Tall, Dark, and Mysterious


There is a war between the ones who say there is a war and the ones who say there isn’t

File under: Righteous Indignation, I Read The News Today, Oh Boy, Semitism. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 6:21 pm.

You’ve probably heard of this one by now, if not this year then any of the last ten: Christmas is under attack! And I for one am having trouble choosing sides, because I can’t decide whose position is more compelling. Do I ally myself with the devout Christians who get the vapours whenever someone wishes them a sectarian Happy Holiday? Or should I instead join forces with the sensitive secularists who opt instead to pay due respect to those other religions that celebrate their tree-based holidays by engaging in a frenzy of consumerism in the days weeks leading up to December 25th? These, it appears, are our only choices in this war; “ignore this holiday and the accompanying propaganda entirely” isn’t on the table, which means that just like in a real war, the bulk of the casualties in this one are innocent civilians. As a vegetarian infidel whose family never ever celebrated Christmas, it might seem that I’m predisposed to being more sympathetic to the hippie heathens, but damned if I wouldn’t rather listen to Mariah Carey’s Christmas album on repeat than be subjected to rallying cries like this one here:

“At Rideau Hall, we will be putting up a holiday tree as we find it reflects the traditions of many cultures, and it is inclusive,” Rideau Hall spokeswoman Lucie Brosseau said.

Jesus wept. Not the Christian Jesus, mind you - the other Jesus, the inclusive one who represents the traditions of many cultures.

I assure you that the “we” that finds the history of all traditions great and small to be reflected in the magical Holiday Tree does not include any real-life Jews, Hindus, or Muslims, regardless of what the persecuted Christians may have you believe. And that’s the really mind-numbing aspect of this: the unfounded assumption that people who don’t celebrate Christmas are in fact on board with these inane gestures to pretend that Christmas by another name is somehow a whole ‘nother holiday. No, I would bet hard cash that the “we” that Brosseau references is a subset of earnestly sensitive, yet oh-so-ignorant semi-lapsed Christians who don’t believe in God or Jesus anymore, but who still celebrate Christmas because doesn’t everyone celebrate Christmas? I mean, some people may call Christmas something weird like “Chanukah” or “Diwali” or (God help us) “Ramadan”, but it’s basically the same thing, right? This “we” are the ones who puzzle over whether to put up Christmas trees in deference to their more traditional families and neighbours, or whether they should instead put up more inclusive holiday trees; it never occurs to them that they don’t need to put up trees, period, and that in fact most people in the world - and some even in this very country - don’t. And that some of those people don’t think that the end of December is sacred in any way - or, at least, they don’t think it’s more sacred than other months.

These are the folks who think that nomenclature is the single thing standing between an intolerant Christian society and an enlightened, multicultural one. There’s not a practising Jew in this country, I promise, for whom the generic, inclusive holiday tree - not to be confused with the nigh-identical Christmas tree - brings to mind the story of the Maccabees’ triumph against the Greeks. I assume that followers of religions that don’t even share part of a Bible with Christians aren’t going to be thinking inclusive, tree-inspired religious thoughts just because someone says they should. The holiday tree’s not a Jewish icon, and to pretend that it is - to tell a group of people who don’t adhere to your religion which icons are involved in theirs - that, in my view, is far more offensive than simply displaying bona-fide religious symbols in public. And that’s what pisses me off the most about this war: not the idiotic assumption that saying Happy Holidays constitutes persecution of Christians, but rather the idiotic idea that a few function calls of Replace(”Merry Christmas”, “Happy Holidays”) somehow amount to a genuine understanding of, and respect for, cultural diversity.

So while I’m certainly an opponent of this war, I’m having trouble working up a whole lot of partisan rage over it. Because what do we have? - we have one side insisting that Christmas music and Christmas greetings be ubiquitous…and the other accepting the ubiquity of Christmas iconography and culture but changing a few words here and there; not even thinking about how we have Christmas Day as a statutory holiday rather than a floater - those non-Christians can use their own personal leave time to celebrate their little holidays, after all; and unironically making a point of mentioning Chanukah - the single least important Jewish holiday - whenever they mention Christmas. And both sides fancy themselves martyrs.

It’s almost enough to turn one into a pacifist.


  1. I see we’re starting the Airing of Grievances early this year. On to the Feats of Strength!

    - JeffE — 12/5/2005 @ 7:03 pm

  2. what i’ll never get is those who think that christmas is under attack by the heathens who supposedly want it banished from public view. they don’t seem to understand the simple concept of:

    not(everywhere) /= nowhere

    all we want is to see it not(everywhere).

    plus…let’s see…how to put this so americans can understand. you can’t be a persecuted group when your, hello, president does everything he possibly can to cater to you so you’ll vote for him. it’s the very definition of a persecuted group that the people in power don’t give a shit about you. as long as the president’s advisors tell him to pay close attention to the christian perspective lest he lose his “base”, that christian perspective is NOT BEING PERSECUTED, OKAY???

    uhhh…sorry. didn’t mean to get all ranty. you hit a nerve with the whole christmas-under-attack thing. i’ll go back to thinking about pi now. or something.

    - Polymath — 12/5/2005 @ 10:12 pm

  3. Santa is ready to defend Christmas!

    Sorry, I just thought that was funny, in a scared-to-death-of-the-way-my-society-is-going sort of way.

    But, seriously, it is worth noting that the idea of having a celebration near the winter solstice predates Christianity. Quite a few “less religious” aspects of modern Christmas–drinking, exchanging gifts, driving around the mall parking lot 500 times until we can find a spot sufficently close to the entrance of J.C. Penny–could be considered extentions of those older traditions. This is why I laugh when people talk about how “Jesus is the reason for the season.”

    Still, that doesn’t make it any less condescending to assume renaming a tree can somehow make a Christian holiday more inclusive to all other faiths.

    Whatever you do, don’t decorate your tree with discarded lottery tickets.

    - Chris Phan — 12/5/2005 @ 10:34 pm

  4. Sorry, I didn’t realize that first link was going to require registration.

    Perhaps this link will work.

    - Chris Phan — 12/5/2005 @ 10:37 pm

  5. as long as the president’s advisors tell him to pay close attention to the christian perspective lest he lose his “base”, that christian perspective is NOT BEING PERSECUTED, OKAY???

    Word. The list I have of people who desperately need reminding of this is way too long. The argument seems to go thusly:

    “Bush didn’t do exactly what I wanted him to do on Issue A and also, at this very moment, dozens of women are aborting beautiful innocent babies, and Bush promised me personally he would put an end to that. Therefore, he’s abandoning the base! He’s letting down the very Christians who got him elected!”

    Oh, if only it were so. I don’t think I’ve ever been so unable to believe something I’ve wanted to believe so badly in my life.

    - ilyka — 12/5/2005 @ 11:16 pm

  6. Whenever I get depressed about rampant idiotic Christmas Holiday consumerism, I just think of Spider Jerusalem and I’m in my happy place again.

    - Geoff — 12/5/2005 @ 11:28 pm

  7. Actually, the “Christmas” card I got from the Bushes said “Happy Holidays”. Or something similar. It certainly didn’t say “Merry Christmas”. Perhaps I need to give more money to get into the “Christmas” pile.

