The Moonie Times reports gleefully about the rechristening (now there's a loaded term for ya!) of Congress' "Holiday Tree" as the "Capitol Christmas Tree," the latest victory in an ongoing series of meaningless semantic battles for which Bill O'Reilly will no doubt claim credit.
Now, I've long-shared with O'Reilly and the Right a disdain for excessive political correctness. I believe dead white European males should constitute the bulk of the canon. I believe "alternative" medicines and other New Age flim-flam are enormous crocks of shit, and don't deserve our respect. I love Polish jokes and believe they are -- along with Westerns, jazz, and comic books -- among America's enduring contributions to the world. I still lament loss of the term "Oriental" (literally..."eastern") to refer to things and people that come from the East (China, Japan, Korea), rather than the overly generic "Asian," which could include anything from Palestine to the Indian subcontinent to the Ural Mountains.
But if it's possible to be excessive in one's political correctness, then surely it is also possible to be excessive in one's political incorrectness. The term "politically correct" itself was, like most great catchphrases of the past few decades, a creation of the Right, to lampoon the hypersensitivity of the Left.
But what could be MORE hypersensitive than actually taking offense at niceties that intend no more sinister effect than politeness and inclusion? It may be a hollow and purely perfunctory jab at inclusion, but it's the sort of charade that I think points to what's best about America -- that this is the sort of country that can say to its religious minorities:
"Yes, you know and I know that you're not really part of the club, but we're going to voluntarily choose not to lord it over you anymore than we feel we absolutely have to, what with the paid day off for federal workers and the non-stop delivery of department store circulars and the complete domination of all radio and television programming for a full quarter of the year. So while Pa is busy carving the turkey, let me wish you best tidings during this, your fake holiday."
Alas, O'Reilly and friends don't see it that way. Instead, they see in all this "Happy Holidays" humbug the work of a secret cabal:
(T)he secular progressive movement, which wants to diminish Christmas and all vestiges of Christian power. The SPs realize that to get gay marriage, legalized drugs, euthanasia, and other parts of their agenda passed, they need to marginalize religious forces. That is what is behind the assault on Christmas in the USA.
Fascinating. If I had to guess, I would have figured it was mostly the result of a handful of market research studies commissioned by retailers that advised them they'd move 0.001% more product if they said "Happy Holidays" and named their displays "Holiday trees" than "Merry Christmas" and "Christmas trees."
Of course, the question still bugging me is....who names a tree, anyway? Of all the Christmas trees whose acquaintance I've had the pleasure of making, none have ever borne a placard declaring "Hello! My name is Christmas Tree." I've just generally been able to identify them on-sight as having that tell-tale Christmas tree shape and smell.
I guess I was unaware that anyone needed any sort of official pronouncement to delineate the taxonomy of Christmas trees from that of "holiday trees." But presumably, someone is clamoring for the guidance, or who, exactly, would give a shit? The image that comes to mind is of that famous Magritte painting, only in this case, bearing the slogan "Ceci n'est pas une Sapin de Noël."
And perhaps that is not pure coincidence. There is no group from whom I would more expect this sort of mindless cultural chauvinism than...the French! It's ironic, given the abuse O'Reilly and his ilk have given the French over the years, that here they are, emulating their most favorite pastime -- manning the gates to defend "the culture" from infidels, both foreign and domestic, who would seek to subvert it. For the frogs, it's Big Macs and Mickey Mouse. For O'Reilly, it's "holiday trees" and the "secular progressives."
But perhaps the Germans are really the ones to blame. Proving that it's not just bitter old fuckers like O'Reilly who are harping on this, 19-year-old Christian Hartsock, writing at Alan Keyes' Renew America site (at an age when I was still getting most of my kicks by duping the football players in my fraternity into believing they could get a really good buzz by smoking coffee grounds) parrots the O'Reilly line, albeit with a touch more dramatic flare:
When they're not thinking up laughable euphemisms for the mythological "penumbra emanation" of an alleged entitlement to commit ruthless infanticide against helpless infants such as "a woman's right to choose," liberals are scratching their heads in a desperate effort to think up alternative names for those unidentified ornament-adorned objects that normal people tend to refer to as "Christmas trees."
Hartsock titles his missive "O Friendship Tree! O Friendship Tree!" Cute. I do have to wonder, though, if the young author is fully cognizant of the headline's true irony. Presumably, the reductio ad absurdum one is supposed to take away from the title is the ludicrousness of renaming one of the most venerable carols – “O Christmas Tree” – to remove the reference to Christmas.
But, of course, “O Christmas Tree” is just the English-language version of the older German song “O Tannenbaum,” and it’s never been a precise translation. Tannenbaum does not literally mean “Christmas tree” auf Deutsche. That would be a Weinachtsbaum.
Rather, Tannenbaum is the German word for the decidedly more secular “evergreen tree.” When Christians sing “O Tannenbaum,” they are singing “O evergreen tree,” and -- knowingly or not -- participating in a winter solstice tradition far older than Christmas itself of pagans worshipping the wood.
Luckily for them, “O Christmas Tree“ fits the song’s meter a whole lot better.