Re: xmas trees, etc.
From: David L. Mandel (
Date: Tue, 14 Feb 95 02:47 CST
Wow, look what I started with a little offhand remark. But hey,the issue is a 
potentially explosive one in a community that's trying to establish itself on 
the basis of some shared values, one of which is valuing diversity of 
religious belief or lack thereof. Sure is good we're talking about this in 
February, not angst-producing early December, eh?

I thank and identify with Rebecca especially and others who amplified what I 
hinted at in saying that I was perturbed that some in our community couldn't 
understand why I as an atheist Jew felt uncomfortable with a tree in the 
common house. This arose, by the way, right after we first moved in in fall of
'93. It's not a religious symbol, they said, but a secular seasonal thing that
we all enjoy, and it even has pagan roots to boot. There ensued what I really 
believe was an enlightening discussion for some about the oppressiveness of 
majority culture and assumptions people make about trees being 
we've been reading lately. And I also agree that the goal shouldn't be to 
repress all spiritual expression but to learn to honor and share each other's 
traditions in an egalitarian way yet doesn't result in a mishmash of, for 
instance, Christmas/Hanukka/Kwanzaa/Saturnalia as if they're all just quaint 
antecedents of our modern unified celebrations.
All in all, not an easy balance to strike, but I think we're doing fairly 
well. As '94 drew toward its end, there was virtually no discussion of the 
issue (I think we'll have to renew it at least occasionally just to remind 
ourselves of it here). Helped by the vagaries of the Hebrew lunal calendar, my
cooking team did its 2nd annual (!) Hanukka dinner/dreidel playing with some 
explanation about the holiday in early December, before all the Christmas 
stuff started. That over, we did have a tree, but a lot less decoration to it 
and the dining room than last year. Not sure why. There was some caroling one 
night (I was away, so I can't say how it felt), a Kwanzaa dinner one night and
as part of our New Year's Eve party, some folks went around "smudging" houses 
of those who requested it. So we survived it until the next round of holidays.
If I get the energy up, I'd like to do a Passover dinner this year. Didn't do 
it last year as we were all in the middle of closing mortgages, for one thing.

A related issue that did come up recently had to do with some signs one 
resident posted in the common veggie garden that conveyed a fairly obscure 
spiritual trip of some sort that few if any of the rest of us understand. When
they first went up in spring, we weren't sure if it was serious or a joke, and
they were quickly swallowed by tomato vines. Then the plants got removed in 
November or so and there were the signs. The problem was that they gave the 
appearance of representing the group, posted as they were in common space. 
When I saw a visitor stop, read and walk away quizzically, I drew the line and
posted a note saying I thought they had to go. Most of the half-dozen comments
added agreed with me, but a few dissented in the name of spiritual freedom. 
The author of the signs didn't get the hint and I forced the issue several 
weeks later. They're gone and we've since made up, but while I still feel 
strongly the messages had no place being there in a way that could have been 
seen as representing the group, I wonder whether my and others' responses 
would have been the same had they been more mainstream in their message. Were 
they really different from a Christmas tree in the common house? Not really, I
think, which is why I still don't like the tree, either. But since a sizable 
majority seems to want it, it stays. Well, at least we should recognize that 
we are inconsistent and become more conscious about it all. That is the end, 
right. This is the end of message, anyway. Struggle on!  
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