    That said, didn’t you know that Christmas is the time of year when people of all faiths worship Jesus as their Lord and Saviour?

    I thought you were culturally literate, TDM.

    - meep — 12/6/2005 @ 1:07 am

  8. Oh, and we just moved into new, smaller, closer cubicles at work, and one of the secretaries has been playing the Mariah Carey Christmas album. It was cute yesterday, but if it continues, I may have to start wearing my iPod.

    - meep — 12/6/2005 @ 1:09 am

  9. And here’s one guy who’s declared war on Christmas:

    (Yes, it’s a publicity stunt for a movie that few people will ever watch. Poor guy.)

    - meep — 12/6/2005 @ 1:14 am

  10. Some people have made a hobby of getting deeply offended whenever someone says “Happy Holidays” to them instead of “Merry Christmas”. Screw ‘em. It would serve them right if such uncharitable behavior resulting their going to the boring Protestant heaven from The Simpsons.

    - Zeno — 12/6/2005 @ 5:38 am

  11. Silly me, all my life I thought the holidays in “Happy Holidays” were Christmas and New Year’s Day. Since they are so close together, it makes perfect sense to me to have a greeting that includes both of them, which you can use in order to wish people a happy New Year if you’re not going to see them in the week between Christmas and New Year. So as a Christian, I was never offended by “Happy Holidays,” nor did I ever think it was an attempt to get Christianity de-emphasized.

    My pet holiday peeve: the same people who are decrying “Happy Holidays” as anti-Christian are also the ones most upset over use of the abbreviation Xmas, which my family has used all our lives and continue to use. If they had any idea of history at all, they’d know that the X isn’t a letter X designed to X out Christ from Christmas, it’s a Greek letter Chi which is the initial of Christ. People have been using abbreviations and shortened words for ages. My mom always used a Chi-Ro symbol on the calendar instead of the word “Christmas.” The early Christians themselves, hardly anti-Christian, used a fish symbol, which doesn’t contain the name of Christ at all. You see these on the backs of some cars, and if they have Greek letters inside, they usually spell out not the name of Christ, but the Greek word for “fish”. And yet these aren’t considered anti-Christian.

    So I find myself having to explain to some of my more ignorant friends that Xmas isn’t anti-Christian, it’s just shorter to write. But God forbid they should study the early history of their own religion. They might find out that their beliefs don’t match those of the original Christians.

    - Wacky Hermit — 12/6/2005 @ 7:13 am

  12. Yes, I have a lot of trouble getting my, let’s call them secular Christian, friends to believe that all these little lights and trees and stuff? They’re not just celebrating the joy of winter. They are, in fact, pretty much exclusively Christian (with some pagan). But they’re not neutral on religion. Calling them Holiday whatevers doesn’t make them so.

    I like them, just stop pretending they’re secular. I also like Christmas carols, though this is helped by not often going to places that play them 24/7.

    But I am a grouch about Happy Holidays vs Merry Christmas, except on Christmas itself. There’s no other holiday you use as a greeting for most of a month.

    - wolfangel — 12/6/2005 @ 7:41 am

  13. Also: while I wish that people would realize that not only is NOT everyone Christian, but that some of those non-Christians don’t celebrate the (*snicker*) secular holiday of Christmas…that doesn’t mean that we should be offended when our religions don’t get the same amount of attention in the bloody shopping mall. And since we already have two Simpsons references in this thread, I’m reminded of a third: remember “Spendover”, which is like Passover, but with more presents? Life imitates the Simpsons, again. I’m not going to get too worked up over being left out of the mall version of multiculturalism. Better for a holiday’s religions to be ignored than publicly and crassly distorted, is what I say.

    - Moebius Stripper — 12/6/2005 @ 9:21 am

  14. I love those nativity sets with Santa Claus as one of the three wise men. Those are a hoot.

    - meep — 12/6/2005 @ 9:46 am

  15. I still like it when I see stores that acknowledge other holidays. But really, there’s not so much to do with Chanukah (I don’t know about other holidays) so it’s not a big deal. My beef is still with being told Merry Christmas for an entire freaking month. Or with being given *Christmas* cards by friends. Unless they’re funny ones.

    - wolfangel — 12/6/2005 @ 10:07 am

  16. Why not just view Christmas as the secular holiday it really has become? The Christians use the manger scene as their religious display item; I never heard of the Christmas tree as being a religious symbol in those days many years ago when I was raised as a Catholic. Now that I’m a deist/agnostic, I celebrate the winter solstice even though the name of the holiday is “Christmas.”

    - Rex — 12/6/2005 @ 10:52 am

  17. Rex, you just proved the very point of this post, specifically the one I took the entire paragraph beginning with “I assure you…”, to make:

    Folks such as yourself, who were raised Catholic but no longer are, see Christmas as a secular holiday. Folks who were raised in any non-Christian religion beg to differ.

    Being sensitive to non-Christians takes a wee bit more work than puzzling over why we’re not celebrating your holidays, especially the holiday with the word “Christ” in it.

    - Moebius Stripper — 12/6/2005 @ 11:21 am

  18. Let’s find some people who were brought up an actual real different religion before we say Christmas is secular.

    - wolfangel — 12/6/2005 @ 11:22 am

  19. There is a NYTimes OpEd piece not quite on the subject, but close.

    The piece is called “This Season’s War Cry: Commercialize Christmas, or Else”.

    To log in to the NYTimes, you need to get a username & password. Sorry.

    I find it quite entertaining/upsetting how holidays are a source of much greater stress than a normal work day.

    - Sam — 12/6/2005 @ 11:33 am

  20. If we’re going to view Christmas as “the secular holiday it really has become”, can we at least change the name to something more appropriate?
    “The Winter Festival Of Commercialism” sounds about right to me.

    - dave — 12/6/2005 @ 11:42 am

  21. Ah, because some of us actually are still Christian. And go to Mass on Christmas (or, if you’re Catholic, Christmas Eve, because that counts for your Holy Day of Obligation… which reminds me, one of those is coming up soon.) You know, Christ’s Mass? aka Xmas? (up there with Michaelmas, Candlemas, etc.)

    If you want it to be something else, then celebrate something else — Festivus, Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, Winterfest. Whatever you want. It’s just a little difficult to escape the Christian origin of something called Christmas, you know.

    - meep — 12/6/2005 @ 1:26 pm

  22. a teacher at my school gave a little speech yesterday about how evergreen trees, holly, mistletoe, lights, etc. are all of secular pagan origin. they (according to him) hail from a tradition that celebrates the winter solstice as the rebirth of the sun. the word ’solstice’ actually means ’sun standing still’.

    apparently (and forgive me if you already know this story) the pagan traditions were intentionally included in christmas in like the 8th century when some saint (or pope?) encouraged the use of those symbols in the celebration of a very different birth. (these days, it’s a pun…the son, not the sun.)

    now, i am all for celebrating christmas piously if that’s your religion. in fact, i have more respect for that than for the semi-pious, very-consumerist modern tradtions. but if you’re going to complain about how christmas has been secularized, i think you might want to realize the origins of some of the supposedly tradtional symbols.

