Have you noticed that Jews and the holiday season are once again drawing the attention of the Seattle public media?
First the good news, courtesy of the Seattle Times, dated Friday, Oct. 19, 2007. Whoever gets to name natural cataclysms for the purpose of inscribing them in public memory has determined that the murderous flood-cum-windstorm of December, 2006 shall henceforward and forever be known as “The Hanukkah Eve Windstorm.” Of course, it doesn’t quite pack the Biblical punch of, say, the “Erev Hanukkah Mabul,” but, heck, we must take our crumbs where they scatter!
Now the bad news, which by now you surely know. I share it from the Times’ front-page story of the same date:
“Airport Determined to Avoid Another ‘War’ Over Christmas.”
Seeking, as ever, to avoid any unpleasantness during the upcoming holiday shopping season, the Port of Seattle has revisited the other storm of last December — the vaporous hot-air blast unleashed by the precipitous removal and shame-faced restoration of an innocuous Christmas tree display at SeaTac Airport. The basic facts of the Menorah War of 2006 are well known. What astonishes me however is how little SeaTac’s management seems to have learned about Christmas, Hanukkah and American civil religion in general during the last 12 months.
Compounding last year’s mendacious spinelessness with the new vice of horrendous bad taste, the authorities are proposing as a holiday display for 2007 something that its designer, a certain Randy Trostle, touts as “a winterscape, a collection of handcrafted birch trees surrounded by lights and nestled in a pseudo-snowbank.”
In case you’re not up to date on the healing symbolism of birch trees nestled in pseudo-snowbanks, let the deputy managing director of SeaTac, Mike Feldman (wouldn’t you know?), spell it out: “We’re featuring peace and harmony. We’re using lights. Winters are so dark and dreary!”
Here in Seattle, maybe!
Never mind, Mike, that the entire southern hemisphere celebrates the Incarnation of the Savior at the beach, sipping coconut daiquiris. Haven’t you seen those news clips of Easter Island Catholics, dressed in grass skirts (nary a down jacket in the coatroom), celebrating Christmas Midnight Mass?
Doesn’t Mike worry that Seattle’s economy may just go down the tubes should Christians from Borneo to Adis Ababa to Sao Paolo take offense at the northern hemisphere’s hubris at deeming the Birth of the Lord an exclusively snowy holiday? Who elected St. Nick and his reindeer as the Spirit of Christmas Future anyway?
And isn’t our man, Mr. Feldman, aware of the millions of Orthodox Christians for whom December 25 (at least this year) is simply a Tuesday? Watch out! If they are Orthodox, they may be fundamentalist. And if they are fundamentalist… don’t you already smell a link to al Qaeda?
Do we really want Osama’s attention drawn to the Space Needle because of icicled birch trees at SeaTac? Well!
For what it’s worth, let me throw in my two cents.
As long as I’m not forced to play Baby Jesus in the local Nativity pageant, I like “religious displays in public spaces.” I like living in a nominally Christian culture, where Christmas draws out the kindness in neighbors, and where Santa and Christmas trees symbolize nostalgia for childhoods that never were rather than intrusive displays of coercive religious authoritarianism.
More to the point, I kinda like the feeling of being out of synch with the rest of the world during December. Isn’t this, after all, what Golus is all about? I enjoy being able to share in-jokes with other members of my tribe about Chinese restaurants and movies on December 25.
And finally (true confessions), I love mangling the pronunciation of the word “Christmas” so that it sounds like the Yiddish for: “Scratch my butt!”
Ho-Ho-Ho! Merry Kratzmich!!!
Now on the other side of the ledger, I resent the perversion of the meaning of Hanukkah that compels some of us to gussy up the Festival of Lights in the jingoistic red-white-and-blue of “religious freedom.” Get it straight! The Hasmoneans — a dynasty of self-declared “priest-kings,” whose regime specialized in forced conversions and political assassinations in the name of “Torah: True Judaism” — had much more in common with the Taliban than with America’s deistic Founding Fathers.
And really now, are we all still so trapped in the amber of 1955 that we must turn Hanukkah into an embarrassing me-tooism that yields such aburdities as Hanukkah bushes and budget-busting gift-giving?
I know, I know. Many argue that the American public square should be religiously neutral in principle. But if it can’t be, it must honor all traditions equally. Why, after all, shouldn’t travelers at SeaTac be greeted with Christmas trees, hanukkiyot and any other symbols that American celebrants of winter lights concoct? No reason, really, except for: if these seasonal symbols are, at bottom, “one size fits all,” why not chose the truly non-sectarian option and just leave the lights on?
Are faithful Christians reminded by the hanukkiah of their Jewish roots, and, more importantly, of their obligation to prevent future Holocausts (such as those surrounding us today)? No.
Are observant Jews encouraged in their loyalty to tradition by a public display that resembles, if anything, a Reuben sandwich — a mixture of kosher and traif that yields, in the end — Glatt traif ? I doubt it.
Do “secular” Jews rushing to their flights catch sight of the hanukkiah, nestled among the Tannenbaums, and fall to their knees in penitential self-excoriation for having neglected to light their lights? Not likely.
So what’s the point? The SeaTac solution is obviously moronic. But for those who insist on a display of Christmas trees and hanukkiot, may I suggest the following compromise: Let’s play over the SeaTac PA system, for the entire month of December, a 24/7 recording of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” as sung by Johnny Mathis!
When the Kwaanza delegation comes calling, we’ll already be covered!