- Published on Tuesday, 23 December 2003 19:53
- Written by An "Other Voices" piece C.K. Steefel
Is the Christmas tree religious? I am losing sleep, stressing over this question. About two weeks ago I took my kids to their secular private school and the PTA moms were lining the hallway with Christmas decorations. I asked one mom if there would be something for Hanukah and after a momentary blank stare she said, "Uh, yeah, sure, we could put up a menorah."
Fortunately, the next morning an electric menorah and tinseled Jewish star were hung in the hallway. Though I was relieved, part of me felt uncomfortable about the whole thing. That I had to ask for this took a slight bite out of the latke. It wasn't until I noticed the Christmas trees in every classroom, did my head spin like a dreidel.
To me, this was a classic case of church and state. Don't get me wrong. I love Christmas trees. But I must draw the glittery line at school. After much persecution for what one believed, our forefathers had the right idea when they came up with that one. One reigning religion does not teach tolerance to others - never has, never will. I had initially decided on a secular school for many reasons, one being diversity. I wanted my kids to be exposed to all walks, jogs, runs, ethnicities and cultures in life.
After being dragged to Silicon Valley because of a job opportunity, there was nothing like a Christmas tree in my child's classroom to make me want to escape back to the East.
There were many Jewish families in our small town in Connecticut, and many more Christian and Catholic families who kept their trees in their living rooms.
I went to the next PTA meeting.
"I'm a strong supporter of separating church and state," I said. "It's inappropriate to have a tree in every class."
"Well, it's been a tradition at this school," said PTA CEO.
"But this is not a Catholic school. This is a secular school. The Christmas tree is a religious - ..." CEO mom stopped me. "The Christmas tree is not religious."
Huh? Since when? When did I miss this news event? If that were the case then why aren't trees brought in the home in February? And isn't that pointy thing on top of the tree called the "Star of Bethlehem" and isn't this star symbolic of the "coming of the Lord," Bethlehem being the birthplace of Jesus Christ? And why is it called a "Christmas" tree?
"I disagree," I said.
"Well, we can't please everyone." Heads bobbed. Then CEO mom said, "Why don't you bring some Hanukah things?"
Defeated, I bobbed my head, too. I was in the minority. But what became more distressing to me was that these moms had absolutely no idea. They were bought, wrapped and sent to the school of commercialism of Christmas, where they believe that Santa and a tinseled tree have no religious connotation to themselves and others. They have no idea that I have an uncle-in-law who won't step foot in a house that has a Christmas tree because his parents were killed in the Holocaust. They have no idea of the negative symbolism the tree can exude to any practicing Jew.
Luckily my kids care about their heritage and are looking forward to Hanukah. I think they may even feel somewhat special because they are the only ones in school who are "different."
If giving children an identity is a strong foundation for their lives, then this holiday season will reemphasize to them how important it is to be proud of who you are.
In January I will be exchanging my license plates on my car for California ones. My current ones are from Connecticut, "The Constitution State." Because I am in one minority and because I otherwise love this school, I will have to decide if I want to give up part of the constitution.