    - polymath — 12/6/2005 @ 2:33 pm

  23. I really think that after 1200 or so years, you can count something as traditional. (Yes, it’s also traditional — in a different way — if you’re pagan.)

    - wolfangel — 12/6/2005 @ 3:28 pm

  24. The trouble is that Christmas has a dual role, on the one hand as a religious celebration specific to Christians, and on the other hand as a secular tradition with a prominent role in almost all parts of society, a function of the historic predominance of Christians in our society.

    Every holiday has it’s detractors after all, separatists and globalists who are offended by nationalism might wish that people say Happy Holidays, instead of Happy Canada Day. But generally such detractors are given pretty short shrift.

    But because Christmas originated as (and remains for many) a religious holiday, there is a larger number of people who are natural detractors. Furthermore, our society grants greater legitimacy to such detraction when it has a basis in organized religion as opposed to merely personal convictions. So there is a significant portion of the population which is unwilling to embrace Christmas as a holiday and has a legitimate reason for not doing so.

    On the other hand, to uproot our society’s Christian traditions, to ban the playing of Christmas music in public places, the raising of Christmas trees or hanging of Christmas lights on public ground, removing Christmas and Easter from the list of statutory holidays, correcting anybody who says Merry Christmas and so on, in short, declaring a War on Christmas, is not an appealing prospect either.

    Complicating matters, you have a large portion of the population which has rejected the metaphysical aspects of Christianity but still clings fiercely to many of the less metaphysical traditions historically associated with Christianity (most notably Christmas Trees and Wedding Dresses).

    So we have a couple of attempts to compromise and bridge the gap between those who don’t celebrate Christmas and those who do. The first, which like you say is perhaps the worst option of all, is what we might call the Orwell/Shakespeare option, a Christmas by any other name would still smell as sweet (but without trigerring people’s anti-Christmas allergies). Could also be considered the Diet Christmas option - all the great holiday taste without any of the Christian-centric calories. Anyway, the idea is as stupid as my metaphors.

    Next, we have the Krismas option (as in Kris Kringle). This is the attempt to sever the religious Christmas from the secular Christmas, allowing everyone to come together and celebrate the has-nothing-to-do-with-that-Christ-guy Christmas.

    This is pretty much the status quo and clearly this is is not an ideal outcome for those who don’t buy the secular nature of Christmas (as you say, most people with non-Christian heritage).

    On the other hand, the only solution which is more suited to non-celebrants is the war on Christmas that I described earlier. The disadvantage here is that by taking on even the not-as-obviously-religious aspects of Christmas, detractors will be taking on not just the religous Christians, but also the non-religious Christians. Perhaps certain battles can and should be won (allowing non-Christians to work Christmas and take a different day off for example) but rolling back ’secular’ Christmas altogether may not be possible or desirable.

    In the end, this issue is pretty similar to most majority/minority issues in our society, each of which reaches its own accomodation between the two groups depending on the size and influence of the minority, the intrusion caused by designing for the majority and the possibility of accomodation.

    For example, we modify our buildings to suit people in wheelchairs and the blind, but we design taps so that hot is on the left, protecting the majority of right-handers - we put up Christmas trees in public but don’t light Advent candles (public Nativity scenes are definitely pushing it).

    It’s a work in progress, but you’re right that the people with martyr complexes aren’t really helping at all, and the people who say Happy Holidays because it is supposedly more inclusive really are missing the point.

    (The people who say Happy Holidays because they are just abbreviating Christmas and New Years are fine however.)

    - Declan — 12/6/2005 @ 3:53 pm

  25. Well, my father was raised in the Jewish faith, and he and his family and my aunts and uncles all celebrated Christmas. But my aunt’s husband, who was a Brooklyn Jew, refused to celebrate, but he finally came around and called the tree a Hanukah bush.

    I’m sure there are people out there who were raised as non-Christians who don’t celebrate Christmas, but there are certainly a lot of non-Christians who do. Christmas was started by the Christians to absorb the pagan celebrations which occurred near the winter solstice, so I see nothing wrong about viewing the holiday of Christmas as ultimately a secular day of celebration and happiness that is marked by gift giving. And I believe in Santa Claus as opposed to St. Nicholas.

    - Rex — 12/6/2005 @ 3:59 pm

  26. Declan, I’m not into removing Christmas from the public sphere. I think Christmas lights and trees are pretty, and I like to see them. I like to see houses that decorate. I even like creches. I don’t care if they’re on public property, either. I object to carols 24/7, but I like them in smaller doses, so as an infrequent shopper, I don’t mind that it’s all they play in stores.

    For all that, though: it’s not secular. And just an acknowledgement of that would be nice. (The day off thing is more annoying, but we are leaving that be for now.)

    So I can say ‘Happy Holidays’ and mean “Happy Christmas and New Years” but not “Happy Chanukah and New Years”? Or, god forbid, “Happy [x: x is whichever of these you find important, Christmas …]”? Why? There’s nothing wrong with not automatically assuming people are Christian. Yes, I realise people do it. But it’s still not an ideal choice.

    Rex, if, in the future, other religious traditions *choose* to absorb trees and Santa Claus, then fine. But “hey, Christians chose to absorb it, so you must do it right now” doesn’t work. It’s been Christian for OVER A THOUSAND YEARS, well more than half the religion’s lifespan, so it’s *part of the religion*.

    - wolfangel — 12/6/2005 @ 5:45 pm

  27. Wolfangel - It’s secular to me, but certainy I acknowledge that it isn’t to lost of people.

    As for Happy Holidays, I think I was unclear. What I meant was, if people are saying Happy Holidays as a shorthand for Happy [list of holidays, be they Christian, Jewish, Seinfled, whatever] then I understand that usage, but if they are saying Happy Holidays because they see that as an all-inclusive inoffensive version of Merry Christmas, then I think that is dumb.

    Whether or not it is ideal to assume everyone is Christian depends on the proportion of non-Christians around. If, to take an extreme case, there was only one non-Christian in the world, it would be very inefficient not to assume that everyone was Christian. Somewhere there’s a dividing line where it becomes more efficient not to assume - where that line is, I’m not sure.

    - Declan — 12/6/2005 @ 7:39 pm

  28. Declan, but were you — or your parents — raised some sort of Christian? Or were you not raised in any *other* religious tradition? Because I can say how the Seder is pretty much secular to me, but that doesn’t mean that other people would find it so.

    I’m not entirely sure what the difference is between Happy whatever your holiday is and Happy Christmas. In any case there’s no way to figure out intent, so I still vote for Happy Holidays as the general greeting (except on Christmas itself), because, for one thing, it’s not more effort to say that, so there’s no reason to insist on assuming people are Christian.

    Just over 3/4 people claim to be some flavour of Christian in Canada; about 10% claim to be a religion other than Christian (ie, not atheist, humanist, other “no religion” (16%) — this, I assume, is the group which calls Christmas secular). So if 1/10 people are not Christian, well, this is more than the %age of people who are queer. And the %age of Christians is falling, apparently 0.9% a year. So it’s fairly reasonable to assume that there are a large number of people who aren’t Christian around.

