Now, for Falwell’s fundies, PC is only the most pernicious example of their ememies’ excessive approbation of difference, because the radical right opposes the very diversity—of peoples, traditions, histories, and viewpoints—that is the life-blood of modern free and open societies. Right-wingers, clinging to a belief that nothing ever changes, or at least mustn’t be allowed to, claim to object to the left’s shifty semantics. But the truth is, as most people know, things change. And when worlds change, words do, too. What the right really objects to is the acknowledgment—never mind the celebration—of difference and change. We Americans are clever enough nowadays not to talk about race and ethnicity straightforwardly, partly because it’s no longer simply black-and-white. We often cloak our fears and prejudices in other issues, from immigration to school prayer, but Christmas trees will do nicely, too.
The religious right is better at keeping the controversy than the Christ in Christmas, that’s for sure. Every yuletide is a new chapter in their cultural jihad. Last year it was a boycott of shops advertising “holiday sales” or sporting signage wishing “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”—never mind that the relentless commercialization of Christmas, by self-professed Christians as much as anyone—is itself a distraction from the true spirit of the season. So this year, it’s “The Great Christmas Tree Controversy”. The only problem is, there is nothing essentially Christian about a Christmas tree. It’s the right that’s playing semantics here. Newsflash: Jesus was not born under the evergreen. The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah inveighed against the pagan practice of cutting down and decorating trees as a form of idolatry. The puritan fathers called the practice a “pagan mockery”. So, Rev. Falwell, who stole what from whom?
Clearly “holiday tree” is unacceptable precisely because it’s inclusive, and fails to acknowledge the primacy of one tribe over the others. The right’s shrill insistence on institutionalizing religious supremacy is indeed a reflection of tribalization in troubled times. Sure, there’s justifiable fear of the ascendancy of immigrant cultures, with different customs, beliefs, and skin colors. But the right’s rigidity won’t halt their rise. They should take a hint from the tradition they claim as their own, and embrace the Other. 'Tis the season.
Can’t get over the semantics? Here’s a suggestion: I recently came upon an ad for e-cards online, urging me to “get into the Christmahanukwanzakah spirit!” I thought, right on. Why not rename Boston’s “holiday tree” the “Christmahanukwanzakah tree”?