So the other day I mentioned to the Maternal Unit that I was thinking of putting up a Christmas tree once I get my own place. She didn’t think much of the idea, something about not it being “someone else’s religion.”
… Well, for someone who rants (often and at length) about cultural appropriation, I sure can be dense on occasion.
But here’s the thing. I joke about being raised sorta-Hindu kinda-Catholic, but it is, in some measure, true. Of the handful of memories I have of the time I spent in Bombay as a child, at least three of the strongest are very Christian in theme- Silent Night sounding through the hallways at school, the peace and serenity of the little alcove with the Mother Mary statue in a corner of the playground, lighting candles at the altar of the Catholic church down the road from where we lived. In fact, I’m pretty sure I went to that church more times than I ever went to temples.
After my parents split up and my Mom and I moved cross-country, I was enrolled in the nearest thing to a convent my neighbourhood had. Mom felt (rightly) that a drastic change from what I was used to would be detrimental to my overall health. But that just accelerated both disconnect with Hinduism and my ‘cultural Christianity’, so to speak, especially in later years when I joined choir and read the Bible in Assembly. Even now, I can remember a hymnal’s worth of carols/prayer songs but only two Hindu shlokas… one of which was taught to me by my German yoga teacher.
But coming back to the matter at hand. I currently self-identify as atheist. Does that mean I shouldn’t celebrate Diwali, or Holi, or Pongal, even though all three are part of the cultural fabric of my upbringing? I don’t believe that. In fact, by that logic, the only thing I could then celebrate would be my birthday, which would be a sad prospect indeed, since I don’t really do anything for the event in question. (Blame the aforementioned Maternal Unit.) I’ve also realized over the past few years, that I have a disturbing lack of (not necessarily religious) traditions in my life, and that’s something I’d like to remedy.
I like the idea of Christmas trees. Ornaments with some emotional significance appeal to the collector and the storyteller in me, and plus, the tree itself is an ancient Pagan tradition co-opted (like many other things) by the ancient Church. In fact, according to Wikipedia, ‘The ancient pagans, Druids, Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews celebrated the Winter Solstice, (Dec. 21st), the day of the year that the Sun begins its ascent in the sky, thereby ushering a fertile time of planting and bountiful harvests. Hence, the evergreen tree represented eternal life and the promise of replenishment during the cold winter months. Apples and other fruit were hung upon the tree to represent the plentiful food to come. Candles were lighted to symbolize the warmth and brightness of the sun. While the Christmas tree is generally associated with Christ, it predates this religious figure by many centuries.’
Is putting up a Christmas tree (or a Yule tree, or a secular-winter-celebration tree) culturally appropriate? I’m not sure. But I do know that it feels right.