Maybe it's a freedom tree?

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2005/12/04 03:01 -05:00, original URI:

I remember some time in my pre-teen years having my friend Matthew from Solon proudly talking about the tree that all of his Chanukah presents were being placed under.

"A Christmas tree?" I asked, it being one of those years when December 25th and Chanukah were overlapped such that it could go either way.

"No," he said, "it is a freedom tree. Since we are Jewish we don't have a Christmas tree."

This was something I had never heard of before. It sound like nonsense to a cynical child such as myself.

"This has something to do with the tree of life or something?" I asked, the doubt in my voice obvious.

He shook his head. "No, it has nothing to do with that. It is about the other tree in the garden of eden."

"Um...." I offered, "that is the Tree of Life, Matt."

"Oh, I thought the tree of life was the one we sing about after the Torah goes back in the ark."

I shook my head as I said "no, I think that was poetic language about the Torah being a tree of life or whatever. The original tree of life was the one in the garden of eden. You know, Adam and Eve ate from tree of knowledge of good and evil, and God panicked that we would eat from the tree of life too and thus live forever. And you can't have people who know stuff living forever."

We then started talking about some of those various pieces of Genesis that seemed odd or weird and moved off the tree. I think I assumed the Freedom Tree inspiration had more to do with a bit of assimiliation out of Judaism, but it never did come up again.

But I was thinking about it after reading Geoffrey K. Pullum's recent Language Long post about Christmas Trees and Holiday Trees. I thought about the Freedom Tree again and realized that Matt was not inspired by the same type of nonsense as what Geoffrey was describing but by an entirely different type of nonsense -- the type that keeps efforts like 'Jews for Jesus' going strong.

But I think the answer is the same -- call it a Christmas tree, since that is what it was (and is).

If you don't want to have one, then you don't have to.

I have lived in houses that have had Christmas trees and been seriously involved with people who put them up. And I have never tried to get them to name it more generically to make me more comfortable; it just makes everyone feel silly for pretending that it isn't a Christmas tree when it clearly is....


This post brought to you by "ח" (U+05d7, a.k.a. HEBREW LETTER HET)

# Simon Cooke on 4 Dec 2005 7:51 PM:

For years, I'd been trying to convince my American friends (most of them at the time were in the mid-west, around Indiana) that in the UK, Christmas is a secular holiday. It's all about giving gifts, dinner with family and friends, and shiny decorations and Santa and christmas trees.

It wasn't till I got here that I discovered that in the Mid-West, it's a religious holiday. And it wasn't until they moved to the West coast that they realized that on the West Coast, it's a secular one.

So weird. The most amusing thing about it all is that it's a frickin' pagan symbol anyway, and Christmas is just a modernization of the Indian/Persian myth of Mithras, from around 500BC. Mithras was born of a virgin, with only shepherds present. Mithras was known as “the way”, “the truth”, “the Life", “the Light”, “the Word”, the “Son of God”, and “the Good Shepherd”. He was pictured carrying a Lamb on his shoulders. Sound familiar?

All I can say at this point is... sheesh. I'm an atheist, and I still put up a christmas tree. It's pretty. It's green. It makes the house look nice. And it smells good.

# Gabe on 5 Dec 2005 6:07 AM:

Funny, after putting up her Christmas tree, my girlfriend suggested that maybe we call it a "holiday tree" (being Jewish, I've never been fond of X-mas trees). This was just after I read this post, so I said, "Why call it a holiday tree? Call a spade a spade!" So she said, "OK, do you like the holiday spade I just put up?"

I generally don't mind other semi-Christian holidays like Valentine's Day or Halloween because they're fairly benign. Decorations are up for maybe a week at most, I get candy, and we usually had parties in school.

Christmas is a whole other beast. Decorations start going up over a month before the actual day, and stay up for what seems like ages. During this month, we're inundated by the same 20 stupid songs. There's a reason I don't listen to Bing Crosby and Gene Autry during the rest of the year, so why would I want to hear them sing the same three songs over and over again for a whole month? And then pretty much every single store closes not only that day, but they close early the day before. God forbid I should run out of milk at 6pm on the day before Christmas!

What I'm most fascinated by is the fact that Christmas is now becoming popular in the Far East, like Japan and China. They don't know why they're celebrating it (like Americans celebrating St. Patrick's Day), but it sure is catching on fast.

# DeepICE2 on 10 Dec 2005 11:53 PM:

Funny - talking about assimilation and eating from the "forbidden tree".

You "sponserd" this post wiith the letter chet.

Chet means SIN

# Michael S. Kaplan on 10 Dec 2005 11:56 PM:

Well, it is also the first letter in some non-sinful words. But I'll admit to the irony. :-)

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referenced by

2007/12/21 It's still not a Freedom Tree -- and it's AD, fercryingoutloud!

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