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Welcome to STop, the Seattle Times Opinion blog where our editorial writers and editors share their evolving thoughts on a variety of issues. STop is a place where opinion writers and readers can exchange views and readers can learn more about how editorial positions are formed.

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December 17, 2004

Merry Christmas!

In Bellevue, an atheist family objects to a city Christmas tree. The tree should be taken down, an atheist says, because it celebrates a Christian holiday and it makes him and his wife uncomfortable.

I'm an atheist and I'm not offended by Christmas. I've had Christmas trees in my house and given plenty of Christmas presents. For years I have helped make German Christmas cookies called lebkuchen. I didn't have a tree when I was a bachelor because I was too lazy to put one up, but as a dad I never vetoed one. I participate in Christmas dinner, Christmas trees, Christmas presents.

In American culture, it's impossible not to do this unless you're Jewish, and then you can have Hanukkah presents. But if I said, "I'm not going to give my kid a present, and when my family has a Christmas dinner I'm going out to McDonald's instead, because I'm an atheist" -- think of all the trouble it would be.

And the result would be -- what? What would I get for it? (Besides, lebkuchen is really good, and I like spiced punch, too. And turkey. Etc.)

Christmas trees are associated with Santa Claus. Neither is part of any Christian doctrine I ever heard of. They were not cultural icons until the early 20th century. We don't pray to a Christmas tree, or make an offering to it. The tree is not solemn and contemplative; it is gaudy and commercialized. You can stick an angel on it, if you like, or you can decorate it with candy canes and colored lights. One of my favorite decorations, bought in Germany, is a dill pickle. I have another one that looks like a Volkswagen.

If the City of Bellevue's Christmas tree, which has been given the sanitized name of "Giving Tree," promotes anything, it's gift-buying. That makes it a symbol of capitalism, maybe. Not religion.

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Posted by Bruce Ramsey at December 17, 2004 12:16 PM



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