It’s Winter Festival time!

I was walking by a building in Manhattan last night and saw in their lobby a Christmas tree, a menorah, and an Islamic crescent moon.


“Where’s the parity in that?”, quoth I.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Our Catholic Identity, The future and our choices, The Last Acceptable Prejudice and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Andrew says:

    This year I haven’t seen any nativity sets in our neighborhood. Lots of bears, penguins, santas, reindeer, cutsie things, but no nativity.

  2. ejcmartin says:

    Our backwards neck of the woods still has a government office Nativity.

  3. Cathy says:

    The Christmas tree, although part of the tradition in many lands, is not a religious symbol, as would be the Nativity. The Menorah is, and it is significant at this time because of the Jewish Celebration of Hanukkah. The crescent and moon are symbolic of Islam, but, what exactly are they celebrating? The display makes no sense.

  4. RichR says:

    Funny, no one specifically celebrates a winter festival.

  5. APX says:

    My ghast was flabbered when I heard Boney M’s “Mary’s Boy Child” on the radio, and then thought to myself, “how long until someone calls in and complains?” Someone must have complained because now all I hear is secular.

  6. I think “Season’s Greetings” is far more appropriate than “Happy Holidays.” After all, I may not wish to be happy, and I may not have any holidays to be happy about.

    “Season’s Greetings” is much more appropriate. It does not oppress anyone with an unwanted mood, it omits any reference to deity (“holiday” sneaks in “holy” but those pesky God-believers don’t want you to know it), and–if you prefer not to take notice of any particular season, you can always contemplate thyme.

  7. Long-Skirts says:


    Let the poor have Santa Claus
    The rich a cruise –
    The rest can have whatever they want
    But Jesus just refuse!

  8. Hooray! It’s Winter Festival time! You know — when we all run around and have parties and sing and give each other gifts and deck our halls for no… particular… reason… whatsoever!

  9. aviva meriam says:

    This just gets on my nerves.

    First Christmas is (objectively) a major holiday. A Christmas tree is a culturally recognized symbol of the holiday (admittedly NOT as meaningful as a creche). Hanukkah is NOT a major holiday within Judaism (in fact, it’s one of the two LEAST important Jewish holidays according to Jewish law). As far as I know, there isn’t a major (or for that matter minor) holiday for Islam at this time. Why is it necessary to do this? If someone does not celebrate or recognize Christmas that is their choice…. but that doesn’t mean others cannot or should not do so. Furthermore, this attempt at “inclusion” ignores the meanings behind the symbols and belief systems. Its insulting (and more than a bit patronizing).

  10. Southern Catholic says:

    No aluminum pole?! This is outrageous. I am now offended and will be complaining soon.

  11. Random Friar says:

    Of course it’s not even. The Son>Moon.

  12. tgarcia2 says:


    Right on Suther Catholic. Where is the Festivus for the rest of us? :p

    While the Christmas tree is not the prefered least it is TALLER than the other two. Take that New Yorkers

  13. tgarcia2 says:

    *Southern Catholic…sorry, keyboards are sticky

  14. Moro says:

    That’s it I’m pulling the festivals pole out of the crawl space. I’ve got a lot of problems with you people and now your going to hear about it.

  15. benedetta says:

    Isn’t this the time of year when we all join hands in a circle in the town square and sing the wahoo yahoo chorus?

  16. Mightnotbeachristiantou says:

    Since we do not know what business this is, they have every right to put this up. I am not sure what the crescent is for seeing there are no Islamic holidays at this time. Something for everyone. We have no idea who are there employees or customers are.

    But if we are going to have a good winter festival we would need a yule log, a straw goat, maybe a statue of Anubis. I am sure there are more items to include.

    And what about Kwanzaa, or have we let go of that already.

  17. Ellen says:

    Back when I started work, we’d have a Christmas party. It gradually morphed into a holiday party and I quit going.

    I am feeling bleh right now anyway.

  18. Imrahil says:

    Dear @Cathy,

    I respect what you say, but myself I’d opine that the Christmastree has come to be a religious symbol, because it has come to be a symbol for Christmas, and is not totally without religious interpretability (as witnessed even by a Papal angelus sermon if I remember correctly).

    On another point,
    you know what is a sad thing?

    Whenever a Christian, as here, starts justly to lament efforts to turn Christmas into a winter festival, you can be sure that some moralizer jumps out of his emplacement and rejoices: “Let them turn it! They cannot even be fast enough! Would that we’d all be happily united in celebrating secularly a winter festival, so that our religious Christmas can be Christians-only and pure from both all this worldly immoral feasting, and the inconveniences of duties towards a family we have not chosen and perhaps dislike.”

    May God give that I disapprove of modernists for their wrongness first. But at least the second reason is that they make so very little fun.

    I hold that Christmas is Christmas and never can be anything else. I confess that I happen to like a feast in its proper place, and so does the Church, (and I may like it in improper places, but it’s my confessor who needs to hear that); I confess that, thanks to God, I happen to like my family and can’t wait to see them again.