    Now, you can argue about efficiency about keeping offices open for 10% of people who are annoyed they need to use vacation for their own religious holidays, because that bears a real cost. (One which I think a multicultural society is ethically obliged to bear, but which will never happen: tyrrany of the majority, here.) But you can’t argue about efficiency re saying “Merry Christmas” vs “Happy Holidays”. And it’s not unreasonable to keep in mind that other people with other lives exist. This is why the “White privilege” checklist is really “straight white Christian male privilege”.

    I speak a good line here, but in reality, I’ve dealt with enough antisemitism that I don’t ever respond with “Happy Chanukah”.

    - wolfangel — 12/6/2005 @ 9:10 pm

  29. Sam, thanks for the link. Here’s the line that really got me: The Catholic League boycotted Wal-Mart in part over the way its Web site treated searches for “Christmas.”

    Of all the reasons to boycott Wal-Mart. But anyway, I decided go straight to the source, and searched for Christmas, expecting (not really) to see a Google-type correction like “Did you mean Holidays?” But I’m not seeing what the nutjob give-me-Christmas-or-give-me-death crew would find objectionable.

    Also, what wolfangel said. I’m not calling for an out-and-out ban on Christmas decorations and such in malls; my point is just that those of us who were raised not celebrating either Christmas or Christmas-lite might have trouble seeing how there’s much of difference between the two sides of the War on Christmas, which, as I see them, are:

    1. We want all Christmas, all the time! None of this wussy “happy holidays”!


    2. Around Christmastime and only around Christmastime we will recognize the existence of other religions. We will treat them only as slight variants of Christmas (*).

    Although I guess we could add

    3. C’mon, Christmas isn’t a religious holiday anyway, so what’s the big deal?

    To me, those have more in common than they have in opposition: they all take for granted that December is a time for Christmaslike stuff, for all people everywhere.

    (*) I was just chatting with my brother, who is quite religious. A friend of his is a rabbi who attended a public school as a child, and one year his class put on a “winter show”. At some point he told his teacher what Chanukah was, and the teacher, surprised, said, “I thought that it was basically the same as Christmas, but looking at the birth of baby Jesus from a different perspective.”

    Happy Holidays, indeed.

    - Moebius Stripper — 12/6/2005 @ 9:37 pm

  30. A few years back a company I worked for started too late booking a venue for their annual holiday party, so they decided to hold it in early January. But that was in the middle of Ramadan that year, and we did have some Muslims in that (relatively small) company! Duh. I mentioned it to the Human Resources person in charge of the party, and she just didn’t have a clue. Ultimately the Muslim folks joined the rest of us non-party-goers and skipped the party, but I really felt it was unfair.

    Since the majority of the employees were Chinese or of East Asian ancestry, and they all celebrate Chinese New Year anyhow, we could’ve waited until then to have a company party. It would’ve avoided Ramadan, given some cheer to the midwinter doldrums, and allowed the Muslim employees to join the party comfortably. But no, it had to be close to Christmas.

    - Karen — 12/6/2005 @ 11:37 pm

  31. Im an atheist, raised Catholic, but I still enjoy Christmas carols — at least for the first couple of weeks of December. But this year I’ll incorporate some new atheist traditions:

    1. Sing “God Rest Ye Merrye Hippogriffs” like Sirius Black in Harry Potter: Order of the Phoenix. Make up your own lyrics, since Rowling didn’t provide any. One good mythical creature deserves another.

    2. Remember that the _real_ lyrics to “Joy to the World” begin: “Jeremiah was a bullfrog…”

    - Karen — 12/6/2005 @ 11:42 pm

  32. Actually, Karen, I’ve been to a Ramadan party (held by NYU’s Islamic students’ group)… on most days, the fasting ends at sundown. Of course, if alcohol is at the company party, some might not be comfortable being there. Still, there’s nothing wrong with giving a party during Ramadan, as the fast is generally broken in a festive way most nights during that month.

    - meep — 12/7/2005 @ 1:51 am

  33. MS, you’ve forgotten the nutjobs down here who don’t celebrate Halloween or put up a Christmas tree because of the pagan undertones. They don’t approve of the Easter Bunny either, but most of them are too ignorant to disapprove of Easter eggs for the same reasons.

    - John — 12/7/2005 @ 4:12 am

  34. Oh yes, if only some latter-day Puritans would do the equivalent of Hell House for Christmas!

    Of course, the old Puritans just ignored Christmas and forbade its celebration.

    - meep — 12/7/2005 @ 8:21 am

  35. Wolfangel,

    I assume you have citations or something for your assertion of Christmas trees being part of Christianity for a thousand years, but the first time I heard that the tree was a religious symbol was maybe five years ago. And I’m a baby-boomer, so I’ve been around a while. The Christmas trees I heard about (and bought and eecorated) were always associated with Santa Claus, not the holy day of Christmas, and were even discouraged by religious persons of my acquaintance as not being a part of the “true Christmas.”

    My point is that I was raised as a Catholic, and to Catholics, the Christmas tree is not a religious symbol. I can’t speak to the “heretical” protestants and what their views are. So as a former Catholic, I view AND HAVE ALWAYS VIEWED Christmas trees as non-religious symbols, and I’m not going to change.

    - Rex — 12/7/2005 @ 10:15 am

  36. Rex, I think that maybe wolfangel’s point is more subtle than that.

    I think we are confusing “Christian” in a religious sense with “Christian” in a cultural/ethnic sense. Seen in this light, there are two parallel, non-contradictory points being made :

    1. Christmas is a Christian_cultural holiday.

    2. Christmas as now celebrated in large parts of North America is a mostly “post”-Christian holiday, in the sense that the cultural elements are quite strong, whereas the religious ones have nearly faded away.

    Whether Christmas is a Christian_cultural or Christian_religious holiday doesn’t matter for the points that wolfangel and MS are making. Despite the fact that certain of these symbols (e.g. Christmas tree) are [almost?] purely cultural, they are not universal. Calling it a “holiday tree” is insulting. It’s saying that we are culturally open because we can rename things from our own culture. This is like claiming to speak French because you know a dozen French words that were borrowed from English (e.g. “fun” in Quebec, “shopping” in France).

    We need to face the facts : either we are officially celebrating a Christian (cultural) holiday, in support of our majority culture, or we shouldn’t celebrate it at all. Rebranding it as “Holidays” while keeping all the symbols the same is pathetic.

    - Sam — 12/7/2005 @ 12:39 pm

  37. Sam, if someone says to me, Happy Holidays, I respond, Merry Christmas. In the four states I lived in, Christmas was a religious holiday to some Christians and a cultural holiday to most everyone else, irrespective of religion. Then we moved to the metro-NY area and found that there are a bunch of people who while not viewing Christmas as a religious holiday, automatically assumed that to ALL Christians, Christmas was an exclusively religious holiday. That’s a viewpoint I had not encountered before or since, but some of the posts here seem to hold that viewpoint. It’s a view I don’t understand at all, so I possibly am giving offense where none is intended, but my comments are intended in the spirit of understanding a foreign viewpoint while presenting my own viewpoint for others to chew on.

