Monday, December 11, 2006

Christmas Trees come down at Seattle Airport

A request from an ultra-orthodox Jew that the Seattle airport include a Menorah among a display of Christmas trees prompts the airport to take down the Christmas trees.

Shockingly enough for those who know me, I don't think anyone was correct here. There's nothing wrong with a nicely decorated Christmas tree in public, as long as it's tastefully displayed and contains no overt religious iconography. Hell, if having Christmas trees on public property was a problem, then we'd have to make a lot of changes -- taking down the White House trees, the Rockefeller Center tree, etc. I don't support that.

There's a difference between a non-obtrusive, non-religious holiday display, like a tree, and an overtly religious item like a Nativity scene--or a menorah, for that matter. The thing is, Chanukah doesn't really have that much of a secular component to it, and I do not believe that we can argue that a menorah is "the Jewish Christmas tree." It's not. A menorah is an icon that represents a specific Jewish event, one that cannot be thought of as secular. A Christmas tree, on the other hand, has been so co-opted into our collective public consciousness, that, by itself, it has no specific religious connection to it. Add a cross to the top of it and yes, it becomes a religious symbol, and therefore verboten on public property.

Seattle Airport should have kept their trees up, as long as they were tastefully displayed and contained no overt religious iconography, and explained to the Rabbi the difference between secular holiday displays and overt religious symbology. Just as we cannot have a nativity scene in a public place, neither can we have a menorah, or any other thing that overtly advertises, supports, or promotes a particular religion's viewpoint.