A Tree Grows In Boston

What’s in A Name?

DC’s Thanksgiving is over. And I hope we all had something to be thankful for. Now that our bellies are full we can all get ready to empty our wallets as we speed towards the December “Holidays.” It’s almost time for Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa and, perhaps some other holiday I don’t yet know about.

These past few weeks there’s been a lot of hoopla in Massachusetts (where else) about the possible renaming of a “Christmas Tree.”

Yup, those folks in charge of “stuff” are trying to decide if the official state “Christmas Tree” should instead be called a “Holiday Tree” (to better include other religions and secularists during the “Holiday Season.”

And they better decide fast…it was cut down late last week and is on its way to be trimmed and topped as we speak.

As Mayor Mennino and Governor Romney point out the pros and cons of such a change, other politicians are “skittishly” taking (or not taking sides) on this one. Changing the name of this tree could get “sticky” around election time. Personally, if I were a politician anywhere near Boston I think I’d be, “Unreachable at my winter vacation home in the Bahamas until Jan. 3rd.”

That’s not to say that as “Citizen Rapp” I have not had a thought or two of my own on this controversial subject.

I’m actually amused … although a bit concerned.

I’m amused by what appears to be the silliness of the whole thing… and concerned by the inherent complications and underlying consequences of any decision that would change the name of such a beloved icon.

My God! The “Christmas Tree” could end up another symbol for the separation of Church and State.

Holy goodness, “Merry Christmas” itself may be in danger!

Although many people still send out Christmas cards, others have, for many years already, chosen to send out secular cards with sayings like, “Seasons Greetings” or “Happy Holidays.” It’s all about sharing good will… and not offending anyone.

When I was growing up, not too many Christians sent, “Merry Christmas” cards to their Jewish friends. And as far back as I can recollect, Jews never sent out Happy Chanukah cards to their Gentile friends either. I mean Chanukah and Christmas are never very far apart on the yearly calendar, but in a religious sense you might say, they’ve got more than a few “testaments” between them.

But, somewhere during the middle of a last century December (probably during the Sixties), some Americans started sending friends of differing faiths more and more “secular” cards, with simple wishes for a happy holiday. It just seemed the thing to do. I mean that whole era brought more people of different faiths and creeds together to work and play than at any other time in our history. People just wanted to show respect and love for each other at holiday time without crossing any religious boundaries that were foreign to them. Secular cards just seemed “politcally correct.”

And this seemed to work for quite a while… except for the “purists” (both Christian and Jewish). To them it would always be either Christmas or Chanukah. One or the other. Not both! But that was OK too. There’s nothing wrong with being traditional about certain things. Let some people celebrate the “Holidays” … and let others observe their religious traditions. Live and let live. And Hallmark wins no matter what the card says.

Now we have another December celebration: Kwanzaa

ont color=”#008000″>This is not a religious, but a “cultural” holiday, celebrating African Americans. It seems like a fine holiday to me, but I think a lot of people just wish Kwanzaa wasn’t also in December.
meant (Many African Americans are Christian and Jewish as well as other religions), but it does sort of complicate what is already a double sided holiday card by adding yet another page to it. And I have to ask (feel free to let me know), is Kwanzaa in December because it’s based on any old African traditions, the winter Solstice, or some ancient custom? Or is it possible that some clever Madison Avenue types added it to the growing “consumerism” that’s been attacking all American religious and cultural holidays (Be My Valentine?) for years? I’m just curious.

And what about everybody else who’s not Jewish, Christian or African American? What about the Hindus, Buddhists, Native Americans, Taoists and Muslims? Do they feel “left out” or will they ask for some winter “Holiday” time too? Well, December looks a little crowded for the moment. Hmmm…. I think we might have a nice opening sometime in February or perhaps March?

I mean I can totally understand why some people have thrown their hands up in the air after trying hard to hold onto their old traditions. It’s not easy keeping things the same in a changing world. But, there’s a very thin line between trying to hold on to benign forms of tradition, and certain virulent forms of fundamentalism that can quietly creep in, folding back on itself like a Black Hole trying to close all the doors behind it. And if one of those Black Holes (in the form of some radical religious group) starts wanting to run public policy in favor of their own group, you usually end up having to deal with that pesky, “Separation of Church and State” Constitutional amendment thing.

But, let’s not ruin the day by jumping ahead. The Supreme Court top ten list discussion can wait for another time (Like when we’re discussing abstract notions of Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu and Native American Presidents). Sadly, Muslims are temporarily off the waiting list for this century.

