Dorothy Rogers: O Solstice Tree!

Thursday, Dec 22, 2011 12:30pm  |  COMMENTS (83)

Hipstamatic photo by Kurt Torster via Flickr.

The town’s [Montclair] recent discussion about whether to place a menorah alongside The Tree in the town center points to a larger question: Are these religious symbols or cultural symbols? If they are religious, the faith-state divide should hold firm: So most of us agree that we should let the crosses and creches, the menorahs and stars of David, the crescents, the Buddhas, and the Krishnas be held sacred and put on display at their own places of worship. Our municipal government should not display them at taxpayers’ expense.

But The Tree . . . is that a religious or a cultural symbol? The short answer is: It is usually seen as a Christian religious symbol. The longer answer is: It shouldn’t be, and here’s why . . .

As most of us today know, the “Christmas” tree and its attendant greenery has Pagan, not Christian, origins. In fact, such forms of nature worship were banned as early as 575 C.E. by the Catholic Bishop Martin of Braga as “wicked” Pagan celebrations. They continued to be intermittently prohibited throughout Europe into the modern era and then were firmly forbidden in Puritan New England until the nineteenth century.

It wasn’t until 1848 that Queen Victoria’s photo-op (well, in those days “etching-op”), alongside her husband Prince Albert and their dear little children, that the family’s Tannenbaum became acceptable in England. Shortly thereafter it became popular to decorate a tree for Christmas in both Europe and America. And now, after just 150 years or so of widespread presence of The Tree, we’re all convinced it represents 2,000 years of one specific religion’s central beliefs? How could this be?

And how could so many related winter revelries have come to be associated with The Tree and thus with Christmas – riding in sleighs, making snowmen, roasting chestnuts on an open fire . . . It’s almost as if we’ve come to believe that only those who celebrate Christmas can truly enjoy the beauty of the gently falling snow!

So, is The Tree a cultural or a religious symbol? Some people insist that we can’t neatly make distinctions between the two. But I say that we can. And – call me politically correct, but – for multicultural reasons we should. Because the winter season simply serves as a backdrop for a range of celebrations – Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s, of course, as well as Bodhi Day (Buddhism), Makar Sankranti (Hinduism), and in some calendar years the Feast of Sacrifice and Hirja (Islam).

So here is a proposed solution: Next year, let’s call it our Solstice Tree. A symbol of the winter season, not of any specific religious faith. A symbol for us all of the presence of life and the promise of renewal – even on the longest and darkest nights, when the natural world is still and lifeless and cold.

And when we gather around it for the community tree lighting, let’s sing only winter songs, not songs from any particular faith tradition: Let It Snow, Winter Wonderland, Sleigh Ride – and, yes, even Jingle Bells and Deck the Halls (neither of which mentions Christmas, by the way) – the list goes on. Songs that speak to what everyone can enjoy about the winter season – chilly outdoor fun, celebrations with friends and family, and reassurance that we’ll all make it through the season’s cold.

You can almost hear our townspeople singing in unison now, can’t you?

O Solstice Tree, O Solstice Tree

How lovely are your branches . . .

Dorothy Rogers is chair of the Department of Philosophy & Religion at Montclair State.

83 Comments

  1. POSTED BY deiscane  |  December 22, 2011 @ 1:16 pm

    What town?

  2. POSTED BY dane  |  December 22, 2011 @ 1:26 pm

    Dorothy…without saying anything to qualify your question…show a picture of a “solstice” tree to a hundred people and ask them what it is. It’s hard for me to believe that ANY of them would answer anything other than: Christmas tree. I simply find it hard to believe that so many Christians come up with endless arguments why one of the most popular icons of a very religious holiday insist on coming up with rationalizations why their holiday decorations should be universal.

    It’s a Christmas tree. Get a grip. Will ya?

  3. POSTED BY Right of Center  |  December 22, 2011 @ 1:40 pm

    This question is very easily answered. If it is something you’d like to see on the town square it’s a “cultural symbol” if it’s something you’d rather not see, it’s a “religious symbol”.

  4. POSTED BY Georgette Gilmore  |  December 22, 2011 @ 1:40 pm

    Despite it’s origins, a tree during the winter holidays now means Christmas. Just because this symbol originated with Paganism, doesn’t mean that it’s association hasn’t been changed.

    It’s like the swastika, originated in ancient India, but now associated with Nazism. The symbol’s association changed.

    The tree put up in December is a Christmas tree.

  5. POSTED BY johnqp  |  December 22, 2011 @ 2:00 pm

    So what is your proposed remedy ?

  6. POSTED BY Conan  |  December 22, 2011 @ 2:13 pm

    “…such forms of nature worship were banned as early as 575 C.E. by the Catholic Bishop Martin of Braga as ‘wicked’ Pagan celebrations.”

    Wicked neat! I never knew Martin of Braga came from Boston. Hey, Mahtin, have a spuckie on me.

  7. POSTED BY Georgette Gilmore  |  December 22, 2011 @ 2:26 pm

    My remedy?

    Put up both a Christmas tree and a Menorah and call it a day. Or put up nothing.

  8. POSTED BY johnqp  |  December 22, 2011 @ 2:28 pm

    How about both a Menorah and a Creche?

  9. POSTED BY Georgette Gilmore  |  December 22, 2011 @ 2:36 pm

    Okay, then a tree and a dreidal.

    Honestly, I’m not religious, but I do celebrate Christmas in my own way. I just think it’s silly to pretend that the tree doesn’t represent Christmas. At this year’s town lighting in Montclair, they sang many religious songs and Christmas Carols. If it really is a “holiday” tree like Mayor Fried has stated, then those songs shouldn’t have been sung.

