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Monday, December 29, 2008

Coming to terms with Christmas

I just finished reading the Power of Myth a couple weeks before christmas. Its a great book that I recommend all atheists should read because it puts religion in perspective next to the original mythology. It has helped me become less cynical and more compassionate.

Unarguably, most atheists know more than most religious peeps regarding the similarities that all religions have. But what was cathartic for me was understanding archetypal principles that have popped up in mythologies (stories developed to help people with psychological difficulties: puberty, death, killing to live, etc ) and how those concepts were messed-up during assimilation by religions (organized by people for various types of power).

Concepts such as "god" is within us and therefore all things are holy and connected, and that death brings life - that all life relies on death. Are mythological concepts to help us live psychologically health lives. They are not literal - obviously there are not little gods living in each of us, but metaphorical - which is where religion often screws them up; by forcing a literal translation.

But parts of those healthy mythological stories can be found in modern religion. Like when I look at the Christmas Trees they use to irk me - I felt oppressed by the overtly religious symbol in so many public places. But now when I look at it I think about the cycle of life and death, and I think about the solstice, and the moon cycles. And the simple need for a happy celebration during a gloomy time.

So I don't know how clearly I've expressed myself here in this post. But the conclusion is that learning a little comparative mythology has freed me to be less of a grinch and more compassionate.

I'm curious to hear other's thoughts about the book or other similar or opposite experiences.


Blogger dignature said...

"But parts of those healthy mythological stories can be found in modern religion. Like when I look at the Christmas (t)rees they use(d) to irk me - I felt oppressed by the overtly religious symbol in so many public places. But now when I look at it I think about the cycle of life and death, and I think about the solstice, and the moon cycles. And the simple need for a happy celebration during a gloomy time."

I enjoy your optimism and finding a personal symbolism in someone else's beliefs even though they go against your core principles. There definitely is need for celebration, and traditions that bring people together in a positive way.

However, I'm not irked by the tree as a symbol, but I do get very depressed when I see, as I have in past years; that some of our trees along the parkway had been "topped" around Christmas, then one night an entire spent xmas tree was thrown off the Minnehaha bridge and into the partially frozen creek to freeze there as an eyesore and an icon of the uncaring idiots of the world.
I'm not sure that anyone that would do either of those things can see the symbolism behind anything.
Even this year we were walking the dog on Dec. 26th, and out in front of one house was a beautiful healthy pine, stripped of decorations lying in the street, the day after it's holiday.
It's like the brightly colored burger wrapper put on the hamburger to get it the fifteen feet from the fryer to the pick-up window. Then we rip it off, crumple it up and throw it away, never to be seen again. It did "it's job." Damn everything it took to get it there.
I get that feeling again a week or two after Christmas when the majority of "real" trees are stuck in the snowbank in a row in front of all the houses. Grown for a few years using all the resources necessary, then to be cut and hopefully (but not always) sold, brought home, decorated and admired for such a short time really, compared to the life of a normal "real" tree that could still be contributing to the system of a "real" life forest. Then the "renderer" comes and picks them all up, so we can do it again next year.
It just doesn't make sense to me. To say you love something SO much you're going to rip it out of it's habitat, admire it under enough make-up that you can barely see the real thing, kill it purposely, and throw it away.
I used to think "fake" trees were an improvement ecologically, but I'm no longer sure. I'm not sure what the percentage of use of them is compared to the people that buy real, but there still is an enormous resource use, and much of it ends up sitting in the landfill for eons next to the Crocs that went out of style "that one year."
It's an example of a religious icon that has become so traditional it's taken a very long time to question the taboo, and again that's only because it's finally in your face and in your pocketbook: we don't have as many trees to burn, and it's getting more and more expensive to provide them for such a short term of use. Harsh icon.
What's the alternative? Community trees to be maintained all year and decorated by a neighborhood would be nice.
Holographic tree projection from the big screen TV?
Oh come on, that's too fake. I'd much rather have my silver plastic music-playing, fiber-optic chase-light, pine-scented table-top "tree", or it just isn't Christmas.

