Friday, December 09, 2005

The War On Christmas: New York Style

Christmas debate at Manhasset tree lighting


When the Rev. Nick Zientarski invoked the name of Jesus Christ during his traditional blessing of the official Christmas tree lighting in Manhasset last week, he had no idea he had signed on as a soldier in the culture wars over Christmas.

Even as he spoke, the Roman Catholic priest said he could hear North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman angrily objecting behind him, "this is inappropriate." Then, Kaiman got up and told the crowd, "I just want to make it clear that this is in no way a religious ceremony."

A collective gasp came from the 200 adults and children gathered around the gazebo across from Town Hall. Nothing has been the same since in this well-heeled community that counts at least a dozen houses of worship in about 2 square miles.

"I have to tell you that Manhasset is in an uproar" over Kaiman's remarks, said Christine Roberts, who is Jewish and attended the ceremony with her two sons. "It really was the wrong thing to say at the wrong time. There is a lot of hostility going around. Angry letters to the editor of the local paper. Angry conversations. Insanity has absolutely overtaken this town."

John Kiggins, owner of Manhasset Sporting Goods, was so angry with the "disrespectful" way Kaiman treated the priest that he sent him a furious e-mail. "Manhasset is a predominantly Christian town and it's a conservative town," said Kiggins, a parishioner at St. Mary's, where Zientarski is a priest. "There's a certain number of us who believe that if we're celebrating Christmas, then call it Christmas and recognize that we're celebrating the birth of Christ. And the event was billed as a Christmas tree lighting. Had it not been billed that way, I probably wouldn't have gone."

A week later, despite public mea culpas from a white-faced Kaiman at a meeting Wednesday night and, again, in a letter to the editor in yesterday's Manhasset Press, angry constituents are still calling and sending letters. Some did not even witness the event, but heard about it through a widely disseminated e-mail from the priest.
Kaiman, who is Jewish, said that his reaction to the blessing had nothing to do with his own faith, but related to his concern the town might be perceived as sponsoring a sectarian religious event. He said he has apologized to the priest as well as to St. Mary's pastor.

Zientarski, for one, said he accepts that apology. He sent out a second e-mail yesterday, noting Kaiman's effort to mend fences. "He definitely recognizes the offense he committed and he's truly sorry," the priest said. "As Catholics, we want to offer forgiveness and give people a second chance."

Still, Zientarski issued a call to arms to everyone on his e-mail list to defend Christmas. "Call your stores and encourage them to say, 'Merry Christmas' (and Happy Hannukah too)," he wrote. "Look for those Nativity scenes! We should all be proud to be Christians who believe in the Lord, Our Savior, and we should encourage ALL faiths to be people of 'faith,' not 'holidays' and the secular."
(emphasis added) I wasn't going to comment on this, but it appears that this has gotten a bit of a visceral reaction from my gut.

OK, Christians???? Gather round. Take a knee.

The time has come to admit something to ourselves: we don't own or run the world. Moreover, we don't own the public square. It's a holiday ceremony, featuring a pagan symbol co-opted by medieval Christians as a decoration, commemorating...what, precisely?

Our Lord's birth? He was born in a fucking desert, not the Ardene forest.

Grow up. Maybe the town supervisor's reaction was over the top, but Manhasset is ALSO home to a significant Jewish population, many of whom attended that ceremony. And Hannukkah is nearly as important in the Jewish faith as Jesus' birth is in the Christian (keeping a clear eye on the fact that it is Easter that defines Christianity, for without that, Jesus is just another wacko Jewish prophet running around Galilee).

Can we PLEASE grow up now? It's only been two thousand fucking years!