  10. POSTED BY Right of Center  |  December 22, 2011 @ 3:01 pm

    I’m fine with a Creche and Menorah. I’m even fine with atheists putting up a Barbie Dream House or whatever (as long as is respectful of the beliefs of others). The more the merrier/happier/rationally amused, I say.

  11. POSTED BY Spiro T. Quayle  |  December 22, 2011 @ 3:37 pm

    I’d like to salute ROC’s openness, and add to it by contributing a hologram of Mohammed ascending to heaven, and, also, a statue of Ganesh for that added sub-Continental flair.

    But really, All Is Nothingness, so that’s my first choice, winning the prize as the belief with the least expensive decorations.

  12. POSTED BY johnqp  |  December 22, 2011 @ 3:39 pm

    Very well put. Happy Holidays, Eveyone!

  13. POSTED BY johnqp  |  December 22, 2011 @ 3:40 pm

    oops….I meant Everyone ( damn keyboard )

  14. POSTED BY dane  |  December 22, 2011 @ 3:42 pm

    Maybe the religious symbols should be left to religious organizations. Maybe THEY should be sponsoring Christmas tree lighting and carol-singing?

  15. POSTED BY DagT  |  December 22, 2011 @ 4:04 pm

    Clearly Dorothy Rogers didn’t get the “Keep Christ in Christmas” message!

  16. POSTED BY paolo  |  December 22, 2011 @ 4:26 pm

    In fairness, the “Christmas tree” has been a consistent part of the Christmas celebrations in German and Austrian states from at least the early 1500s. Martin Luther’s association with the tree has been well documented.

    The decorated tree made its arrival in Newark with the German immigrants of the 1830s. Well before the UK’s German born consort and his Queen installed one in their home and made it respectable for people who took their fashion cues from them.

  17. POSTED BY mtcliving  |  December 22, 2011 @ 4:39 pm

    It never fails – only people who celebrate christmas think the tree isn’t religious. The tree completely, 100% represents christmas to non-christians.
    To call the tree in town a “solsitce” tree is absurd! If it’s decked out in lights and you stand around it and sign christmas songs, it’s a christmas tree!!

  18. POSTED BY mtcliving  |  December 22, 2011 @ 4:49 pm

    oops…meant “stand around and sing christmas songs, it’s a christmas tree!!”

  19. POSTED BY Spiro T. Quayle  |  December 22, 2011 @ 5:44 pm

    Sure mtcliving, but, really, what is especially Christian about “Frosty the Snowman” and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” ?

  20. POSTED BY Right of Center  |  December 22, 2011 @ 5:50 pm

    And I suppose then Spiro, “Hava Nigila” isn’t especially Jewish then either?

  21. POSTED BY bebopgun  |  December 22, 2011 @ 6:00 pm

    Happy first day of winter. May our heating bills remain mild through spring.

  22. POSTED BY Spiro T. Quayle  |  December 22, 2011 @ 6:12 pm

    Now that I’ve looked it up, ROC, I see that it means:

    Havah nagilah — Let’s rejoice
    Havah nagilah — Let’s rejoice
    Havah nagilah venismechah — Rejoice and be happy
    (repeat stanza once)
    Havah neranenah — Let’s sing
    Havah neranenah — Let’s sing
    Havah neranenah venismechah — Sing and be happy
    (repeat stanza once)
    Uru, uru achim! — Awake, awake, brothers!
    Uru achim b’lev sameach — With a happy heart
    (repeat line three times)
    Uru achim, uru achim! — Awake, brothers, awake, brothers!
    B’lev sameach — With a happy heart

    No mention of God or His Alleged Salvation or Laws. But it seems nominally sexist. What were the sisters doing while the brothers were to be awakened? I guess they were allowed to sleep.

    And it’s available on CD’s from every bad DJ out there.

  23. POSTED BY pat gilleran  |  December 22, 2011 @ 6:23 pm

    YEP – it’s Christmas Tree!

  24. POSTED BY PAZ  |  December 22, 2011 @ 6:25 pm

    In the Borscht Belt, the tummlers use to sing:
    Hava nagilah
    Have two nagilahs
    Have three nagilahs
    They’re really small!

  25. POSTED BY kit schackner  |  December 22, 2011 @ 9:17 pm

    Thank you, Spiro, for the Havah nagila translation. I never knew what it meant, and learned it from a Harry Belafonte album my father used to play when I was a kid. What’s fascinating is the cheery positive lyrics in contrast to the minor key — but then, as more than one Jewish friend might have explained to me: “Welcome to Judaism.”

    I vote for the all inclusive ornamentation at this time of year, so long as it isn’t too overtly proselytizing about particular beliefs. If someone wants to keep Christ in Christmas, or Kwa in Kwanzaa, etc., fine. Just don’t insist that the rest of us must as well. But everybody: go ahead and jingle your bells!

  26. POSTED BY jerseygurl  |  December 22, 2011 @ 9:27 pm

    This is so tiresome. Have a great mid-winter holiday everyone, whatever you believe!

  27. POSTED BY pat gilleran  |  December 22, 2011 @ 10:16 pm

    mid-winter? Didn’t winter just start?

  28. POSTED BY PAZ  |  December 22, 2011 @ 10:35 pm

    Winter’s running late, he should arrive around February 25th.He’s still taking in the sights in the southern hemi. Late autumn’s still subbing for him.

  29. POSTED BY Nellie  |  December 23, 2011 @ 7:49 am

    The Baristanet holiday/Christmas tree discussion is as much a part of the holiday/Christmas season as Santa and his reindeer. Let us rejoice in this sacred tradition.

