Yes, Virginia, it’s a Christmas tree

If officially Communist Beijing celebrates Christmas with gusto, why do Westerners fret about offending non-Christians with trees, carols and decorations?
Christina Nicholas | Dec 14 2009 | comment  

Christmas decorations in BeijingThe internet was flush with rumours recently that American President Barrack Obama plans to have a "holiday tree" at the White House this year instead of the traditional Christmas tree. As it turned out, the rumour was just a rumour. President Obama will follow tradition and have a "Christmas Tree" for the American nation to celebrate the true meaning of the holiday. Indeed, this year’s White House Christmas card even quotes the Gospel. But the rumour has taken on a life of its own on the internet with numerous netizens now arguing the merits of calling Christmas trees holiday trees.

If Communist and atheistic China can deal with the concept of Christmas trees you’ve got to wonder what bees Western secularists have got under their Christmas bonnets.

It came to my attention on my Facebook homepage through a new poll called "President Obama says that they will have a Holiday Tree this year instead of a Christmas tree. Do you agree with this?" with friends voting Yes, and several people Liking this. It seems the very essence of Western Civilization was under threat from nouveau secularists and tyrants of the internet. But it’s time the nonsense of the anti-Christmas-ites were put to rest. And also high time Facebook made a Dislike button.

One of their main arguments for changing the nomenclature of Christmas is that it will foster a more tolerant society. Yes; that makes perfect sense – more tolerance through suppression of the dominant culture. Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus can all be invited to celebrate their differences in Western societies while the religion that made Western Civilization what it is should be suppressed… all in the name of tolerance. Oh, please.

Let me be clear. I totally support the rights of followers of other religions to follow the teachings of their faiths and to observe their holy days. But then shouldn’t Christians, too, be entitled to the same right… especially in their own countries?

Yet, it has become de rigeur for the literati to ridicule Christian religious beliefs, such as in the film Mean Girls (one of my favourite films, but this line always annoys me) which showed a group of homeschooled Christian boys saying: "And on the third day, God created the Remington bolt-action rifle so that Man could fight the dinosaurs. And the homosexuals. Amen." Oh, witty tough guy huh? Why don’t you be original too? Try making a similar joke about Islam.

Back to the issue of the "holiday tree". Another argument put forward by the anti-Christmas-ite netizens is that Christmas trees should be called holiday trees because Christians "stole" the tradition from the ancient pre-Christian Scandinavian tradition of Yuletide. "Stole" seems an exaggeration. Sure some ancient traditions were incorporated into various Christian holidays, but to call incorporation of local traditions into Christianity theft is absurd. Indeed, the early Christians borrowing from and incorporating local traditions into their religious holidays was a sign of the tolerance of Christianity. And, by the way, as far as I know, there is no group of pagans in Northern Europe seeking legal redress for breach of intellectual property rights. Yuletide trees have been called Christmas trees for more than a thousand years and it is absurd to suggest we should change the name now because the custom has its basis in an ancient Germanic tradition. I mean, seriously now?

Calling a Christmas tree a "holiday tree" would be as insane as calling Menorahs "holiday candlesticks". Why would you have a "holiday tree" if you don't celebrate Christmas? What "holiday" are you celebrating with your holiday tree around December 25? Religious people should continue being able to have their own religious traditions without them becoming so commercialised and secularised that nobody even remembers the religious basis of the holiday. Not that that’s not already happening, mind you, but do you really need to show your "tolerance" by taking away a Christian tradition and turning it into a completely non-theist one? Nonsense is more like it.

If you don't want to celebrate a religious holiday as a religious one, simply don’t celebrate it. By no means are you being tolerant by trying to rid religious holidays of religion. Can everybody just leave the religious people and their holidays alone?

The absurdity of it is I don’t know any Jews, Muslims, Buddhists or Hindus that think Christians should stop celebrating Christmas as a religious holiday. Indeed, I went to an international school in Beijing, China, where a Christmas tree adorned the main foyer every year, and was equally enjoyed by many students of all faiths from around the world. I even recall Muslim children and their families – the women in their traditional headscarves – taking family photos in front of that Christmas tree after the school Christmas Concerts. To me that spoke volumes about religious tolerance and inclusiveness.

In a self-declared Communist country where nearly 60 percent of the population consider themselves irreligious and a further 14 percent atheist (altogether an estimate of a staggering 900 million), and where Christmas Day is a non-negotiable working day, it is fascinating to see the capital of China during the Christmas season.

Christmas in BeijingMistletoe, tinsel, Christmas bells, Santa Clauses galore, and of course Christmas trees adorn shopping centres, hotels and business offices, as well as strewn almost randomly in streets and small shops. Although there are a few confused individuals who appear to assume Snow White and the Seven Dwarves to be the Snow Maiden and the seven midget Santa Clauses, Christmas is actually enthusiastically celebrated by the Chinese people; though, perhaps not in the traditional sense, as they simply have not been exposed to the religious significance of the holiday. However, it is remarkable that Christmas in Chinese is sheng dan jie, literally translating to Holy Birth Day, and Christmas trees are sheng dan shu, literally Holy Birth Tree. Even one of the world’s officially atheist nations seems to have no problem with the name’s allusion to the birth of Jesus Christ.

If Communist and atheistic China can deal with the concept of Christmas trees you’ve got to wonder what bees Western secularists have got under their Christmas bonnets.

And so, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy Kwanza to one and to all! By no means will I simply say happy holidays, because if you don’t have anything to celebrate, unfortunately, it’s not a holiday for you, merely a break from work. So why don’t the Christmas-naysayers just chill out and quit being the Grinch. No apologies for my lack of tolerance for the Nazis of secularism.

Christina Nicholas has just finished high school in Beijing.

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