The Way We Were

000″> I’m sure many of you already know that the Puritans did not even celebrate Christmas. They considered it an abomination to throw parties, give gifts or pass around the eggnog like the rest of the growing colonial world was beginning to do. With all the festivity and pagan ritual attached, they even forbad their congregations from attending celebrations elsewhere while traveling.

And when visitors (even other Christians) from New York, Rhode Island and other such, “worldly” places brought back some of the new and increasingly popular “American” Christmas customs, they were told to ignore these wicked practices or they’d burn in hell.
I have no doubt they would have hung Santa as a witch … had he shown up in Salem wearing his red suit and carrying a bag of gifts back in 1630.

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree

The “Christmas Tree,” custom (with all its lights, bells and whistles) was actually only brought to America by Northern European Immigrants in the mid 1800s. Evergreen trees had been part of old pagan winter solstice celebrations and holidays (like Saturnalia) for centuries back in the old country. And when these people eventually became Christians, they just incorporated their beloved holiday trees right into their new religion (Cut down a tree for Jesus! Hallelujah!).

Hey, these colorful people also brought St. Nicholas, Santa Claus, Father Christmas and a bunch of elves with them when they later crossed the pond to the new world. Now who doesn’t love them and that great Toy Shop at the North Pole?

But allowing old “Tannenbaum” a prominent place in the celebration of the birth of Jesus was a very clever move by the Church. Convincing Northern Europe and Britain to convert to Christianity was much easier when the people were allowed to keep some of their Celtic/Wiccan/Pagan holiday customs (although toned down and properly directed) like their Winter Tree.
It was a compromise of sorts. A good one (This idea worked well with many other cultures around the world as well). Everyone was happy … well, most of the time anyway.

So, is the Christmas tree really a religious symbol? Or just a pagan leftover? Heck, I’m even willing to wager that Santa Claus and Jesus never even met!

You Light Up My Street

As for Christmas. The birth of Jesus. The Christ Mass. That’s another story.
This truly is a very holy occasion for many in the world. Lots of people actually still go to Midnight Mass on the Eve of the event and spend the following day gathered with extended family for a simple, traditional, Christmas dinner.

But for others? Well, it’s just a darned good reason to get on the “Birthday Bandwagon” and party from Thanksgiving until Dec. 26th. Yee-ha! You know it’s begun when suddenly the houses on your block start to light up. One of my neighbors threw the switch yesterday, at dusk (While I was still eating leftover turkey and cranberry sauce). That dilapidated old house looks like it may fall down any minute … but they’ve got those strings of Christmas lights up and running! Truthfully, the lights actually make the place look more habitable (daylight brings back grim reality).

Some people decorate for Christmas very tastefully. Maybe a well trimmed wreath on the door, a few well placed non blinking white bulbs. A single candle in the window. Classic.
But for others? Look out … It’s showtime! Don’t you just love your neighbor’s nightly display of tawdry, twinkling, red and green light bulbs timed to the dancing and prancing of reindeers, elves and little snowmen all over the front lawn? Come on … It rocks!

Not to be outdone, what about that twenty foot tall Rudolph with the enormous red “Neon Nose” in front of the house directly across the street from you? He’s lighting up your block like Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Zzzzzzt …. Zzzzzzt… Oh Lord … Rudolph seems to have a short in his left nostril … but what the heck, they’re gonna leave him on anyway … and he’s right across from your bedroom window. “Rudee! Rudee! Rudee.”

And who needs headlights when the dark street you’re driving down suddenly lights up with the glow of a 25 foot high Super-Sized Santa, rocking back and forth and waving at you from his “Snow Covered Space Sleigh” atop some guys roof? Hell, there’s enough light coming from a thing like that to play a game of street hockey at midnight. It’s got enough blinkers and blonkers on it to be seen from space! But, then again, people do feel somewhat redeemed from the madness if they can find a small spot to stick a nice manger scene in the middle of all this razzle dazzle. Although, I’ve also seen some manger scenes that look like Spielberg productions. “Jesus, call home.”

It’s What’s Inside That Counts

Back inside the house stands the beloved Christmas tree. They’ve gotten a little pricey lately. Have you noticed? But so what, right? It’s Christmas. Go for it! What’s one car payment more or less when you think of all the joy it will bring?

Now some people still like go the traditional way, simply threading popcorn around the modest Dutch Elm … trimmed with the traditional candles that end up causing all the traditional Christmas fires every year. Others love the modern approach. Lots of pretty, personalized ornaments, colored balls, ropes of garland, tons of tinsel (watch the cat) and hundreds of tiny little electric light bulbs crisscrossed around the big Blue Spruce. Some prefer the star on top … others like the angel.

