“The Court will uphold
Seemingly contradictory causes
Decreeing the establishment’
Both worthwhile CLAUS(es).’ “
U.S. District Judge Susan J. Diott
Let’s give the judge kudos for good humor and good sense, qualities not always discernible in our judicial system. ‘Tis the season for doggerel and dogma.
Her Honor was paying homage to Dr. Seuss (“The Grinch Who Stole Christmas”) and putting the author of a frivolous lawsuit in his place.
Richard Ganulin, a lawyer in Cincinnati, Ohio, argues that Christmas is a Christian holiday and making it a national holiday for government workers violates the constitutional division of church and state. “The establishment of Christmas as a national, legal public holiday by the government enhances the status of Christians in our society and diminishes the status of non-Christians,” he says.
Bah, humbug, says this Jewish columnist. Judge Diott notes that Christmas is a religious holiday for many Christians and a secular celebration for those of other faiths (and of no faith). Sayeth the judge in dismissing the lawsuit:
“One is never jailed
For not having a tree
For not going to church
For not spreading glee.”
In fact, Jews are indebted to Christians for encouraging them to pay more attention to Channukah, a relatively minor winter holiday now the focus of family gatherings and gift-giving as well as lighting of candles on a menorah.
Holidays in winter have a rich tradition, encouraging men, women and children to decorate and insulate the interiors of their homes against the cold. Festivals of light illumine the darkness and overflow into spectacles outside.
Secularizing the Christmas story dates from the Middle Ages. Before the medieval dramatists portrayed the adoration of the Christ Child on stage, actors told the farcical story of a shepherd who stole a sheep and put it in a cradle, suggesting to the officials that his wife had just given birth to a baby. As soon as the baby could say “baa” the shepherd was exposed for his shenanigans. The farcical episodes and lively dialogue revealed him to be a man who needed to shape up before the Judgment Day. The entertainment, such as it was, was equal to the religious message. (The play probably closed out of town.)
Popular mores and religious celebrations often intermingle. The Christmas tree, after all, grew out of the worship of a pagan god. Santa Claus has origins in Catholicism and Scandinavian mythology. Mistletoe couldn’t grow in a manger. But who but the Grinch or Scrooge would complain about such things? As Judge Diott observes:
“We are all better for Santa
The Easter Bunny too.
And maybe the great pumpkin
To name just a few.”
Americans are usually both serious and lighthearted about religious customs. In general, we are tolerant of the religion of others. When Tocqueville visited America over a century ago, he was struck by the “the religious atmosphere of the country.” He saw the religious spirit as guardian for our freedoms, protector of our virtues and the divine source of our rights.
He noted that Americans had no tradition of anti-clericalism because religion was never linked to the power of the state. Celebrating Christmas as a national holiday was a secular exercise above all, recognizing the traditional habits of Americans of different religions. Judge Diott agrees.
“When the government decides to recognize Christmas Day as a public holiday,” she writes, “it does no more than accommodate the calendar of public activities to the plain fact that many Americans will expect on that day to spend time visiting with their families, attending religious services, and perhaps enjoying some respite from pre-holiday activities.”
So make your plans to lift a glass, wrap a gift, say a prayer and enjoy a kiss under the mistletoe. As Judge Diott sayeth:
“There is room in this country
And all our hearts too
For different convictions
And a day off too.”