  30. POSTED BY itrustmydog  |  December 23, 2011 @ 8:26 am

    Wasn’t a Christmas tree a Pagan ritual co-opted by Christian Church? So it is/was pagan and is now Christian. Spiro T Quayle — haha thanks for the laughs. And this church/state separation, a good idea, but aren’t there still references to God on our money?

  31. POSTED BY dane  |  December 23, 2011 @ 9:16 am

    “but, really, what is especially Christian about “Frosty the Snowman” and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”?”

    Well, “Rudolph” is a song about a reindeer who helps Santa Claus deliver Christmas presents. Not Hanuka presents, or Kwanzaa presents, or “Holiday” presents. Right? And while “Frosty” doesn’t mention Christmas per se, it IS sung at Christmas time, and not say in February. It’s a song that is associated with Christmas.

    Again, it simply boggles my mind that otherwise intelligent people get so narrow-minded that they can’t see when they are taking the symbols, rituals, and events which celebrate the miracle birth of their god…and suggesting that EVERYONE should participate; that they have such tunnel vision that they can’t see that not everyone believes what they do, and the symbols of their beliefs just plain aren’t universal. And it just plain surprises me when they kid themselves that the very symbols of the holiday which celebrates the birth of their savior are universal winter symbols.

    What’s next? Are you going to make an argument that Santa Claus has nothing to do with Christmas? Or maybe that Christmas has nothing to do with Christ? Really?

  32. POSTED BY Spiro T. Quayle  |  December 23, 2011 @ 9:25 am

    dane, stop being so serious.

  33. POSTED BY PAZ  |  December 23, 2011 @ 9:32 am

    What if you lived next door to Santa like I did AND he always blew his leaves onto your property AND his reindeer pooped on your lawn AND His recycling was always scattered up & down the street?!
    But every time we met I always had a big smile on my face ’cause I never wanted to end up on the naughty list! (Plus I fed his cat on Christmas Eve)
    “A day in the life of PAZ’s’ mind.”

  34. POSTED BY Mrs Martta  |  December 23, 2011 @ 10:02 am

    I am amused that we have some form of this discussion every year but nothing seems to get resolved.

    My 2 cents:

    People, it’s only for a week or two, regarding the holiday displays. If you are secure in your faith–or lack thereof–a Christmas tree, creche, or menorah should NOT shake that faith. If you have a problem with it, I suggest you look in the mirror to see the source of that problem.

    No one is out to convert you to their faith! And yes, the menorah should come down after the last night of Chanukah and the Christmas displays by Jan. 7.

    Instead of getting your panties in a wad over the displays, rejoice in the fact that we are lucky to live in a country where we have the freedom to celebrate what we wish–or not.

  35. POSTED BY deadeye  |  December 23, 2011 @ 11:11 am

    Dorothy, a few years have gone by since the “solstice” was the primarily observed holiday of the winter season. You see, there was this fellow named Jesus. He started liked to talk about peace and love and kindness toward your fellow man. His teachings became rather popular, and before you knew it there was a full blown religion called Christianity that spread quickly throughout the then developed world. It became so popular, in fact, that some rather influential folks over time, like the Emperor Constantine, adopted it themselves and their subjects. As Christianity began to supplant the formerly dominant pagan beliefs, it’s adherents incorporated some of their familiar rituals into their new holiday traditions. As the practice of Christianity evolved, it became convenient and comfortable to meld certain of the animist practices into their new faith. Christ’s birthday was almost certainly nor December 25th, but since the solstice was commonly observed the winter weary people decided to keep the party going, as it were.
    Sure, there were a few “wet blankets” over the centuries that may have objected to this or that, kind of like now, and your interpretation of things, but the show went on and the evergreen and mistletoe were incorporated into seasonal Christian practices.

    Oh, there might also be a teensy weensy other reason that folks in places like medieval England didn’t just go around sawing down trees. From a practical perspective, they were by and large the property of the nobility, who strongly discouraged the average Elfrick and Matilda from pilfering their future building and heating materials. The place was pretty well on the way toward deforestation, even then. By the time Queen Victoria rolled around, the industrial revolution was taking shape, standards of living were rising and people were getting somewhat less overly protective of their greenery.

    I guess, around this time, some of our currently held Christmas traditions were also evolving, like hanging stockings on the fireplace mantle, and expecting Santa to come down the chimney with small gifts for the children. It was a time of feasting and celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ with one’s family and neighbors during the darkest days of winter, not a commercial free for all.

    Basically everyone in Europe and America practiced some form of Christianity. There were enclaves of Jewish folks. They worshipped together and celebrated Hannukah, the festival of lights. It was a holiday of minor religious significance but nevertheless a time to celbrate give gifts to the children, and light the darkeness. Over in the Raj, the Indians were celebrating their own festival of lights, Diwali. It was dark there too. The Arabs and, formerly Zoroastrian Persians, fasted for Ramadan, and sorry, there was no Kwanza.

    Prior to the commercial aspects of the holiday becoming front and center, and without the potential lucrative benefits of marketing, everyone was happy celebrating their own holiday. The atheists, then as now, were fringe crackpots and hadn’t yet started trying to stick their collective thumb in the broader society’s eye and tyrannize the majority. People never seemed left out or disgruntled. “Merry Christmas’ was a happy greeting, not a reason to seethe at the thoughtlessness of the well wisher.

    So, you’ve glossed over a lot of culture and history to propound your solstice tree claims. Around here we’ve woven many new cultural threads into the social fabric, and incorporated an appreciation for various celebratory practices, paganism being conspicuously absent, unless we’ve got some druids moving in down the street.