Either way, just remember to unplug all the those pretty little lights at bedtime, or you and your neighbor with the popcorn may be trading Yule Log stories standing in your frozen underwear at 4 AM while waiting for the fire engines.
And those of you who have the synthetic, reusable trees with the new fibre optic lights? You’re pretty safe … even if you forget about everything and pass out from the punch.
But, no matter what type of tree you have, the best part is that there will hopefully be lots of presents under it on Christmas morning.

An interesting phenomenon to also ponder at this time of year is something called, “Christmas Tree Envy.” This usually happens to Jewish kids, but it can be found in other non Christian religions as well. It stems from never having had a holiday tree as a child (Yet seeing them looking ever so beautiful and magical while visiting friends).

000″>Occasionally, when these (obviously unorthodox) Jewish kids become adults, they finally feel free to do what mom and dad never allowed: Bringing home a nice Scotch Pine and trimming it from top to bottom to their hearts content. The trick seems to be in calling it a “Chanukah Bush.” Somehow that transforms it into some kind of hybrid that can “almost” be explained to their kids, or anyone else who may seem puzzled (I have even seen Chanukah Bushes with dreidel ornaments on them).

This is true. I wouldn’t kid you. Some Jewish folks love the lights and razzle dazzle just as much as your wild and crazy Christian neighbors! But, there is kind of a limit to how far even a Reform Jew can take this. So, many settle for just a nice big lavish tree inside, and one modest electric menorah in the window. Look, some things (like twinkling lights and bells and whistles) transcend all religious, ethnic and cultural boundaries…

Shop ‘Til You Drop

There are lots of people that think the “Holidays” are just a time for good cheer and nondenominational shopping. Shopping? To celebrate the birth of Jesus? To celebrate the miracle of the eight days of burning oil called Chanukah? To celebrate African Pride?
You bet! Check the Malls. I was out there myself first thing Friday afternoon. I got a great deal on some toy ponies and dump trucks for the kids. Hey, I had to go. All the good stuff may be gone by next week.

If you don’t buy the kids, the wife, the husband, even the boss a gift, you’re going to be in the “Christmas/Chanukah/Holiday/Seasonal” dog house! Woof! Actually, gift wrapped pet toys, cookies and even clothing for your best friends dog or cat has become quite the rage.

This is big business folks. We all need to get with the program and buy as much as we can, spend as much as we have, and “Give” ’til it hurts. Merchants are waiting to hear from you now. Pick up a phone, click onto a website, interact with your home cable system; There are people standing by to take your orders (and you can still get delivery before Christmas).
Just accept that for the next four weeks, we belong to the advertisers, the retailers and the American economy! Act accordingly and this country stays solvent. Let your spending “Trickle Down” to those that need it … as well as those that don’t.

You don’t want to be the one responsible for a bad economic quarter, do you? Do your civic duty! Buy lots of stuff!

Just remember, whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Saturnalia or a nice simple Solstice … it’s really just semantics to Corporate America. The real religious values of Christmas and Chanukah are still there for those that want them. They always have been. And anyone who is very devout and pious, probably would not (or perhaps should not) get too involved with national holiday obsessions over Santa Claus, (Hanukkah Harry, if you watch SNL), Elves, Snowmen, Pagan Icons, electric light shows and boisterous buying frenzies anyway. Don’t you think?

But, for the rest of the population? ‘Tis the Season! Ho Ho Ho and Chai Chai Chai… Whether you send out “Holiday” or “Christmas” cards … just send them with lots of love and wishes for a good new year. If you want to enclose a check, be my guest … and thank you very much.
Throw a party, buy gourmet food and a nice bottle of top shelf booze. Be genrous and spread some cheer. Give everyone that works for you a bonus so they can go out and spend aome too.
If you receive a bonus … be sure to blow it all before New Year’s Eve. And use your credit cards too. It’s American as apple pie. These days it’s actually downright patriotic!

Go buy a Christmas tree! Buy two. Get yourself a nice Chanukah Bush while you’re at it. Real or fake, buy the biggest one you can, and decorate the heck out of it with lots of gorgeous ornaments and lovely lights. Then wrap as many wonderful gifts as you can with lots of bows and ribbons … and tuck them all under that tree for those you love.

Is it “Holiday” time or the “Christmas Season?” I haven’t got a clue. But whatever it is, enjoy it. It only happens once a year. As the old saying goes, “Eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow waits for no man.
***To paraphrase Dave Letterman, have fun because, “We all may be dead from Bird Flu by next year anyway.”

RappCity – A Tree Grows In Boston

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