01 January, 2009  
Blogger Zeolite said...

Wow - that's an awesome comment! Healthy purge of frustration to begin the new year :)

Obviously, its totally obnoxious to deform trees or steal from public lands for one's holiday enjoyment.

But arn't most xmas trees grown on xmas tree farms? Seems to be a way to keep the land used in a quasi natural way - better than a corn field or suburbia. Not the ideal use of land admittedly.

As for trees harvested from a private natural environs. If the ecosystem is healthy, is should be able to sustain the loss of one younger tree a year. If it brings joy to a family during a gloomy time (day-light starved winter) perhaps it is worth it.

I liked seeing the old xmas trees being fed to the elephants on the news last week. At least they weren't being wasted.

My husband and I have a small 4' fake tree we rescued from the trash a his work years ago. Seemed like our most eco-friendly option. :)

01 January, 2009  
Blogger dignature said...

Z, Thank you for being such an optimist and gracious blog host. I realize that probably the majority of blog comments are rants rather than warm fuzzy hugs, but I'm glad for your objectivity.

In writing my first comment, and poking around ever so slightly to unearth facts about xmas trees and tree farms, I could see this topic heading for a much more serious going-over than a couple blog posts.
Not only is it a controversial topic for Americans, Christians, and people that celebrate Christmas around the world, but there are a lot of opinions of what is less impacting, better for trade, better for the economy, better environmentally, better aesthetically, better in the long term, and much more.
I began collecting articles and links and I intend to write a more serious piece looking at through the angles in the future. I'm very interested in this and hope I can be shown that tree farms are a worthwhile entity. Conversely, I hate waste and ecological garbage, and I intend to keep an open mind.
Just to throw some grist the mill, here are a few things I can across in my albeit brief search yesterday:

Eight out of every ten artificial Christmas trees sold in the United States are made in China. Last year Americans spent over $130 million on plastic Christmas trees from China.
This year Americans will spend over $1 billion on Christmas ornaments from China. And in perhaps the greatest irony of all, last year Americans spent more than $39 million buying nativity scenes shipped in from the Far East.

Cutting your own tree, selecting one at the local lot, or bringing in a living tree are all part of modern family traditions.
The aroma, beauty, and special adventure of having a tree is
sensed by all in the home.
Having a tree for the Christmas-time holidays is a relatively new tradition in America. Christmas trees have not always been associated with the winter holidays across the world.
The roots of tree use can be traced back before the birth of Christ to early Egyptians who would bring palms indoors as symbols of eternal life.

Am I harming the forest by choosing a real tree?
Definitely not! Christmas trees do not come from the forest! Almost everywhere in North America
Christmas trees are grown as a crop on tree farms.
Christmas trees are, except for cultivated forests,(?) the most environmentally friendly crop around.
This is because a tree is harvested only after ten years. To ensure future harvests, 90% of the farm must remain in trees all the time.
Trees also act as air pollution filters and can remove up to 13 tons of airborne pollutants
per acre per year. Christmas tree farms are havens for a wide variety of bird and mammal species
including sparrows, chickadees, foxes, coyotes, mice, voles, and squirrels.

The El Dorado Hills Community Services District (Calif) Christmas tree chipping program last year generated 27 tons of Christmas tree chips that were used as summer mulch in the parks.
In a similar program in Edmonton, Canada, the cost of chipping the cities Christmas trees was over $100,000 per year. In most Canadian cities mentioned, the chipping cost varied from $1-$3 per single tree.

Obviously there is more here than meets the eye. I would like to find some serious studies on the post-consumer use of the trees and the efficiency of running a tree farm.
More later! Doubt it will be in a paperback tho.

03 January, 2009  
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12 June, 2012  

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