Monday, December 11, 2006

The Grinch That Stole Christmas Trees

Just past the Homeland Insecurity Checkpoint there used to be a Christmas tree in Sea-Tac airport. Indeed there used to be several, fourteen to be exact. And since we have a rather conservative government at this juncture you might not expect the Grinch to be allowed on Federal Property. After all, they just put up the White House Christmas Tree. But nonetheless its all over the news today that Sea-Tac airport has taken down all its Christmas trees and decorations for fear of offending one Grinch or another. When the trees came down this past week it gave new meaning to the word over the door of the building--- Terminal! Seems Christmas in the public sphere has a terminal illness. Whereever it's displayed in a public space it leads to that virulent disease-- offendisimus grinchitis.

Now you might have expected in the Pacific-Northwest that trees would not be found offensive! After all, logging and Christmas trees are a major industry up there. And even if you take into account the pagan atmosphere of a good deal of that region, tree rituals have been a part of pagan religion forever. And what was that about Seattle being the most TOLERANT city in the U.S.? I guess they won't be listing that in the chamber of commerce's next brochure for that beautiful city.

Did it occur to anyone that Christmas trees are not a Biblical tradition but in fact a much later Christmas tradition? Did it occur to anyone that a vital part of our American tradition is the Judeo-Christian religious traditions which the vast majority of Americans subscribe to? What happened to democracy when it comes to holiday expressions in the public sphere? We could continue to enumerate questions like Christmas gifts one on top of another, but they all amount to asking --What's Wrong with This Picture? In fact you will find far more tolerance of the celebration of Christmas in some Moslem countries I frequent than in some places in America.

G.K. Chesterton once said that America was a nation with the soul of a church. Today it might be better to say that, in view of actions like the ones taken at Sea-Tac, we are acting more like an intolerant church with the soul of a pagan nation. And there is a world of difference. May the Christ child have mercy on us all, intolerant sinners.


Exiled in mainstream said...

Good post

This has been big news here as you might expect. Interestingly this hasn't been anything to do with a "secular assault on Christmas" - rather more to do with threatened legal action and some panic by the authorities.

There's a slight irony around the use of the phrase Judaeo-Christian here as the problem is precisely one half of that presumed conjunction attacking the other!

Ben Witherington said...

Yes I saw the rabbi on the news, and he wasn't asking for the trees to be removed, he was asking a Menorah be added, which is fine by me. But as for Mr. Reis the airport manager, I disagree--- he was all too clear about not wanting to offend secular people--- bless their hearts.

Elvis Elvisberg said...

The tree is going back up. That story makes it sound like the temple offered up some free menorahs, but the airport resisted. Over the course of discussions, a lawyer for the temple mentioned the possibility of a lawsuit. Then the airport took down the tree, which no one had ever asked them to do.

Sounds like the airport was spoiling to be a battleground in the war on Christmas. But alas, instead of being a clarifying event in the struggle, common sense prevailed, depriving those spoiling for a fight of the opportunity to claim they'd been discriminated against.

Now we can resume honoring the birth of Jesus by torturing accused prisoners, invading other countries, and widening the gap between rich and poor. And shopping.

Steve Bedard said...

I find it sad that in our culture, it is more likely to exclude all religions than to be inclusive. I was on a mission trip to Trinidad and we did evangelistic services in public schools at school assemblies. We even did altar calls! When I asked the principal why they let us do that, he told me they allow the same thing for Muslims and Hindus. They considered exposure to religion, including offers for conversion, as part of the students education. A far more civilized position than North America's "feedom from religion."

Jay said...


Thanks much for the Chesteron quote. My most favorite Chesterton quip, ironically, deals with the same approach to tolerance that Seattle claims to hold dear: "Tolerance is the virtue of people who do not believe in anything."

I often wonder how popular our friend G.K. would be if he were alive today and contributing regularly to the blogosphere.

Mark Clark said...


As a young (26) evangelical preacher/pastor, I have been pondering this annual outcry about Christmas becoming secular because people are taking down trees etc. Though I do get your point i wonder if we miss the larger injustice here: Christmas has been secularized and destroyed even if we keep the trees up and keep saying Merry Christmas at Wal-Mart! It has been commercialized and materialized into nothing more than an annual corporate celebration.

Second, why should we expect a non-Christian culture to want to have Jesus at the centre of anything? Is it not almost more damaging to have an entire culture, feel a false sense of Christian security, because of its "Judeo-Christian heritage,"? The gospel isn't about making a nation Christian is it? Or about keeping the 10 Commandments in schools, etc. We could have all of that be true and still all these people will not be Christ followers?

RevrdMark said...

I just wrote similar thoughts on my blog this morning. muddled.... i mean ....great minds... think alike.

I hope life is good for you in KY this season :-)

Merry Quanzimasuka

Matthew Phillips said...

I do not disagree that the flap over the trees at SeaTac is a little strange, and it seems to me that controversy was sought by several parties here over and above any helpful solution, but I am left wondering this:

Would it not get easier for the people in my church to understand Advent and, for that matter, Christmas itself, if there were no Christmas trees at the airport? Call it secularization or political correctness if you like, but the more Christmas disappears from the public square, the more control Christians have over the definition of the holiday.

"Support" of Christmas in the public square is like federal money for church justice programs. It's nice to know other people support something essential to our faith, but outside help means, however incremental, outside control.