    Excuse the digression.

  19. Mariana says:

    My ancestors were Vikings. Were is my Winter Soltice/Jul (yule) tree to hang my mindvinter blot (Midwinter sacrifice) in!

  20. Mariana says:

    midvinter blot! Sorry!

  21. Pretty soon, all three will be replaced by a giant bronze statue of the supreme leader and benevolent king Barack as he showers the gifts of the season down upon us lowly subjects.

  22. jaykay says:

    Fr. Fox: “if you prefer not to take notice of any particular season, you can always contemplate thyme.”

    In which case you could say: “Seasonings’ greetings”, no?

    (all right, not original: there was a Larson cartoon along those lines years ago. But still…)

  23. The Masked Chicken says:

    ” you can always contemplate thyme.”

    What about parsely, sage, and rosemary – a Scarbourgh Fare Christmas.

  24. Marion Ancilla Mariae says:

    Christmas: The holiday that dare not speak its name.

    When I greet my friends in the vestibule of our Church, I like to say “Happy Feastday of the Nativity of the Lord.”

    I suppose one might also say, “Felix dies Nativitatis Domini” (if I’ve got the Latin correctly?)

  25. JonPatrick says:

    @samwise, yes during Michelle Obama’s 2nd term (i.e. Barack’s 4th term) a resolution to this effect will be passed by the Democratic Party Central Committee and duly rubber stamped by the now symbolic Congress.

  26. Cafea Fruor says:

    That’s interesting about the Islamic crescent moon. The Islamic new year was in November this year (it’s moveable, I believe, and floats between November and December), so perhaps the decorations went up in November? But even in my condo, where a very large percentage of the residents is Muslim, management doesn’t do anything Muslim at this time of year. Our lobby has mostly Christmas decorations, with an itty-bitty bit of Hannukah thrown in, and zilch Muslim. And I don’t currently see my Muslim neighbors walking to and fro with platters of homemade party food, which they seem to do for any other Muslim holiday, so I can’t imagine there’s some other holiday for which that moon is out. One wonders if any Muslims were behind the placement of that moon at all, or if it was merely the doing of some “let’s include everybody!” zealot.

  27. Cathy says:

    @Imrahil, I do beg your pardon. If the Christmas tree is a religious symbol, why are we not offended when ornaments sold to decorate it represent the decadent idols of our culture, including Lady Gaga, Snookie, and the lot? When is the last time, in our current culture, that you have seen a decorating for Christmas show, aside from EWTN, that focuses on the Nativity of Christ?

  28. LisaP. says:

    “May God give that I disapprove of modernists for their wrongness first. But at least the second reason is that they make so very little fun.”


  29. By the way, not to detract from the overall levity, but: as a matter of history, the Christmas Tree is most definitely a religious symbol; what it is in today’s culture is another subject. But many Christians are under the mistaken impression that the Christmas Tree is some sort of pagan thing which we “christened” for our use. Again, I’m not going to argue whether that’s good or bad; but simply say that I think the facts about the origin of the Christmas Tree don’t bear that out.

    You have to poke around for this information, but you’ll find, as I did, that the Christmas Tree originated as “Paradise Tree,” in Germany, somewhere around AD 1000, as a prop for “mystery plays” held on December 24–which, as our genial host will readily point out, is the day Adam and Eve are recalled on the calendar. So those clever Germans would have a play that day, telling the story of our first parents. They needed props. A tree is an obvious one. What kind of tree does one find, in Germany, at that time, that’s green? A fir tree.

    They decorated it with fruit; probably apples. Again, if you need to find fruit, on December 24, AD 1000, in Germany, what fruit might you still have around? Apples. They also decorated those trees with discs of bread. Yes, they had in mind precisely what you think they did: because they were conflating the two trees of Paradise: the tree of knowledge of good and bad, and the tree of life. Because, of course, with our Lord’s death on a “tree”–the cross–the tree of death becomes the tree of life, whose fruit is…the Eucharist.

    The plays went on for awhile, until somewhere around AD 1400 church authorities found fault with them and stopped them. After that, the Paradise Trees moved into people’s homes, and over time, were decorated with other things, eventually glass ornaments…then the Germans in the British royal family brought the custom to Victorian England, and thence it spread to America, and the rest you can figure out.

    While it’s wise to be easy going about these things, nevertheless, we needn’t forget this history. It is a very good Biblical symbol, well worth making note of and contemplating. And, with this in mind, one could even decide to keep this history in mind while decorating our Paradise Trees in the present day.

  30. Gail F says:

    What Islamic festival is the crescent for? Because if it’s just there for “parity,” they need to add a WHOLE lot of other symbols too.