    - Rex — 12/7/2005 @ 1:09 pm

  38. I am using the citation provided by polymath earlier in the thread, that Christmas took a lot of pagan symbols in ~800. If it is later, fine: I don’t particularly care (we’re talking about trees at Christmas, not decorated lit up trees, which is just one step in the progression from fir tree to silver thing — it’s at least older than Puritans just moving to the US, since they were against the practice). It not a religion-neutral symbol, just like Santa Claus isn’t: whatever you claim, you were raised Christian, so “but hey! it’s not actually religious!” does not disprove the contention that people who were raised in *other religions* find it religious (in the not-religion-neutral sense, not in the holy symbol sense).

    I have no doubt that to some people, Christmas is cultural, familial. This makes no difference: it’s not in any way neutral on religion. We have non-Christians saying “it’s NOT MY CULTURE”, and Christians saying “Sure it is”, and you’re deluding yourself if you think the Christians are right here.

    This year I vow to respond Happy Chanukah to anyone who says Merry Christmas to me. I will mean, of course, the entirely cultural holiday of Chanukah which has no religious overtones at all.

    - wolfangel — 12/7/2005 @ 1:38 pm

  39. So I did some homework. Evergreens were taken in by certain sects of Christianity in the 1600’s, but were never taken in by my particular religion (Catholicism). The founders of part of the U.S. were protestants, and they evidently introduced christmas trees. So wolfangel feels excluded by evergreens because why? I don’t feel excluded the way wolfangel does because I have never viewed evergreens as being religious, because in my (former) religion they aren’t. Evidently they have never been part of wolfangel’s religion, either. So why do we feel differently about this? Simply because my former religion is included in the label “Christianity” and 85% of Americans are “Christians”? Doesn’t make sense to me.

    - Rex — 12/8/2005 @ 11:20 am

  40. Of course, using the word “Holiday” isn’t much better, as it derives from old English for “holy day”. How about “Festival”? Oh, no, originally that’s a series of days a town used to celebrate a favored god…

    Happy Winter!

    - meep — 12/8/2005 @ 11:41 am

  41. I’m content with either “Merry Saturnalia” or “Happy Solstice.”

    - Rex — 12/8/2005 @ 12:33 pm

  42. I have THE solution for you all: become francophone. I live in Quebec, and I never heard of any problem with the “season’s greetings”. I actually find all those big news titles quite hilarious… In french, Christmas is “Noel”, so it doesn’t contain the dreaded “Christ” emphasizing religious content. And with only 4 letters, I never saw any abbreviation (no Xmas problem).

    And, if this is not enough, we often use “joyeuses fetes”. It means something like “happy celebrations”. As far as I know, we mean to include “Noel” and “Jour de l’an”, so, AFAIK, it is not an attempt to de-religious-ise the holidays. And “fetes” doesn’t sound like “jours benis” (no holy days problem).

    We are still stuck with the tree, though. Anyone has an idea how to solve this one? And, of course, the whole festive atmosphere everywhere, which I guess doesn’t make much sense if one doesn’t celebrate anything. Unless the new year is enough for everyone as a reason to get crazy and start shopping freneticly?

    Oh, and I forgot the songs… Especially the religious ones. So the tree end the songs! And Santa Claus. Aaaargh!

    - le petit renne au nez rouge — 12/8/2005 @ 9:38 pm

  43. So this means I can continue to expect a present from you but I don’t have to give you one because you won’t care anyway? Sweet.

    - Mike — 12/9/2005 @ 5:27 am

  44. I don’t feel excluded by evergreens.

    I also don’t feel excluded by Christmas trees. I like them; they’re pretty. They’re just not secular.

    The etymology game is dull. Holiday does not currently mean “holy day”, just like when I call you nice, I’m not saying you’re a fool.

    - wolfangel — 12/9/2005 @ 10:41 am

  45. #31 Karen says “Sing ‘God Rest Ye Merrye Hippogriffs’”

    Or how about “Deck Us All With Boston Charlie”?

    - Old Grouch — 12/9/2005 @ 3:12 pm

  46. But evergreens ARE secular to me, and they are secular to all the Catholics out there. So what makes wolfangel feel differently?

    - Rex — 12/9/2005 @ 4:46 pm

  47. Well, I’m a Catholic (present tense, not lapsed), and I certainly don’t view Christmas trees as secular. Although they are hardly essential to the religious celebration of the holiday, they are called Christmas trees for a reason! If non-religious people have Christmas trees, they are participating in a post-Christian cultural phenomenon, not a post-Jewish or post-Buddhist one.

    - Atlantic — 12/9/2005 @ 5:10 pm

  48. So here’s another voice from the front:

    - OKP — 12/9/2005 @ 6:19 pm

  49. Well, I sure am glad that y’all had a good time without me.

    Anyway. Rex:

    1) Evergreens: secular.

    2) Evergreens decorated with lights that are designated with a name that contains a part of the name of Jesus Christ, Lord and Saviour: not secular.

    ‘least that’s how I sees it. Also: responding with “Merry Christmas” when someone says “Happy Holidays” is just bloody obnoxious. Do you really think that MC is a secular, neutral greeting when used with a person who has chosen to use the more generic alternative? Please.

    (Reading all these comments - Sam nails it. Anyone who disagrees with me/Sam/wolfangel/Moses/ilyka/meep/Atlantic/am I missing anyone? would do well to engage Sam’s comment rather than repeat what’s already been said.)

    - Moebius Stripper — 12/9/2005 @ 10:00 pm

  50. and they are secular to all the Catholics out there

    Wow, Rex, way to make an “ass” out of “u” and “me.” I know I go to all the bother and expense merely to mark the advent of the winter solstice, myself.

    - ilyka — 12/10/2005 @ 2:38 am

  51. As a Jewish kid, I felt quite excluded from the whole Christmas thing: my family didn’t celebrate it, we did Hanukah, but it wasn’t at the same time. Elementary school mainly consisted of coloring pictures of Santa Claus and singing Christmas carols for the entire month of December. One year, I got in big trouble: we were making wreaths out of bits of plastic that we would then bake in a toaster oven to make them melt together. I decided to do a Menorah instead since I don’t celebrate Christmas, but the teacher said I had to do a wreath. I got really mad about it and was sent to the principal’s office. In high school, my Christian girlfriend gave out Christmas cards to all of our friends in front of me, but not me. Of course, this made me feel very excluded.

    As an adult, I don’t really care about this kind of thing anymore. I get annoyed by holiday music, but mainly because most holiday music I actually hear simply sucks ass: they’re uninteresting songs performed in millions of different fancy ways by self-important jerks, with the rare, occasional, nice version.

    But part of the point here has to be: this isn’t really an adult’s holiday, it’s a kid’s holiday. When I was a kid, I really didn’t understand any of this: what I understood was that I wasn’t included, and I was unincluded to such a degree that most people had NO IDEA that there even could be people like me.

