12/05/2005

more on the Christmahanukwanzakah tree SCANDAL

This seems to be an issue that arouses passions in people, because everywhere I go people--friend and foe alike--are screaming at me: "It's a Christmas tree!!!" (And, yes, often with one to three exclamation points at the end.)

I read a letter to the editor in today's Globe from a "reform Jew" referencing an article by the repulsive Jeff Jacoby, that may help to clarify the issue:

"JEFF JACOBY'S column is right on the mark. I am a Reform Jew and am not offended if someone wishes me a Merry Christmas. Actually, I'm pleased. The message of Christmas is universal, and the season is a joyous one.

"Recently, I told a neighbor how beautiful his Christmas lights were. He thanked me and was glad that I had commented on it.

"Like Jacoby, I appreciate living in a country where there is freedom of religion for all faiths. And I appreciate how far the Christian majority has gone in being sensitive to the feelings of those of the Jewish faith. My response is to respect and honor the Christian tradition."

Now, I'm not gonna get into the whole "Reform Jew" thing here, or how appallingly toadying the line "I appreciate how far the Christian majority has gone," and etc, is. But it does show how truly ridiculous the whole made-up controversy is.

What the reader here is talking about is really a matter of etiquette, and nothing more. One assumption we must all agree on is that we live in an increasingly ethnically and culturally (and religiously) diverse nation, and our cities are especially diverse. This is a truth we cannot deny, and a strength we should celebrate.

It is not "PC" to say "Happy Hanukkah" to someone we know is Jewish, it's just good manners in an ethnically and culturally diverse civil society. Were we to insist on the greeting "Merry Christmas" for someone we know is not Christian, particularly someone who obviously practices another faith, it could be interpreted as needlessly strident.

It is not "PC" to say "Happy Holidays" to someone whose religious affiliation we don't know, but who we suspect may not be Christian. This will increasingly be the case, so get used to it. Making a big stink and forcing your point is tactless and tedious. That's just the way it is. How would you react to someone who wished you "Happy Hanukkah" when you weren't Jewish? You would correct them, of course, and you would be right to. And you would also be right to expect that they would thereafter honor your acknowledged religious preference by offering appropriate holiday greetings. This is not "PC," again, it's just good, old-fashioned manners.

Nor is it offensive in the least to say "Merry Christmas" to someone we know to be Christian. So when Mr. Rosen, the "Reform Jew" complimented his neighbor on his "Christmas lights" there was nothing objectionable in it. We have a whole complex world of intimate social relations to maneuver, and no one is suggesting we avoid any reference to anything that we find definitive enough in our personal lives to characterize us, individually. But going about assuming people of other faiths won't be offended by your stridency is a bit antisocial.

Which brings me to my point: I call my tree a "Christmas tree". But it is not my tree we're talking about here. As stridently politicized as we are in America, there is still a difference between the personal and the public. The government has a duty to speak to, and for a diverse public, but has made no attempt to force its neutral nomenclature on private citizens.

The truth is, if the right had not raised its unholy stink over the semantics of a government website (and it is no mere coincidence it was a Massachusetts government website), and the lame utterance of one government functionary at the tree lighting, hardly anyone would have noticed. All the private people at the lighting called the tree whatever they wanted anyway, and no one made any attempt to stop them, nor should they have. Because there was no gag order. Nor will the "PC" storm troopers break down your door Christmas morning and force you to surrender your Christmas goodies unless you swear to call them "holiday gifts". Breathe easy, your Christmas is safe. The PC Grinch isn't coming to steal it from you, no matter what Rev. Falwell says.

The right has suggested "PC" is the McCarthyism of the left, though it has no Joseph McCarthy and no House Committee on Un-American Activities. "PC" is nowadays largely the bugaboo of the right, and when innocuous incidents like a reference to a "holiday tree" on a government website is cause for jihad, you almost have to pity them that they have nothing better to rally the troops round.

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