  36. POSTED BY DagT  |  December 23, 2011 @ 12:47 pm

    Damn deadeye you had me sitting at your feet till you penned that stuff about the fringe atheists. In fact I believe your thumb registered a poke in my own eye. But you’re forgiven, in the spirit of CHRISTmas. Here I sit with wonderful childhood memories of dressing as an angel in Christmas pageants, sacred music, midnight Mass and the true meaning of Christmas (as taught by the nuns). Your story was so much more inclulsive. Thanks

  37. POSTED BY johnqp  |  December 23, 2011 @ 12:54 pm

    Deadeye … Beautifully put.

  38. POSTED BY pat gilleran  |  December 23, 2011 @ 1:09 pm

    Hey deadeye. I don’t want to pay for YOUR CHRISTMAS TREE. If you want one in a public space pay for it yourself and don’t expect the rest of us to fork over any cash.

    Ps- you left out Buddists

  39. POSTED BY croiagusanam  |  December 23, 2011 @ 1:46 pm

    “unless we’ve got some druids moving in down the street.”

    deadeye, we’ve been here for many years now. Do stop by soon and try out my new stone sacrificial slab.

  40. POSTED BY Spiro T. Quayle  |  December 23, 2011 @ 2:04 pm

    We were here before the Jews, actually.

  41. POSTED BY dane  |  December 23, 2011 @ 2:37 pm

    Mrs. Martta, it amuses me that (according to you) the Hanuka Menorah should come down the very day after Hanuka is over…but the Christmas decorations? Two weeks later. Howcum Christmas gets the extra time? ;-)

    You say you’re not trying to convert us…then why is your religious decoration on shared public property? You will probably have some very stinging response to this (but) you’d find it’s very different when you have children. Some years ago I was in the Shop Rite and the good-natured check out woman decided to ask my two-year-old Jewish child what Santa was bringing him for Christmas. When I replied to her that we didn’t celebrate Christmas, she laughed and looked right at him and said “that’s silly, EVERYONE celebrates Christmas”.

    Yes. He and I had a conversation about what a silly woman that was. But the underlying issue is that EVERYONE should celebrate Christmas. Why is that exactly, please?

    Listen, a lot of this stuff is subtle. Even an intelligent fair-minded person like you doesn’t seem to realize when she suggests that the Christian holiday decorations (which have been up since before Thanksgiving) should get more “airtime” than those of any other.

    I imagine it’s easy not to see this stuff when you are a member of a majority. Regardless of what majority that might happen to be.

    It’s funny how many people respond to other’s concerns about religious decorations on public township property, paid for with township funds with a “try to just lie back and enjoy it” attitude. Disappointing to say the least in what’s supposed to such a multi-cultural community.

    Disappointing, indeed.

  42. POSTED BY gfp930  |  December 23, 2011 @ 4:26 pm

    VERY well said, Dane!!

    Gail Prusslin

  43. POSTED BY Spiro T. Quayle  |  December 23, 2011 @ 4:53 pm

    Deadeye, great post, and really well written, in an era of illiteracy. We’ve reached a point here in the USA where this is a significant event.
    One minor problem: I’d like to believe the homespun and folksy “There were enclaves of Jewish folks. They worshipped together and celebrated Hannukah” bit, but, unfortunately, a few too many of the local Christian folks who signed on to the charismatic and selfless Jesus religion thought the Jews were “wet blankets”, to use your quaint phrase, and decided to gas those Jews and sell their silver fillings for jewelry and their skin for lampshades right smack in the middle of the 20th century. Very efficiently, I might add….

    The Jews I know view this as the inevitable and sinister apogee of Christianity.
    I, on the other hand, view this as the absolute and universal fallacy of all religions. It’s all guesswork, but with great looking displays. Except the Jews, who still believe in ugly displays, just to prove that vanity is futile.

  44. POSTED BY PAZ  |  December 23, 2011 @ 5:24 pm

    I imagined myself in a previous life running through the Warsaw ghetto with my cohorts in the underground looking for any sign of a religious display during the holidays. Nothing except fear, darkness,hunger & death.
    This is why I am startled by this discussion…Count your blessings freely and openly.
    PAX

  45. POSTED BY flipside  |  December 23, 2011 @ 5:25 pm

    What is so offensive about Christmas and Christmas trees? If the religious aspect offends you think of a Christmas tree as paying homage to the Christian founding fathers that wrote a Constitution giving you the right to express your opinion. Christmas really isn’t so bad, try to open your mind and embrace it. The Christmas spirit is free and available to everyone not just Christians. You might be surprised how good it feels….MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

  46. POSTED BY Mrs Martta  |  December 23, 2011 @ 6:23 pm

    Dane: Traditionally, the Christmas decorations stay up a week after the New Year. Not sure why this is so, maybe it’s to coincide with the removal off all the Christmas trees by Public Works? Who knows. I’m not suggesting that one holiday get more airtime than the other, not at all. I AM suggesting that we sit back and enjoy the diversity of the celebrations around this time of year.

    And I’ll tell you another thing: I am not bothered that our tax dollars pay for it all. My tax dollars DO pay for an awful lot of cringe-worthy, wasteful things but this is not one of them.

    It’s unfortunate that you and your child had a run in with that ignorant woman. But she is in the minority around these parts. I would have countered with, “Well, no, actually not everyone does.”

  47. POSTED BY johnqp  |  December 23, 2011 @ 6:54 pm

    Some people leave their Christmas decorations up until the Feast of the Epiphany, otherwise known as Three Kings Day, which falls on January 6th.

  48. POSTED BY Spiro T. Quayle  |  December 23, 2011 @ 7:01 pm

    I’ve seen Christmas decorations up all year, but they pull the plug until the cold sets in.