    This is the only reason I can think of why people need to scale some of this shit back. I made my peace a long time ago with the idea that I have certain beliefs and traditions that aren’t the same as everyone else. I don’t get in the Christmas spirit but I don’t get grouchy about it. But jewish KIDS really don’t get that: they feel excluded and isolated through the general insensitivity of the Christmas-celebrating majority. (At least, Jewish kids who don’t get Christmas, which is NOT all of them.) I’m sure it would be the same for kids in other religions.

    So, go ahead and say Merry Christmas back to someone who says Happy Holidays, Rex, I’m sure they won’t care. But don’t think this means you aren’t excluding people. Nothing will ever solve that issue short of assimilation: it’s the celebration of it, ubiquitously and publically, that causes this, not what it’s called or the particulars of it.

    - Moses — 12/10/2005 @ 9:40 am

  52. This has been a wonderfully nuanced discussion and I’ve learned a lot. Thank you to everyone.

    One important point that hasn’t been clearly brought out yet is that there is no such individual as a secular Christian. I assume the phrase “secular Christian” is used in analogy to “secular Jew,” a category to which many individuals belong. Or it may come from the (racist) phrase “white Anglo-Saxon Protestant” as though all “white Anglo-Saxons” are necessarily either Protestants or Catholics.

    One Jewish friend still apologizes to me whenever she makes disparaging remarks about right-wing Christians. She seems genuinely incapable of understanding why her apology is both inappropriate and insensitive. I gained some insight when I was reading the description of an audio course on Great World Religions that listed one of the values of the course being the consideration “that Judaism’s sense of ethnic identity and shared history make it ‘more’ than a religion.” Whether or not this is true of Judaism, it is certainly not true of Christianity. The many Christian denominations are simply belief systems that anyone is free to accept or reject.

    I accept the thesis of this thread that many persons who were raised in any non-Christian religion don’t see Christmas as a secular holiday. I can understand intellectually why an
    insensitivity to this position would bother you. But I am also bothered when I am accused of being disingenous when I say that in my experience, Christmas is primarily a family tradition.

    Moreover, at this point, I just wish it would go away. I hate losing at least six weeks of my life every year to the pressure of meeting the expectations of family and friends to send cards and
    presents, be cheerful at parties, decorate my house appropriately, provide or eat certain foods, etc.

    I have an in-law who is Russian. She is young enough that her upbringing was entirely secular. When the Russian state essentially outlawed religion, the secular part of the Christmas celebration was simply transferred to New Year’s. She grew up celebrating a thoroughly secular holiday with traditions very similar to an American Christmas: family get-togethers, presents, holiday decorations including trees, special food, etc. This was not at all a covert celebration of a religious holiday but clear evidence that this end-of-year orgy can be entirely dissociated from celebrating the birth of Jesus.

    I recommend the essays and articles in last Sunday’s New York Times Holiday 2005 Style Magazine as an accompaniment to this thread. Martha McPhee’s “Let Nothing You Dismay” captures the complex feelings associated with this holiday season but religion has nothing to do with her story. And I second this confession by Cathy Horyn in “Season’s Drippings:” “As I get older, I find that I loathe certain family and holiday traditons. It’s like breathing the air of a sickroom.”

    - Susan — 12/10/2005 @ 11:18 am

  53. I don’t know MS, Sam’s comment sounded to me like an all or nothing proposition, which is pretty dangerous when it comes to trying to balance majority / minority rights.

    Either we force a Christian Christmas on everyone or we abandon it altogether? Like I tried to explain in my post, neither of those are good options. Better to try and accomodate both sides as best we can (admittedly, not all that well in this case).

    Also, I got the impression that nobody was advocating the abolishment of Christmas. At the same time, I doubt that anyone here supports just forcing Christian Christmas on everyone because that’s the majority view.

    But to agree with Sam is to agree that no compromise between these two positions is possible. So, if not A, and not B and there is no C, what then?

    Also I can’t really agree with Sam’s point (which he doesn’t make expicitly, but seems to be implied) that a cultural symbol is just as exclusionary as a religious symbol. A cultural tradition is a simple function of upbringing and what you’re used to, religion is a function of fundamental beliefs about the nature of the universe and morality. I’d say it’s easier for me to learn new traditions than to change my views about God.

    Finally you say that responding with Merry Christmas when someone says Happy Holidays is obnoxious, but agree (as do I) with Sam that rebranding Christmas as ‘holidays’ is pathetic. Meanwhile Wolfangel says Hapy Holidays is the best general greeting to use. And if someone is wishing me a happy holiday because they don’t want to wish me a happy ceremony as per my own tradition, how is it so obnoxious to return the favour (beyond the usual two wrongs don’t make a right logic)?

    I’m not trying to be difficult (well maybe a little) - but mostly I’m just not really sure what the MS/Sam/wolfangel/Moses/ilyka/meep/Atlantic position is and how it differs from my own (I’m assuming you think it does or you would have included me in your list).

    - Declan — 12/10/2005 @ 8:38 pm

  54. I have no position other than don’t be a snot to other people. Also, don’t be quick to take offense where none is meant.

    - meep — 12/11/2005 @ 3:36 am

  55. I seem to have been expressing myself poorly so far. And I guess I am still somewhat confused.

    (1) If someone I know who I know celebrates Christmas says to me, “Happy Holidays”, they are likely doing it out of a sense of political correctness. I respond with “Merry Christmas” to watch their face light up. This applies irrespective of the religion of the greeter, so I guess I assume that a non-Christian is celebrating the secular holiday of Christmas.

    (2) I stopped celebrating the religious holiday and started celebrating the secular holiday sometime when I was in high school. My children have never celebrated a “religious holiday” with me–I’ve let them make up their own minds in the matter of religion.

    (3) My Jewish grandparents adopted the secular holiday of Christmas when they grew up in this country. The only confusion this caused was when my aunt married a Brooklyn Jew who did not believe in celebrating Christmas, secular or religious, but who slowly came around to celebrating secular Christmas with his wife and kids.

    (4) The priests and bishops I came in contact with as I was being raised Catholic were adamant that the Christmas tree was a secular symbol and not a religious symbol. I’m sorry if my extrapolation to the entire Catholic faith offended anyone, but that extrapolation still seems reasonable to me.

    (5) I think that if a majority of a country celebrates a holiday that is celebrated by some as a religious holiday and by some as a secular (cultural) holiday, then I don’t understand why other people in the country refuse to adopt the secular/cultural holiday for religious reasons. Or is the non-adoption for cultural reasons? My great-grandparents were the ones who came to this country (U.S.) and adopted the culture of the country. I don’t look back to puritans or lutherans or calvanists or etc. How is adopting the secular/cultural holiday of Christmas any different from adopting the holidays (in Louisiana at any rate) of Mardi Gras? Why can’t one just ignore the religious and adopt the secular/cultural holiday?

    - Rex — 12/12/2005 @ 8:49 am

  56. Rex, Mardi Gras isn’t ’secular’ either, it’s post-Christian too.

    A Christmas tree may be relatively secular compared to say, the Christmas Mass or a nativity scene, but it is still part and parcel of Christmas customs which have been adopted by many Christians especially in English- and German-speaking countries including Catholics. The following link, for instance, is the blessing of a Christmas tree from a book approved for use in the United States by the US Council of Catholic Bishops and the Holy See.


