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Oy, Tannenbaum: Bank’s removal of tree and reaction are misguided

December 4, 2010

Here in Austin, the KLBJ AM folks were losing their ever-livin’ minds yesterday over this bank forbids Christmas tree story. The conservative radio hosts and most of their callers argued that since the U.S. is predominantly Christian and most Americans celebrate Christmas, businesses should NOT be ashamed to display Christmas trees and other holiday decorations. They should say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” and so on. The more I learn about the history of Christmas (and I just learned a lot thanks to UT history professor Penne Restad’s book), the sillier these debates seem to me.

In this case, the whole thing is a bit absurd because both the reaction to the removal of the Christmas tree and the bank’s decision to remove it are wrong.

Conservative Christians, some of whom identify with a fundamentalist religious view or a reformed Christian theology, should not champion secular, pre-Christian symbols like the tree. Or really just about anything our country does in the name of Christmas. And the reason they shouldn’t champion it is because it’s not biblical. Pure and simple. Nowhere does the Bible instruct Jesus followers to celebrate his birthday. Nowhere does it provide a birth date (though we’re pretty sure it ain’t in December). Nowhere does Jesus say, “This is a fir tree. Make sure you only open savings accounts in banks that decorate this tree in honor of me.”

The bank, meanwhile, is also misunderstanding the symbolism of the tree. It’s secular. It’s not a creche. It’s not a cross. It’s a tree lit up with pretty ornaments and lights. Most people will not find this no more offensive than displaying American flags on the Fourth or hearts and cupids on Valentine’s Day. These symbols are sewn into our cultural fabric. We usually don’t give them much thought. …. until someone takes them down so as not to offend.

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