Yule (Chat) Log: Holiday Displays

UPDATE:  “Takesiesbacksies” Are Apparently A Real Thing

JD: We have a bit of an interesting feature for you guys this Christmas Season!

Fishie: This is, like, my third contribution to the Politics of Christmas theme this year. >.<

JD: Yes, but… I haven’t contributed to the discussion at all, and dragging you into it is a pretty good excuse for it to get done 😛

Fishie: Maybe you should explain what set this conversation off in the first place. (Regular readers at FRN may not know that quite a few of the articles JD and I have written here began as conversations like this, small issues that developed into bigger discussions.)

JD: Good point! As Fishie parenthetically stated, she and I get into conversations about a lot of interesting issues, some of which we agree on, and others… well, less so. Today’s issue- that of the legitimacy and inclusivity of a town changing its “Holiday Tree” to a “Christmas Tree” – is the latter. Not shocking, especially when you consider that I’m an Atheist from New Jersey, and Fishie is a Christian from Texas.

Fishie: Southern Baptist too, I might add. We’re considered even more aggressively and politically religious than your average Christian, at least from the perspective of the left.

JD: Absolutely. That’s part of why the discussion that inspired this article is so interesting. It started off with news that the At-Large Councilwoman from Roselle Park (A town in my county here in NJ) had resigned after the town council voted to change the name of their long-standing “Holiday Tree” lighting to a “Christmas Tree” lighting. Yes. She RESIGNED over that decision, which passed 4-2. The Councilwoman- a Secular Humanist- then released a statement regarding the reasoning behind her resignation (You can read it in full HERE) which I sent to Fishie this afternoon, after tagging it as incoherent.

Fishie: Right, and that word, ‘incoherent’ was confusing to me, because I read her statement and understood it quite well. But what JD meant by ‘incoherent’ was her course of action, not her explanation. Her objections to changing the name of the ceremony were as follows:

  • It’s reinserting religious references that were previously removed
  • It’s less inclusive to use the word ‘Christmas’
  • It hijacks the tree lighting ceremony in the service of only one religion
  • It’s a religious incursion into the public sphere by Catholic council-members who outnumber the others

The question turned, then, upon the wisdom of her decision to resign from council in light of this vote, not that she didn’t make sense in the way she expressed her objections. Both of us thought that her resignation was kind of counterproductive, if her aim was to fight this religious incursion into the public sphere. Keep in mind, at this stage, we’re discussing the logic from HER perspective – asking ‘Is this what she should do if she wants to advance her goals?’

JD: Exactly. How does throwing one’s hands up in the air, and leaving a position of power in an arena she feels is dominated by a cabal of spooky religious people help her cause? Her At-Large council seat has gone from being held by a “Secular Humanist”, to potentially being held by yet another White Catholic Male. Leaving her post makes no sense for her, ESPECIALLY when the subject at hand is SO incredibly tame that her opposition of it is borderline silly. I mean, a Christmas Tree by any other name is STILL a Christmas tree.

Fishie: You know what it reminds me of? It reminds me of the whole controversy in retail at Christmas – whether a store’s personnel greet you with ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Happy Holidays’. I think it’s stupid to put ‘holiday trees’ on sale, sure, and I’d probably go somewhere else; but we’re talking about two different things there. One of them is a well-intentioned attempt to be inclusive to other people shopping during the holiday season (which includes other holidays); the other is an awkward attempt to un-Christmas something that inherently belongs to Christmas, albeit not from the religious angle. But to her specific case, it seems counter-productive for her to walk away from her job on council if she legitimately objects to these things. There are a lot of other issues she presumably cares about that the council would deliberate. This smells like some kind of grand political gesture with no real point behind it other than to say ‘ZOMG Christians are taking over!!!’

And let me add here, as we’ve been writing this article, I’ve tried to count all the churches around here within, say, a 5 mile radius. I think I got up to thirteen before I had to stop. We have so many churches in this area we’re tripping over them. There’s even a mosque that close, come to think of it. It’s not like that in New Jersey, though, is it?