    I am sure there are customs in other religions which are in the same category - not religiously mandated, but customary within that religion and considered by others to be characteristic of that religion. I am not familiar enough with other religions to name many of these off the top of my head, but I think that the groom smashing a glass with his foot at a wedding is one of these. I suppose to some extent any excess weight now put on Chanukah by non-observant Jews could be considered a possible example too. (Anyone, any good examples?)

    To me, it doesn’t matter whether or not it’s prescribed in Torah or Talmud, glass-smashing says “JEWISH” in big blinking lights. I find Judaism fascinating, indeed appealing, but I haven’t the slightest desire to adopt glass-smashing or ’secular Chanukah’.

    I think part of the reason we’re not seeing eye-to-eye here is that you’re talking about ‘adopting the culture of the country’. I’d like to think more about this, but (a) not only is ‘the culture of the country’ not some neutral and ahistorical thing, but (b) plenty of people came to this country expecting to be able to practice their religion freely, which may very well include not taking on the religious or post-religious customs of the majority - it seems in your family they assimilated everything that came their way and now you are neither Catholic nor Jewish. Some of us want to stay Catholic, or Jewish, or what have you.

    - Atlantic — 12/12/2005 @ 10:33 am

  57. Atlantic,

    Does your use of the word “post” have a technical meaning? Do you just mean “derived from?”

    That’s why I use the Mardi Gras example, to show that the original derivation doesn’t matter, but current context does. Or are you saying that non-Christians can’t and don’t go to New Orleans for Mardis Gras? That’s never been my impression. Mardi Gras is also an example of a dominant cultural theme that is not a dominant country’s theme, unless of course, you link Mardi Gras and all the Carnival celebrations that occur in South America. But if we use Mardi Gras as an analogy for Christmas, does that mean that non-Christians can’t enjoy either or both?

    And I too will have to think a little more about that “culture of a country” idea, because I don’t see how practicing religious freedom conflicts with the culture of a country except for the more “radical” notions such as using peyote or having more than one wife. These are examples of where religion went so far against the grain of the dominant culture that certain religious practices were outlawed, despite our Constitution guaranty of freedom of religion.

    I also have trouble wrapping my mind around some of the discussion because I’ve never perceived Christianity to be a religion. Instead, Christianity is a label that encompasses a multitude of religions, with the only defining characteristic of Christianity being the shared belief in the godhood of Jesus. For example, the idea of predestination is anathema to Catholics, but a mainstay of Presbyterians. Und so weiter. But evidently, non-Christians lump all Christians together, which is so far from my reality that I truly don’t understand it.

    P.S. There is a blessing for new cars, too, but that doesn’t make the automobile a religious symbol.

    - Rex — 12/12/2005 @ 11:57 am

  58. Declan, if I’m Jewish and you’re Christian, who says Merry Christmas and who says Happy Chanukah? If I wish you a Merry Christmas — not on Christmas, but, say, Dec 22 — are you going to respond with Happy Chanukah?

    Keep things which are really Christmas Christmas. No Chanukah carols, no Holiday Tree. But it is a holiday season. We do have statutory holidays now — whether we like it or bitch about it. Companies close down, schools are shut, etc. If you are talking to someone whose religion you share, sure, say Merry Christmas. If you don’t know, why not just say Happy Holidays?

    - wolfangel — 12/12/2005 @ 2:03 pm

  59. Just for the record, I have never been a Christian, but my family has always celebrated Christmas. We sometimes sing a few carols with religious content, but certainly nothing about our tree, decorations, or presents has a religious content. (Well, except that maybe we sometimes have a star on top of the tree - certainly no angels or anything like that.) And we never believed Santa Claus was real either (well, my mother might have when she was a child, but our parents decided not to do that to us).

    For those who complain that even a Christmas like this is culturally exclusive, is it culturally exclusive in a problematic way? After all, New Year’s is only slightly less culturally bound (though the fact that most of the world uses this calendar for at least their economic functions now makes it slightly more universal). And there’s no objections to Veterans’ Day, Memorial Day, or July 4 (July 1 in Canada, I suppose) on these sorts of cultural grounds.

    And also, if I say “happy holidays”, or someone says it to me, I think of this as referring to winter break (since I’ve always been in school, so I’ve always had about two weeks off then, including Christmas and New Year’s, but many other not-terribly-specifically-special days as well). And maybe Thanksgiving as well, since it’s so close to that time here in the US. The fact that other world traditions have holidays around this time is just a fortuitous coincidence for the use of this phrase, making it more predominant. No one would ever think to say “happy holidays” in early July for a generic North American national day celebration (though I hear they have special fireworks at this time in Detroit/Windsor). Nor even for the Easter/Passover coincidence that often happens - the holidays then aren’t plural for anyone, (except my Catholic/Jewish friends that have Hannukah bushes and Passover bunnies) unless spring break happens to fall at that time (which it very rarely does any more).

    - Kenny Easwaran — 12/12/2005 @ 2:37 pm

  60. Just for the record, I have never been a Christian, but my family has always celebrated Christmas. We sometimes sing a few carols with religious content, but certainly nothing about our tree, decorations, or presents has a religious content. (Well, except that maybe we sometimes have a star on top of the tree - certainly no angels or anything like that.) And we never believed Santa Claus was real either (well, my mother might have when she was a child, but our parents decided not to do that to us).

    For those who complain that even a Christmas like this is culturally exclusive, is it culturally exclusive in a problematic way? After all, New Year’s is only slightly less culturally bound (though the fact that most of the world uses this calendar for at least their economic functions now makes it slightly more universal). And there’s no objections to Veterans’ Day, Memorial Day, or July 4 (July 1 in Canada, I suppose) on these sorts of cultural grounds.

    And also, if I say “happy holidays”, or someone says it to me, I think of this as referring to winter break (since I’ve always been in school, so I’ve always had about two weeks off then, including Christmas and New Year’s, but many other not-terribly-specifically-special days as well). And maybe Thanksgiving as well, since it’s so close to that time here in the US. The fact that other world traditions have holidays around this time is just a fortuitous coincidence for the use of this phrase, making it more predominant. No one would ever think to say “happy holidays” in early July for a generic North American national day celebration (though I hear they have special fireworks at this time in Detroit/Windsor). Nor even for the Easter/Passover coincidence that often happens - the holidays then aren’t plural for anyone, (except my Catholic/Jewish friends that have Hannukah bushes and Passover bunnies) unless spring break happens to fall at that time (which it very rarely does any more).

    - Kenny Easwaran — 12/12/2005 @ 2:40 pm

  61. Rex, I support this 100%. “I also have trouble wrapping my mind around some of the discussion because I’ve never perceived Christianity to be a religion. Instead, Christianity is a label that encompasses a multitude of religions [denominations?]…But evidently, non-Christians lump all Christians together, which is so far from my reality that I truly don’t understand it.”

    Something 43% of Canadians label themselves Roman Catholic whereas in the US it is less than 25%.