  31. happyCatholic says:

    Father Fox
    Thanks so much for that history lesson on the “Paradise Tree.” I had read some accounts that it was Martin Luther who walked out in the woods and came up with the idea of the Christmas tree, seeing maybe was it the stars twinkling in the sky inspiring him to bring the tree indoors and recreate that scene? Anyway, I love knowing the truth so I really appreciate your sharing. The conflation of the two trees, of life and death, is, just well, satisfying. It “fits.”

  32. jaykay says:

    Thanks for the post about the Christian origin of the Christmas tree, Father Fox. I had heard about this before, in fact, but whenever the village atheist in my local pub trots out (or trolls out – much the same thing) his perennial “pagan symbol hijacked by Christians” shtick I could never marshall enough facts to bury that hoary old myth. Your succinct summary will greatly help me!

    Not that he’ll listen but anyway… :)

  33. The Masked Chicken says:

    “What Islamic festival is the crescent for? Because if it’s just there for “parity,” they need to add a WHOLE lot of other symbols too.”

    Yeah, where’s the Golden Beak for the celebration of the Solstice Chicken?

    The Chicken

  34. Mariana says:

    I demand respect for The Masked Chicken! Golden Beak for Solstice Chicken NOW!

  35. Imrahil says:

    Reverend dear @Fr Fox,

    thank you very much for your comment! I was indeed under this mistaken view. Of course, other than some other people I had no principal problem with adaption of heathen customs…

    Dear @Cathy,
    I have never in my life seen a decorating for Christmas show. I’m not aware either that they are on our (German) televisions. (What there is on is “waiting for the evening” Christmas shows, and the Papal Mass on the Bavarian Public Broadcast at 24 o’clock.) And in the midst of my home city there stands a giant christmas tree, just the fir with white electric candles, and on its feet a Nativity scene of the size of a little house. Forgive the patriotism.

    Then, there’s of course symbols and symbols. The Christmas tree has indeed an “offending potential” different from the Crucifix. Still, I offer two reasons why we are not offended: First, because we sense that these things, decadent as they may be, are not intended blasphemy and it’s a unnecessary and inconvenient thing anyway to be offended of unintended things that, if intended, would be blasphemy; second, that we simply cannot be offended all the time because we still have a life to live.

  36. Suburbanbanshee says:

    I walk home by a house decorated with a giant inflatable Santa, a Nativity set, a very large praying angel, and a behatted green dinosaur.

    All ye creatures, bless the Lord!

  37. AnAmericanMother says:

    There’s a house like that in our neighborhood too.
    De gustibus etc.

  38. jflare says:

    Oddly enough, I’m not all that bothered by the Christmas tree, the menorah, and the crescent moon. It’s a matter of context really.

    If this had been an obviously Christian establishment of some sort, Fr Z most likely would’ve noticed it. In THAT case, the menorah and crescent moon WOULD be a problem. Since Fr Z did NOT mention such a trait though, I’ll assume that this lobby served some kind of organization that wished to recognize the holiday season, but didn’t wish to alienate anyone without great need.
    In this situation, whether the Christmas tree technically qualifies as an explicit Christian symbol of Christmas or not, or whether the Jewish or Muslims celebrate a major holiday or not, really makes no difference. Most people will recognize the culturally obvious references to Christian Christmas and to two other major religions.

    Granted, I understand that this doesn’t precisely represent the most healthy state of being of a society. I’d be much happier if we didn’t have to worry about such idiocy. Unfortunately, we do.

    In all honesty, I’m fairly impressed: New York is not known for it’s distinct passion for specific religious precept.
    I think it laudable that whomever owns this spot would be willing to allow for a recognition of the existence of three major religious traditions. I would not necessarily expect such magnanimity.

    ..And the ACLU or other groups can’t complain because it’s on private property!

  39. Kevin says:

    Presumably there’ll be a Christmas tree, that universally recognised (or not) symbol of the Christian Faith, erected next Ramadan. On the subject of Christmas trees, I always thought St Boniface was supposed to have been responsible for them.

  40. Supertradmum says:

    I have seen some of the Mystery and Miracle Plays (Cycle Play) performed and indeed, the Paradise Tree with apples like ornaments is there on the stage. In the old days, the plays, the most famous of which are the Wakefield and York Cycles, were done on wagons with stages and went from city to city, town to town. That was part of the new evangelism of the Medieval period. Some of these plays are hilarious, as Catholics had a sense of humour. Elizabeth the First, Pope of England, allowed them for awhile, and then Parliament finally shut them down under Cromwell, who did not believe in fun, drama, or Catholicism. Satan was frequently mocked to the point of having fireworks put up his derrière. Now, that is the Church Militant.

    If one has a chance to see or read these, do. I was fortunate to study under an expert at ND in graduate school. He has passed on, but his insights into the plays were priceless. I did all the coursework for a doctorate in Medieval until switching to Modern and doing all the coursework and exams in that area. The students were much nicer in the Medieval studies than the Modern, but I wanted to change the world………Then, I went on in Theology. Being a Catholic is so comprehensive.

    The plays are still done in England and even some parts of the States on college campuses.

Comments are closed.