Who uses it: Catholics
What it means: The Catholic answer to the Christmas tree, which is a pagan symbol -- an evergreen tree within a church, often decorated with white and gold ChristMon(TM) ornaments, representing symbols of our faith
How you can use it: To weigh in on this "holiday tree" nonsense.
I stopped in at my local pub last night to say hi to Heather and Frank, and hear the latest Gardiner buzz. The stereo was broken, so Heather had the television on -- tuned to Fox News, I am sorry to say, and to Bill O'Reilly, which made me even sorrier. Bill O'Reilly (may his shorts itch forever) was grilling two Catholic priests about why the American Catholic hierarchy had not weighed in on this silliness about what to call the Capitol Hill Christmas tree.
Father McBrien, from Notre Dame, was more polite than I would have been, but basically said that the Church had more important issues to deal with, especially at this time of year. Christmas trees aren't Catholic, or even Christian; they're pagan symbols we adapted to our own uses, like the feasts of Samhain (All Saints' Day) and Imbolc (Candlemas). Why should the bishops care what Congress wants to call its tree? Why should anyone?
The other, younger priest took the opposite view, and said that the bishops should care about what this means for the increasing secularization of our society. I think this is stretching it -- if I were a bishop, I'd have a harder time with football coaches invoking Jesus before big games than with the reluctance to put government money behind religious celebrations of any kind. This priest would be screaming loudly if Congress decided to sacrifice a white bull on the Capitol lawn, and that was part of the same religion that gave us the Christmas tree.
If I ruled the world, my first commandment would be, "Don't be an idiot." Yesterday, as I mentioned, I went to my young friend Grace's French-immersion school recital in Freeport. It was a very nice program, though about an hour too long (two hours is too long to ask small children to sit still, especially when instrumental music is involved). But the program, though it was held in a Unitarian church, made not one single mention of the holiday season. Children sang about the cold wind, the rain, and the seasons, but there was no mention of Christmas, Hanukkah, or even the New Year.
That's the kind of school this is -- its non-discrimination policy is so important that they printed it on the front page of the recital program -- and I respect that, but I feel sorry for four-year-olds who don't get to learn Christmas songs.