, for their first Christmas as a family. It was entirely decorated in stuffed Mario Brothers icons. It was, without doubt, the most touching Christmas tree I've ever seen in my life.

The point is, Christmas is more than anything about family. The specifics of a family, to get down to brass tacks. Growing up, we had two trees. The glamorous one in the living room with white lights and crystal or silver ornaments, and the homey one in the "family" room where everyone actually spent their time, with multi-colored lights and ornaments celebrating specific memories of everyone in the family. So there was the beautiful one, and the meaningful one. The presents went under the meaningful one, of course.

I too would love to see Sukkot become a pan-religious holiday of family building something together and then spending time in it for a week. Whenever I have my own family I might have to implement such an idea, actually. But the truth is that these holidays are about traditions. Judaism is also about traditions. Whether one wants to adhere to the ancient traditions of their culture or the immediate traditions of their home is up to them and their family. But I know which one I revere more.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:45 PM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Instead of having a tree you could always have a traditional midwinter festival and dress up like this.
posted by Artw at 10:25 PM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't think Christmas is much of a religious holiday for a lot of people these days. It's a nice excuse to have fun, take some time off work, give gifts, see the family, etc. but really it's more like Halloween or Thanksgiving now.

If you want a tree, get a tree.
posted by freakazoid at 7:26 AM on December 20, 2010


I'm gonna compromise - keep the tree, but put the horse skull on top of it.
posted by Artw at 7:29 AM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


3D, anatomically correct, and very graphical depictions of first century Roman style executions would make me happy. Do you know where I could get one?

Here you go! Just pop that sucker on instead of the "Yule Log" DVD, and you're putting the XXX back in Xmas!
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:59 AM on December 20, 2010


This all sounds suspiciously Easter-y. You're not the sort of seasonal gun-jumpers who start Christmas before Halloween are you?
posted by Artw at 11:16 AM on December 20, 2010


So it seems the Buddhists don't have a problem with them.

As a Buddhist, I've got no issue with Christmas trees. Or any Christmas gifts that anyone wants to bestow upon me. See also: cookies. Feasting. Nope, no problem with any of it.

Except "Joy to the World." I effin' hate that song.

I'm also part Jewish (my father is Jewish. My father is also insane, but that's not really the point.) and have celebrated Hannukah in the past - though that kinda got the ol' kibosh when I accidentally knocked over the menorah and lit the table on fire. I'm on the fence as to whether I'll do any kind of Hannukah tradition with my kiddo next year - he'll only be quasi-part Jewish after all - but hey, it's an excuse to eat latkes!
posted by sonika at 12:34 PM on December 20, 2010


This is all reminding me of my old roommate Eric --

When we first moved in, we were having one of those "how to negotiate being roommates" conversations. At some point I said that I usually had been in the habit of going a little all-out for Christmas, but because he celebrated Chanukah instead I could tone it down or keep it to my room if he'd rather; I didn't want him to feel crowded out or voted down.

Eric just thought a moment and said no -- we should go the other way instead. We should, he said, get both the biggest tree we could find, and the biggest menorah we could find -- the tree for me, the menorah for him -- and put them both up in the apartment right smack next to each other, because it would confuse the HELL out of people.

That December was one of the funniest and most boisterous I can remember; he helped me decorate the tree, and was asking me questions the whole time about Christmas traditions and customs, and then he also made a point of reciting the traditional prayers for lighting the menorah in Hebrew, giving me his own unorthodox translation as he did (I'm pretty sure the original Hebrew doesn't translate to "thanks for being so damn spiffy, God"). We even got really carried away and tracked down other December holidays we could celebrate as well, and pulled out the stops on those also.

Because ultimately the point to all these holidays is "it's the end of the year and we need a party, and whatever you want to do to have fun, go for it".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:19 PM on December 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


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