The WAR ON CHRISTMAS has begun again. And frankly, I’m tired of it. The only time I’ve ever heard of anyone “attacking” Christmas is when right-wing pundits and social media shares wax paranoid about the possibility of some horrific Orwellian dystopian future in which everyone is banned from mentioning or even thinking about Christmas.
Public Service Announcement: the use of the word “holiday” instead of “Christmas” is not an attack on Christmas, or your right to celebrate it openly. I’m going to explore this from the angle of this Facebook post a friend shared:
Decorated trees are actually quite secular. They originate in pagan mythologies, have nothing to do with Christ or Christianity (pretty sure they never mentioned decorating a tree in the New Testament), are enjoyed by people of many faiths, and therefor technically aren’t really “Christmas” trees. We just often call them Christmas trees because we do the tree thing at the same time as the Christmas thing. But many other faiths do the tree thing in conjunction with their mid-winter holidays as well. Most faiths have some kind of holiday around this time, because you’re celebrating being “half-way out of the dark”, as they so rightly said on Doctor Who. And who doesn’t love bringing a bit more light and beauty into their lives during a time of year when the outside world is dark and barren? I’ve known people of all sorts of backgrounds, from Jewish to Hindu to Atheist, from naturally born citizen to immigrant, who put up trees at this time of year. It’s a way of feeling connected to the broader community you live in despite other differences, which is a wonderful thing.
If you’re a Christian celebrating a Christian-y Christmas that also includes a tree, calling it a Christmas tree for convenience makes a lot of sense, even if it is a secular tradition. You put up a tree when you celebrate Christmas. It’s a Christmas tree. Fair enough. But if you’re non-Christian and doing the tree thing (which is totally allowed because decorated trees are not a Christian tradition) then having another name for it can be useful. If you don’t feel connected to the idea of Christ or Christianity, but you DO feel connected to the tradition of decorating a tree and celebrating with your loved ones, being forced to invoke the idea of Christ in this non-Christian tradition can feel a bit… off.
Part of it is that it’s annoying to be told you’re celebrating a holiday you’re not actually celebrating. People are like “THIS IS A CHRISTMAS TREE!” and you’re like “but… it’s not? There’s nothing Christian about this tree or about my own traditions at this time of year. I don’t have Jesus or angels or anything on it, I don’t go to Church, I don’t spend any time at all thinking about the life, times, and death of Jesus. Why does MY tree have to be a Christmas tree just because YOU are celebrating Christmas right now?”
Another part is that I feel like it’s really disrespectful of me to be invoking the idea of Christ when I don’t actually believe in it*. The idea of Christ is of monumental importance to many people, and when I throw it around willy-nilly in spite of having no personal connection to it, what does that communicate to people who take the idea of Christ really seriously? Who have a major emotional, social, and spiritual connection to the idea?
Luckily, language is flexible and context is important. Unless you’re in some kind of scientific field conducting experiments, things don’t have single, set, precise names assigned to them. You can call yours a Christmas tree and others can call theirs a holiday tree without all communication breaking down and society falling to pieces. And it makes a lot of sense for secular people and groups, such as atheists, governments, corporations, whatever, to use more general and all-encompassing terms. It’s not actually offensive to say “holiday” instead of “Christmas”. The world doesn’t revolve around you, and just because you’re celebrating Christmas doesn’t mean everyone else has to as well.
*Having said all this, I still often refer to them as Christmas trees out of habit – it’s how I was raised. It makes me a bit of a hypocrite, but we’re all imperfect works in progress and I’m trying really hard to improve myself in this area.These things take time and practice, you know.