Happy Whatever

Now that finals are over, why not allow the cultural crazies to determine my entire blogging agenda? My officemate (certifiably not a crazy) wrote a manifesto about how people should stop using Judaism as an excuse to put up a tree and call it a “holiday tree”; and we had little “holy shit I’ll be glad when it’s the Holiday Season” pre-finals-week yammer-sessions about it.

Even you, my dearest readers, probably need my opinions on scientist-layperson communication more than a report of my combat status in the Undeclared War on Christmas. I feel kinda dirty, playing in to the whole concept that anyone needs to give a shit. But too bad! You get what’s easiest to write. And in case you’re bored of Christmas, let me remind you of what’s at stake: Thanksgiving. Because Christmas is to Christianity as Thanksgiving is to Genocide.

I haven’t noticed anyone insisting that Twinkletrees are irredeemably nonsecular, just that they’re not really secular in America right now. I agree that given society as it is, public Twinkletrees are only properly secular on Arbor Day, but I do want that to change. I’d hope that anyone who condemns that goal also observes a Day of Mourning on Thanksgiving (or else objects to the secularizing on Christian grounds, to which I say, pfft). You either engage in the work of lifting a holiday from its historical context, or you deal with it having unwanted cultural resonance, usually of the kind that ruins your fun.

I’m a cultural christian: yes to the holidays and goofy patron saints and using “sweet jesus” as an expletive, no to the actual big-C Christian religion. However, last I checked, the word “secular” meant “nonreligious”, not “non-culture-specific”. Which means that Twinkletrees can be secular, and so can Seders if you’re a bit careful about your haggadah, and… um… I am ashamed to admit my ignorance of any relevant Diwali customs, etc. But you get the idea, yes?

For historical reasons, the secular holiday of Santa’s Birthday is often confused with the Christian celebration of Christ’s birth, just as the secular holiday of Yummy Turkey is often confused with the nationalist celebration of How Well The Colonists Got Along With The Natives. I regret the confusion in both cases. But the fact that my lights and trees and gifts are frequently misinterpreted by the culture-at-large doesn’t mean they are somehow inherently religious artefacts or that I will take kindly to any Baby Jeebus mush in my eggnog. As far as I can tell, the best way to end this confusion is to pig-headedly insist that my lights and trees and gifts are too secular, dammit – but if anyone has a better idea then I’m open to suggestions.


  • Twinkletrees at the mall: not secular, because we all know perfectly well what they’re pandering to and it ain’t just the Midwinter Festival of Light and Candy.
  • Twinkletrees in my house: secular, because we all know perfectly well what I’m pandering to and it is just the Midwinter Festival of Light and Candy, which by any other name would taste as chocolatey.
  • That my Twinkletree is secular doesn’t mean you have to feel like it is or could ever become your tradition.
  • Don’t use the word “secular” when you actually mean “universal” or “non-culture-specific”.
  • Culture and religion can and should be thought of as empirically correlated, but conceptually separable and distinct entities.

Also, my officemate made the important point that if we do successfully reconstruct Christmas as a secular holiday that we don’t feel guilty about celebrating in public, we risk allowing it to eclipse coincedent religious holidays. Hannukah may be a minor holiday, but Santa’s Birthday is not an excuse to stop recognizing its existence. Point duly noted and agreed with.

The End.


  1. harvestbird wrote:

    I have been mulling this issues and following the links in this interesting post and you and your associates’ thoughtful discussion.
    Then I came across this, which would, I think, go some small way towards alleviating some of the cultural tensions discussed, although clearly new (but groovy) ones would also be raised.

  2. yami wrote:

    I don’t think his outfit is sufficiently ridiculous for the job, though.

  3. harvestbird wrote:

    Tough call, but possibly fair. More paisley, perhaps?

  4. yami wrote:

    Maybe. Or more lamé.

  5. harvestbird wrote:

    Yes, the jacket and pants really need that kind of do-over.
    I’m glad we got that cleared up in time for the weekend.

  6. yami wrote:

    Also, he needs a silly hat.

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