  49. POSTED BY cathar  |  December 23, 2011 @ 8:30 pm

    While the issue is unfortunately linked to certain German nationalistic ideas which led to a “great unpleasantness” (as Konrad Adenauer once called it) circa 1939-1945, the fact is that holiday greenery does not necessarily have purely “pagan” origins. The Christian legend of St. Boniface, “Apostle to the Germans,” and of the sacred Irmensul tree bending down before his new Christian deity shows this. There is at least one carving attesting to this tale at the German megalithic site of Externsteine (one of Himmler’s fave hangouts, alas). Plus many references in monastic chronicles.

    And enough of this talk about “solstice trees” too. As the British historian Ronald Hutton has delighted in pointing out in several books, simply not enough is known about most European pagan religions to even halfway assume that to these ancient inhabitants the solstice was at all important. Only one major megalitic monument, Newgrange in Ireland, for example, indicates an awareness of the solstitial sun illuminating the world for another year. Instead, the work of astro-archaeologists seeems to show that the “pagans” (actually, no one knows who or what these folks worshipped, despite the nonsensical claims of modern Wiccans) found important to their agriculturalsociety lunar eclipses. Not the solstice. Tne British astronomer Fred Hoyle has been but one stalwart voice asserting that Stonehenge best “works (if it indeed “works” at all) as an eclipse predictor, not as a marker for solstices.

    So sorry, folks, but don’t over-estimate the importance of the solstice. Especially as an antidote to Christian seasonal iconography. Really, Ms. Rogers’ column, while well-intentioned in a peculiarly Kumbaya-ish and Montclair-ish sort of way, was pretty silly. It certainly takes no real note of actual historical research regarding both the solstice and the use of seasonal boughs. Notwithstanding, too, the distinct possibility that the early Church simply shifted the ostensible birthdate of Jesus to suit its own purposes. (Which is not the same as the idea of the early Chrurch also thus co-opting the pagan Roman feast of the Lupercalia; no matter how many people repeat such a stretch of a story, that still doesn’t necessarily make it true, and to maintain otherwise is but to follow in the blasted footsteps of, well, Goebbels and Stalin.)

    And to really continue the semi-iconclasm, Kwanzaa is not at all “traditional” but rather a specifically black nationalist “holiday” reeking of the separatist madness of the 60′s, one concocted by a convicted kidnapper and all-round thug. If you ask genuine Africans what they make of their “traditional harvest festival” and occasion for communalism, they’re alost invariably baffled, whatever their various faiths. Merchants like Hallmark have merely jumped on the Kwanzaa bandwagon by way of making another quick buck.

    I would also much always prefer singing such masterworks as “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “O Holy Night” to the mawkish, overly jollified “winter songs” Rogers references. But then, there is also more of the genuine Christmas-holiday spirit in Sting’s album “If On A Winter Night” than in all those songs Rogers urges us to sing communally.

  50. POSTED BY Nellie  |  December 23, 2011 @ 8:38 pm

    It seesms that those who don’t celebrate Christmas don’t want to allow others to enjoy it. A Christmas tree doesn’t mean that anyone is trying to convert you. If you’re truly tolerant, wish a Merry Christmas to someone who celebrates, whether you do or not.

  51. POSTED BY Jimmytown  |  December 23, 2011 @ 9:12 pm

    Dorothy,
    You are the chair of religion of Montclair State, so your argument that the tree is a pagan tradition. But you fail to state that paganism is in fact a religion. “Deck the Halls” is a religious song. The line “Troll the ancient Yule tide carol” refers to “Yule” which is a pagan religious festival.

    Martta, the reason we keep the trees up a week after christmas is because not every religion believes that baby jesus was born on the 25th. Greek Orthodox believe it happened between January 6th and January 19th. As of 2011, there is a difference of 13 days between the modern Gregorian calendar and the older Julian calendar. Those who continue to use the Julian calendar or its equivalents thus celebrate December 25 and January 6 on what for the majority of the world is January 7 and January 19. For this reason, Ethiopia, Russia and Ukraine celebrate Christmas, both as a Christian feast and as a public holiday, on what in the Gregorian calendar is January 7. The reason we say Jesus is born on the 25th, is because the Jesus Christ Character was based on other religious leaders when Christianity was formed. Example:
    HORUS:
    Horus was born on December 25th
    Born of the virgin
    His birth was accompanied by a star in the east
    Three kings followed to locate and adorn the new-born savior
    At the age of 12, he was a prodigal child teacher
    And at the age of 30, he was baptized and thus began his ministry
    Horus had 12 disciples
    Performed miracles such as healing the sick and walking on water
    Horus was known by many gestural names such as The Truth, The Light, God’s Anointed Son, The Good Shepherd, The Lamb of God, After being betrayed by Typhon,
    Horus was crucified,
    Buried for 3 days and
    Thus, resurrected.

    ATTIS:
    Born of the virgin
    On December 25th,
    Crucified,
    Placed in a tomb
    And after 3 days, was resurrected.

    KRISHNA:
    Born of the virgin
    With a star in the east signaling his coming
    Performed miracles with his disciples
    And upon his death was resurrected.

    DIONYSUS
    born of a virgin on December 25th
    was a traveling teacher
    who performed miracles such as turning water into wine
    he was referred to as the “King of Kings,” “God’s Only Begotten Son,” “The Alpha and Omega,” and many others
    and upon his death, he was resurrected.

    MITHRA:
    Born of a virgin
    On December 25th
    He had 12 disciples
    And performed miracles
    And upon his death was buried for 3 days
    And thus resurrected
    He was also referred to as “The Truth,” “The Light”
    Interestingly, the sacred day of worship of Mithra was Sunday.

    Jesus Christ:
    Born on December 25th
    Three kings followed to locate and adorn the new-born savior

    The real question is:
    Why do we celebrate Christ’s birthday this year by ignoring the fact that he would have celebrated Hanukkah? Jesus was in fact Jewish.