    If we’re going to be sensitive, you non-Christians should remember that lumping Catholics and Protestants together is very offensive to many persons currently and even formerly associated with one of these broad designations. Think of Ireland! (And it is quite true than many Protestants don’t consider Catholics to be Christians. Google reveals why….)

    - Susan — 12/12/2005 @ 2:57 pm

  62. Today I’m at a public-access terminal, so this will have to be short.

    Rex, I think we’re crossing wires here. Of course non-Christians can join in with Mardi Gras or Christmas if they want to (although obviously as non-Christian they can’t celebrate it fully), and I don’t see how practicing religious freedom conflicts with the culture of most Western countries either. I was under the impression that you think everyone in a country really ought to join in with the holidays of the country’s majority and they’re sort of spoilsports if they don’t, and that’s where I thought we parted ways.

    My own example is that I’ve lived in England for over a decade and I still don’t celebrate Guy Fawkes. Nor could I celebrate Reformation Day if I lived in a neighbourhood of Lutherans!

    The blessing example isn’t good, you’re right. But it’s still a Christmas tree. How many times have you seen a car parked in a side chapel for a Christian holiday?

    And BTW, predestination isn’t anathema to Catholics at all. (Google on “Catholic predestination” and “Ludwig Ott” for a summary, also “Tiptoe through TULIP” for an analysis of how close Catholics (of the Thomist persuasion) can be to Calvinism.)

    I’m not sure exactly how I’m using “post-”, but it seems a little more immediate that “derived” to me - “derived” sounds to me like it should be applied to traditions where the ‘new’ tradition is already generations old and the ‘original’ is no longer practiced in its original context at all (e.g. stuff supposedly of pagan dervation).

    This to me is different to customs where some secular people celebrate it without the religious context, but the religious groups from whom it immediately originates are still around and still celebrating it, possibly even as the majority of people who celebrate it. Like Christmas. Or to a lesser extent Mardi Gras. (Here in England it’s popularly known as Pancake Tuesday, and yes, I observe it.)

    I’m not even going to touch defining “religion” in a short post. I do see Christianity as one religion - the boundary point is right around where the Catholic Church would consider a baptism valid or invalid. Obviuosly some Protestant don’t agree…. :)

    - Atlantic — 12/13/2005 @ 8:46 am

  63. Declan : surprisingly, I was more or less agreeing with both you and wolfangel. I was trying to point out that I thought you and wolfangel had gotten tangled in a cross purpose discussion. The key problem is having a Holiday Tree, a Holiday Carol, in the extreme, a Holiday Creche. A global search-and-replace of a word does not make us inclusive. My goal is to find problems, not to solve them.

    Susan : You are correct that the term “secular Christian” is unfortunate. It is not a parallel construct to “secular Jew”. However, there is a large class of people who are culturally Christian, but not religiously so. Many are atheist or agnostic, but either attend a Christian church for special occasions (e.g. weddings, funerals) or perhaps even send their kids to Sunday School “to build moral fibre”. Furthermore, most atheists I know, if you press them on the subject, turn out to believe that the Christian God does not exist, and that, by extension, no God of an Abrahamic faith can exist either. Finally, those people “raised X”, where X is Christian. These people all are culturally Christian in my mind.

    For me, the key distinction between a secular Carnaval and a secular Christmas is that very few of the people who celebrate secular Carnaval have experienced a flavour of Christian culture that actually celebrates Shrove Tuesday. If you’ve grown up in North America or in Western Europe, you know many people for whom Christmas or Easter are real religious holidays. If you’re Japanese, say, then Christmas can easily be a truly secular holiday for all, since there are so few Japanese Christians.
    To support or to undermine my position, does anyone know a Brazilian older Jew who celebrates Carnaval?

    Finally, I think that Susan and Rex are just splitting hairs for the hell of it. In any sense of religion useful for this discussion, regional variation in practice is more important than doctrinal similarities/dissimilarities. A Namibian Lutheran and I believe, on paper, the same things. In practice, I would probably feel more comfortable in the RC church down the street. I know for sure that the Roman church has a lot of regional variation. A Manitoban RC friend of mine believes nearly the same things I do, whereas my Southern Italian RC family believes something we both find strange. I’m sure the church in the Phillipines is quite different as well. [*]

    In North America, from my experience, most Christian practices in mainstream western Christian churches are very similar. The deeper meaning and the religious aspect are different, but from an outside perspective, in which we observe ritual only, they are pretty close.

    Finally, I think this distinction makes it easier to understand where the Religious Right is coming from, in the States. Christianity, in the secularized, cultural sense is quite dominant. However, among the elites especially, and in the population at large, the religion qua religion is becoming weaker and weaker. In this sense, Christmas *is* under attack… and the solution, of course, is to scapegoat the wrong problem. The real one is just to scary to face.

    - Sam — 12/13/2005 @ 11:20 am

  64. Sam wrote, “Finally, I think that Susan and Rex are just splitting hairs for the hell of it.”

    Sam, you might want to read this article:
    “We feel that it is important for persons of all faith groups (Christian and non-Christian) to understand the great diversity of Christian beliefs — both among denominations today and throughout history.”

    I did get a good laugh out of your writing that atheists “believe that the Christian God does not exist …” Are you implying that atheists believe that other gods might exist? Or just that the Christian God is especially non-existent?

    - Susan — 12/13/2005 @ 2:35 pm

  65. I assume all you people-who-believe-in-Christ-in-some-way complaining about being lumped together are willing to differentiate in the same way between the diverse beliefs of people with other religions? A lot of Orthodox Jews wouldn’t agree that I am really Jewish, while I think that they are actively misreading many parts of the religion.

    - wolfangel — 12/13/2005 @ 2:51 pm

  66. “willing to differentiate in the same way?” Of course, we’d be quite surprised if that weren’t necessary. But the fact that you have to ask suggests you haven’t really grokked what we are saying.

    BTW, not ever having been a believer myself, what bothers me is those persons who are representatives of small minorities and who expect the majority to be sensitive to all sorts of nuances with respect to their feelings and beliefs while apparently feeling no obligation to return the favor.

    - Susan — 12/13/2005 @ 3:58 pm

  67. Susan, I’m sorry I seem to be unable to express myself clearly enough for you. You totally missed my point, probably because I assumed a shared context we don’t actually share. I am in no way denying the fact that Christianity is actually a heterogeneous collection of beliefs and practices. I feel this point of yours is true, but irrelevant.

    I have the impression that MS would like us to wind down this discussion. She was merely venting some frustration.

    I propose that anyone who is interested in continuing this discussion continue by email. I can be reached at
    unepipe g mail

    - Sam — 12/13/2005 @ 4:24 pm

  68. “I have the impression that MS would like us to wind down this discussion. She was merely venting some frustration.”

    You’re probably right, so I’ll only add that I was taking the bus in to work today and one of the electronic signs flashed, “Ho Ho Ho” but then the next message was “Season’s Greetings” which cracked me up because it was such a good example of what MS was initially getting (annoyed) at. Ho Ho Ho indeed.

    - Declan — 12/16/2005 @ 4:51 pm

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