Almost Quiet on the Yule War Front

December 22, 2008

Thanks to Margaret Downey for the card and lump of coal.

Continuing with my roundup of War on Christmas 2008, such as it is, what are some of the flashpoints other than the atheist placard in Washington’s state capitol?

In Washington, D.C., the American Humanist Association riffed on an initiative by U.K. freethinkers and paid to place billboards on city buses. “Why believe in a god?” they ask. “Be good for goodness’ sake!” It’s actually quite clever in the way it grabs additional cultural moxie by turning a line from “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” into the world’s shortest explanation of nonreligious ethics. And of course that has some of the right-wing pundits all up in arms.

In West Chester, Pa., outside Philadelphia, a local freethought group has placed a large trimmed “Tree of Knowledge” in a public park alongside holiday displays placed by the usual smorgasbord of faith-based organizations. The tree’s ornaments are full-sized color copies of the covers of atheist and humanist books. (Full disclosure: the covers of all four of my books are on the tree.) The supporting signage presents a clear atheist/humanist message, though not as edgy as what’s on the atheist placard in Washington. This is the second year the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia has conducted this project. Last year the tree was the focus of recurrent vandalism, bad enough that West Chester officials made promises to the media that they’d keep a closer eye on it this year. I’ll continue following this angle.

But the real sleeper might be at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where executives of the sprawling campus’s two main libraries elected not to put up the usual Christmas trees this year, out of concern for the sensibilities of non-Christian and non-religious students. Librarians had fielded repeated complaints about the trees in prior years. This has engendered some genuine dialogue in the community, in addition to the predictable hollering and finger-pointing, and top university administrators have been laudably classy in defending a courageous decision we should hope to see replicated more widely in future years.



#1 joshualipana on Tuesday December 23, 2008 at 2:16am

Hmmm… Tree of Knowledge. I wish had seen this sooner. That would have been great here.

#2 Michael Wright (Guest) on Tuesday December 23, 2008 at 5:53am

The conservative talking heads don’t have to worry that Christmas will be defeated.  This year I received a “holiday” card from the Chief Executive Officer of a Hindu temple.  Another example that the Xmas juggernaut is alive an well!

#3 Lucretius on Tuesday December 23, 2008 at 8:56am

NPR did an interesting story on the Human Light celebration:

#4 Colin KLINE (Guest) on Tuesday December 23, 2008 at 4:34pm

My first contact with this website,
and therefore a “registration”.

#5 Chris Crawford on Wednesday December 24, 2008 at 10:27am

I don’t see any reason why a Christmas tree should be offensive to anybody. Yes, it’s a part of the traditional Christmas holiday, but there’s nothing explicitly Christian about it. Every culture has its winter solstice celebrations; what’s wrong with this one? There are plenty of non-denominational elements that shouldn’t be offensive to anybody. I think that atheists would do better to out-party and out-celebrate everybody else at this time—just don’t do it religiously!

#6 Donald Eckhardt (Guest) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 at 6:46am

Anybody who has a problem with Christmas should have a problem with Wednesday.  Get Woden back into Wednesday!  Do we really prefer Holiday, which is derived from holy day?  How about ”Have a Ghostless Solstice“?

#7 Lisa Rosati (Guest) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 at 8:47am

The mainstream Christmas that I grew up with has been greatly enriched in my home by the addition of Solstice and Human Light Day celebrations. Not only is there an excuse to party all week with abandon, my daughter also benefits as she gets to open a gift a day starting on the 21st. Psychologically it is far better for her to do so. For years I have witnessed small kids getting overwhelmed and over stimulated when many brightly wrapped gifts are opened all at once. She now examines and plays with her gifts individually each day, and we have the time to play with her between cocktails.

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