  52. POSTED BY walleroo  |  December 23, 2011 @ 10:53 pm

    You see, there was this fellow named Jesus. He started liked to talk about peace and love and kindness toward your fellow man.

    Just in case you didn’t know this already, Dorothy. You may have the title of chair of philosophy and religion, but let’s face it: you’re no Master of the Universe.

  53. POSTED BY dane  |  December 24, 2011 @ 7:45 am

    Dear PAZ, Nellie, and Flipside,

    Thank you for making my case: Shut the f*ck up and take it. Right?

  54. POSTED BY dane  |  December 24, 2011 @ 7:57 am

    Mrs. M, Thanks for your very reasoned response. I’ve never met a non-Christian who enjoyed Christmas more than me, actually. I just prefer to enjoy the holiday (as I will this year) with friends in their homes or in their houses of worship, or in other privately produced events, rather than as part of a sanctioned township activity, paid for with tax money. And I agree that there are many cringe-worthy and wasteful things. There seem to be too many people like Flipside who were obviously not paying attention in middle school history class to have learned that in the US there is supposed to be a separation of church and state. Either that, or they just don’t give a sh*t about anyone who isn’t just like them. The only thing Flipside left out of his/her post was that this is a Christian country. Again, thank you, for your sincere response.

  55. POSTED BY Holly Korus  |  December 24, 2011 @ 8:21 am

    Here is a tale of a little girl named Holly who grew up a Christian girl in a town that was about 85% Jewish. She grew up with “Holiday” parties in school and wishing people a “Happy Holiday”. So she knows what it feels like to feel excluded (ok this girl was me). The big fuss over saying “Happy Holidays” seems so silly to me because it is what I have always said.

    This should be about the kids and making them feel that their holiday is included. If an adult is fighting for a tree or a menorah because they do not feel included they need therapy.

    I love having the tree in town. I would love to have a menorah as well and if it is all paid for by private funds…great!

    Dane I’m with you our, children will be a more excepting generation.

    Now I’m off to bake some gingerbread and enjoy this day.

  56. POSTED BY flipside  |  December 24, 2011 @ 12:38 pm

    Sorry to upset you Dane…no need to get personal. I did pay attention in school. Just for info the words “separation of church and state” don’t appear in the constitution. The point I am trying to make is Christmas is as much about “goodwill” as it is about religion. No one is excluding anyone from joining in with that feeling. I’m not Irish but I join right in on St. Patrick’s Day. I would never want to stop anyone from having a good time and smiling and being nice to one another. I do give a sh*t about people that don’t think like me….do you??

  57. POSTED BY cathar  |  December 24, 2011 @ 3:15 pm

    Uh, Jimmytown, whatever the oft-remarked on similarities between Jesus and Dionysus, Horus and Mithra and some other of the usual suspects), there is nothing in either the historical or mythological record to suggest that any of them were in fact “born” on December 25 or even on a Sunday. Not least because such calendrical niceties didn’t exist at the time of such divinities’ supposed nstivity.

    Don’t overreach so to make your point, in other words. And don’t try to be so goshdarned syncretic, either. There are rather vast differences between the teachings of Jesus Christ and the other deities you cited above. Some, like Horus, can’t even have “teachings” ascribed to them if it comes to that. You were showing off, in other words without much to hack it up. (Have you, pray tell, been reading the likes of Paul Blanshard?)

    Mithra, for example, was hardly a “Prince of Peace,” unlike Jesus. His cult was basically one of Roman soldiers from all over the then-Empire, and, based on their usual military conduct, it’s a good bet they respected Mithra’s martial qualities more than anything else about him.

    And if paganism remains a “religion,” what or who on earth do modern-day pagans worship? Mars? Apollo? Oak trees? (There are some Nordic god-worshipping types still floating around, I know, but they’re all almost always Neo-Nazis.) Perhaps you meant Wiccans and assorted kin, who are a very differnt group than the “pagans” you attempt to summon up.

  58. POSTED BY croiagusanam  |  December 24, 2011 @ 3:19 pm

    The baristas were kind enough to share with me the photo of readers/posters who had the “good luck” (and time on their hands) to wade through professor cathar’s lecture about St. Boniface and the Irmensul tree:

    http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-z6TGBkXf1Ks/TsrPrnz7SyI/AAAAAAAAApU/cnyHiZDhTC4/s1600/studentssleeping.jpg

  59. POSTED BY genius  |  December 24, 2011 @ 5:41 pm

    we really should just plant a tree there, leave lights on it all year round. It would look nice and we’d be saving the world with the same tree every year.

  60. POSTED BY dane  |  December 25, 2011 @ 9:22 am

    Dear Flipside, in addition to missing some civics history you haven’t been reading very well either. I can’t find where I said the “separation of church and state” appear in the constitution. Actually The phrase was quoted by the United States Supreme Court first in 1878, and then in a series of cases starting in 1947. Though discourse supporting it appears to go back to Jefferson and Madison.

    And my concern isn’t that “No one is excluding anyone from joining in with that feeling.” But rather, that people are FORCED into it. The issue, which you seem to have mistaken as one of invitation, is in fact, one of endorsement. In order to justify the use of public funds and township real estate to endorse it the township of Montclair choses to ignore the spirit of the First Amendment to the Constitution which says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” Mayor Fried, even, suggests that what citizens sang Christmas carols around uses the nonsense term: “holiday tree”. Is he calling the songs Holiday Carols?

    Flipside, I thank you for you invitation to celebrate your holiday. But it should be just that: an invitation. And it should take place on your lawn, or the lawn of your church…not in the town square where it would appear that the Township of Montclair appears to have established a township religion. Christmas trees belong on church lawns, menorahs belong on synagogue lawns, and hopefully both should include invitations to the general community to share in the good feelings and festivities of the season.