JD: Unless there are people here who worship at pest control or self storage places, no.

Fishie: Side note: we have lots of those, too. Did you ever see the picture of me with the roach statue that’s taller than me?

JD: It was actual size?

Fishie: Shut it. Go back to the story.

JD: Hey, it was your detour. Anyway, we both agreed that this was poor decision-making on the part of this councilwoman, and that she’s not going to achieve anything besides losing ground by resigning. Also, that it’s hella dumb to call a Christmas tree a Holiday tree to begin with and that the council’s decision made fine sense. I mean, which holiday does it represent? Jeeze.

Fishie: I want to point out a couple of things. We haven’t heard from any other sources (yet) that this is some Knights of Columbus crusade to ‘Retake Roselle Park for Jesus’ or anything like that. I think she is trying to cast it that way, and I’m just not sure that’s the case. I think that sort of thing does happen – mixing religious offices and politics – but I’m just not sure that’s what’s going on here.
Also, celebrating holidays is typically for people who adhere to particular religious practices that inform those holidays. It’s not exclusionary, and think of it: there is no other Holiday as widely appropriated by non-Christians (or non-practicing people) as Christmas. And Christians haven’t minded at all. There are no Marches Against Santa or anything like that.

JD: I’m glad you added that Christians don’t mind non-Christians like me enjoying Christmas decorations, music, and other works of Christmas-related culture. I’d feel bad having to check my Atheist privilege. And that’s the thing, Christmas is by no means ONLY enjoyable by Christians. Sure, there’s additional significance for Christians, but that doesn’t preclude people like me from enjoying the lights and humming Trans-Siberian Orchestra music. It’s like a Christmas present from Christianity to the entire world. You guys are enjoying the season, and that makes others enjoy it as well. It would suck to have to deal with the cold weather and piles of snow without the good spirits from happy people anticipating Christmas.

Fishie: People may find it odd that I take this view, but I’m okay with, say, a council deciding not to host a Christmas display on public property. I know there are some Asshole Atheists out there trying to tear crosses off of every available public space, and I think that needs fighting. But at the same time, I think it’s completely fair to decide as a community that the public square ought to honor either any and all religious traditions, or no religious tradition, rather than allow Christian displays but not other ones. That makes some religious people uncomfortable, and we get arguments containing phrases like ‘Christian nation’ and so on. But for me, the First Amendment is about protected expression in the private sphere. Things we agree to do together publicly are in a different category. I don’t especially appreciate when Christianity is argued to have special privileges, because I can easily see a time when some other faith obtains the ‘special privilege’ designation, and then the only defense for Christians will be that all faiths ought to be treated equally.

JD: Inb4 Sharia Law. (Which is a hell of a long way from having a Christmas Tree on municipal property, in my opinion.)

Fishie: EXACTLY. If people get distracted with the details here, they might miss the greater religious liberty argument in front of them.

JD: There’s no element of control emanating out of a tree with lights on it.

Fishie: Yes, and there’s no censorship of religion in a policy that allows multiple displays from multiple faiths.

JD: Or no displays from ANY faith on municipal property, for that matter. Though that’s definitely the lamest approach to the situation. Killjoys.

Fishie: ‘Hey, let’s move that menorah a little farther away from the camel if you’re using real fire!’

JD: That’s a clear example of manger danger right there.

Fishie: Ha! So in the end, maybe people can practice that ‘Goodwill to Men’ a lot more this holiday season, and try to defuse these types of conflicts instead of pouring on more fuel.

JD: “Goodwill to MEN”?!? SEXIST!

Fishie: Sigh. Happy Holidays, everybody. Let us know where YOU stand on the whole holiday religious expression debate!

JD: Merry Christmas! (Is what you should have said!)

Fishie: (Peace on earth, Peace on earth, Peace on earth…)

JD: And Peace OUT, from FRN!