    One could argue that it’s a little short-sighted, narrow-minded, and, yeah, even a bit prejudiced to imagine that EVERYONE wants to celebrate the religious holiday of one group of people. And besides the fact that it’s just not appropriate that this one group of people should use public funds and public land to do so, it’s surprising that it happens in a community with a national reputation for diversity.

  61. POSTED BY dan tanna  |  December 26, 2011 @ 2:20 pm

    I’m an athiest and I’m just fine with a midwinter tree whereas I am disturbed by minorahs and crosses. Dorothy Rogers is right on the money. We’ve got to draw the line somewhere. If we let kids out of school to celebrate the holidays, we can put up a tree in town. Maybe we could make the solution easier by dissociating solstice from Christmas. Make this a celebration of lights in the darkest day of the year. Give kids the 22nd and 23rd off. Make them go to school on the 24th and 25th. “Keep the Christ in Christmas?” Please, I’ve had enough of that.

  62. POSTED BY deadeye  |  December 26, 2011 @ 3:32 pm

    Merry Christmas Dan! Lots of us enjoyed a beautiful day of celebration yesterday. Too bad for you. I’m sorry that you’ve “had enough of” keeping Christ in Christmas, that’s kind of why it’s called Christmas. Get it? All of those people wishing each other Merry Christmas and Happy Hannukah surrounded by the symbols of their faith while poor little Dan is bereft. I can see how that would really get under someone’s skin. There’s an instructive little story by Dr. Seuss that you may want to check out. It’s about this wretched and soulless creature. Oh well, on second thought you wouldn’t like the ending.
    I know and respect lots of atheists and agnostics. But, you know what, none of them has a problem with others practicing their religion and observing holidays. That’s called misanthropy. While you’re looking it up, you might want to look up the correct spelling of “minorah (sic).” So have fun staring at the sun Dan, maybe you and Dorothy can share a flagon of hemlock while we all enjoy the rest of the holiday season.

  63. POSTED BY Spiro T. Quayle  |  December 26, 2011 @ 4:48 pm

    Interesting divide here, between those who believe religious symbols and customs must be set in stone in their native religions or cultures , and those who believe religious symbols and customs can be shaped to meet new religions or cultures.

    Imagine the debate in the ancient Middle East when the Hebrews adapted the custom of circumcision from pagan cultures, most likely, from the ancient Egyptians, and made it their own, to suit their new, monotheistic, world view.

  64. POSTED BY hf12  |  December 26, 2011 @ 10:52 pm

    Much as i enjoy the whole gathering together around a lit tree, to me, it is a Christmas tree regardless of what we call it. And, while I also love singing all manner of holiday songs, when you include songs that belong to a specific religion (namely Christmas and Chanukah), it adds to the religious feeling. As many others have already said, that seems inappropriate to me when the sponsoring agency is supposed to be secular. I believe secular agencies should be particularly sensitive to language and behavior that makes some constituents feel excluded. Therefore, adding a menorah really doesn’t address the point (to me)as it adds one “group” but leaves out others. Yes, I was the kid on the playground who disliked being the captain and picking teams, but government should not be actively and systematically excluding entire groups of people in what it chooses to recognize. I know we have “In God we Trust” on our money, and blah blah blah, but that doesn’t mean I think any of it is appropriate.

    i therefore don’t understand the rationale of people advocating for town events to have a Christmas tree and for other secular institutions to focus on Christmas. As others have already said, why can’t religious/specific cultural holidays be celebrated with family, friends, relevant institutions, etc.? Why do some believe that something is being taken away from them if their particular religious holiday is not recognized in a town event?

    While I believe a Christmas tree could eventually become a Solstice Tree if we try hard enough (culture does adapt after all), I wonder why we don’t light something else- such as a sculpture that represents a particular concept related to winter/peace/fellowship, etc.? Why does it have to be a tree? We can all gather round and sing non-religious songs and enjoy the spirit of being together as an antidote to the cold (well, when it is actually cold) and to celebrate the days getting longer.

    Lastly, to those who argue we should all say “Merry Christmas”, do you say Happy Chanukah, acknowledge the month of Ramadan, etc. etc. etc. If you do, that’s atypical and impressive! If you don’t, why should your important holiday be specifically recognized? With my friends and family, I try to always acknowledge the holidays/special events that are important to them. However, with strangers, I don’t know what holidays are meaningful to them. It is therefore presumptious (in my opinion) to name a particular holiday in your good wishes. Isn’t it more representative of the “Christmas Spirit” to be inclusive and sensitive to the feelings of others rather than trying to convince them they are wrong for feeling that way?

  65. POSTED BY dane  |  December 26, 2011 @ 11:58 pm

    “Isn’t it more representative of the “Christmas Spirit” to be inclusive and sensitive to the feelings of others rather than trying to convince them they are wrong for feeling that way?”

    Bravo, hf12.

  66. POSTED BY walleroo  |  December 27, 2011 @ 10:06 am

    Get it? All of those people wishing each other Merry Christmas and Happy Hannukah surrounded by the symbols of their faith while poor little Dan is bereft… There’s an instructive little story by Dr. Seuss that you may want to check out. It’s about this wretched and soulless creature. Oh well, on second thought you wouldn’t like the ending.

    You got “deadeyed,” dan. Don’t worry, it washes off with a little soap and water.

  67. POSTED BY deadeye  |  December 27, 2011 @ 11:34 am

    Notes to self: Work on adapting culture. Be more sensitive to neurotics, they have feelings too. Brainstorm about some sort of “sculpture” to light instead of a Christmas tree so as to ingratiate self to local wackadoodle community!

    Some of these posts are very instructive about the long term effects of getting picked last when choosing up sides in gym class…

  68. POSTED BY walleroo  |  December 27, 2011 @ 11:59 am

    getting picked last when choosing up sides in gym class…

    Dude, you make an awful lot of assumptions.

  69. POSTED BY hf12  |  December 27, 2011 @ 12:24 pm

    deadeye- if it’s easier for you to make sarcastic comments, that’s your prerogative. However, I’m more interested in reading posts that address the rationale for your (or others’) perspective or well-reasoned rebuttles to the flaws in my suggestions.

  70. POSTED BY dane  |  December 27, 2011 @ 2:02 pm

    “Some of these posts are very instructive about the long term effects of getting picked last when choosing up sides in gym class…”

    And some seem to reveal former middle school bullies, deadeye.

  71. POSTED BY deadeye  |  December 27, 2011 @ 3:06 pm

    Roo, Obviously you would have been among the first picked for basketball, high jump, etc.

    hf12, I make a point of attempting to address people’s specific holiday celebrations, Hannukah, Diwali, etc., but I don’t shrink from saying Merry Christmas since that’s what I celebrate, and it should be taken in the spirit that it is offered.

    And Dane, I was never a bully, but there were a few would-be bullies that I crossed paths with while growing up that learned a few lessons and had some time to think things over while their noses were healing, and more than a few grateful potential victims. Much more effective than detention, and no recidivism.

  72. POSTED BY Nellie  |  December 27, 2011 @ 3:59 pm

    I was always picked last and I am scarred for life. Gym teachers need to be more sensitive and have kids count off numbers or something.

  73. POSTED BY croiagusanam  |  December 27, 2011 @ 4:40 pm

    There are photos of deadeye back in the day still making the rounds.

    Here’s one of him sorting out a bully in middle school:

    http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2065/2195209146_296928b36c_o.jpg

    Good on ‘ya, boyo!

  74. POSTED BY Spiro T. Quayle  |  December 27, 2011 @ 5:15 pm

    I know the feeling, Nellie. I couldn’t catch for sh*t. They always stuck me out in right field.

  75. POSTED BY Nellie  |  December 27, 2011 @ 6:12 pm

    I took horseback riding in college so I wouldn’t be subjected to team picking, but the horse threw me and I wound up in the emergency room. Where gym was concerned, I couldn’t win for sh*t.

  76. POSTED BY flipside  |  December 27, 2011 @ 6:25 pm

    I can’t believe Christmas has come and gone and yet the debate goes on. I think it is time for the truth to be told. Christmas is not all what it is cracked up to be. In fact it is season of anxiety and aggravation. We poor Christians go through hell worrying about shopping, cooking, overeating, tipping, dealing with relatives, what will Santa bring, acting jolly…the list goes on forever. The thought of non-Christians enjoying a carefree night at the movies and Chinese food didn’t seem fair. Why not share the angst…there is plenty to go around! With the Christian ideal of sharing and fairness in mind a master plan was hatched. (I think that old rascal Ben Franklin came up with the idea) Let’s put a lighted Christmas tree on public property! That will upset the rest of the population and create tension that will keep them stirred up for weeks. In the old days they used to add in a life size nativity scene but that was deemed to be a little too cruel…those oldtimers really knew to how to stick it to you. So there it is…you all fell for it again! In years time all will be forgotten, the tree will be lit, and everyone will flip out…and if they don’t freak?? …out comes the nativity scenes again!

  77. POSTED BY walleroo  |  December 27, 2011 @ 9:09 pm

    worrying about shopping, cooking, overeating, tipping, dealing with relatives, what will Santa bring, acting jolly…the list goes on forever

    Those sound like pretty good problems to have, flipside.

  78. POSTED BY deadeye  |  December 27, 2011 @ 9:17 pm

    Nellie, I also took horseback riding in college. It was spring term of senior year, and is among my fondest memories of those days. Thankfully, no one was injured; however, there was far more excitement than I believe some of the class had bargained for. I saw a friend bucked off of a young thoroughbred new to the farm, and a rather heavy set girl somehow spook a gentle Arabian that bolted through a human sized door and ran for a fence, thought the better of jumping, and instead stopped short and catapaulted her rider over instead, thankfully no worse for the experience. We jumped big hunters, and barrel raced quarter horses. Best of all, we had use of the horses outside of class.
    Sorry to hear that you were injured, but maybe find a gentle horse and give it another try.

  79. POSTED BY deadeye  |  December 27, 2011 @ 9:21 pm

    Outfield for me Spiro. I was blind as a bat, and once literally had the ball fall into my glove as I was scratching my head in third grade…

  80. POSTED BY walleroo  |  December 27, 2011 @ 10:06 pm

    Peter Paul and Mary used to sing a song about it, deadeye. (“That’s why I’m here in right field, watching the dandy-lions grow.”) Outfielders, though, are pretty important to the success of a team. You are free to draw any life lesson from this you feel is appropriate.

  81. POSTED BY Spiro T. Quayle  |  December 28, 2011 @ 7:31 am

    For me, Nellie, Christmas and horseback riding are linked. My parents used to take us to a horse farm in Pennsylvania that had guest rooms and home cooked meals. The hosts were of German descent, and the grandma used to bake this unbelievable apple strudel every day. You came in from horseback riding ( which we all really enjoyed) and man, did that place smell great.

  82. POSTED BY hf12  |  December 28, 2011 @ 9:30 pm

    The comments section sure has taken an interesting turn!

    Deadeye- While I don’t agree regarding saying “Merry Christmas,” I appreciate the genuine response.

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