That's not my holiday tree
I was robbed last week. Worse yet, I was robbed by a tree.
Perhaps I should explain. Last week was Hanukkah, a very minor (but fun) eight-day-long Jewish holiday. For the first half of Hanukkah, I was free to celebrate the holiday as I wished, lighting candles and saying a few extra prayers.
But on Thursday morning, MIT decided that it wasn't enough for me to think of Hanukkah in traditional Jewish terms. I had to add a Christmas tree -- the "holiday tree" now standing in front of the Student Center -- to my celebration.
In calling it a "holiday tree" (or just "the tree," as they did on a flyer announcing last night's decorating party), MIT implies that the tree has no religious significance, that it applies equally to all holidays. This is simply not true. As far as I know, Christmas is the only December holiday celebrated with a cone-shaped evergreen covered in red lights.
I don't object to Christmas trees. They are nice to look at, and are part of an important Christian holiday. But they aren't -- and never will be -- in the least bit related to Hanukkah, or any other religious holiday besides Christmas.
And that is why I say I was robbed. By placing that evergreen in front of the Student Center, MIT told me that my celebration of Hanukkah was incomplete without a Christmas tree. It said that lighting candles each night wasn't enough; I had to decorate a tree to appreciate the spirit of the "holiday season."
Just for comparison, imagine what would happen if MIT were to replace the Christmas tree with a large Hanukkah menorah and call it a "non-denominational holiday candelabra." Christians would surely be offended by the Institute telling them to adopt a Jewish symbol as part of their holiday. Jews would probably be upset to see their symbol abused in this way, its religious significance watered down.
I must admit that the Campus Activities Complex has tried to avoid offending people by placing a "winter holidays" bulletin board in the Infinite Corridor. This is a nice idea, and will certainly help promote campus diversity, but only begs the question: If MIT is so interested in diversity, then why have a Christmas tree at all? Why not simply have the bulletin board in the Infinite Corridor, along with a number of other displays around campus? It's good to see the Institute encourage students to celebrate their individual national and religious holidays; it's upsetting to see them support one particular holiday and then try to make up for it by universalizing one of that holiday's symbols.
If MIT stands up for diversity as much as it would have us believe, it should remove the Christmas trees, wreaths and other decorations that go up every December. If the administration is unwilling to do that, the least it can do is call the evergreen in front of the Student Center by its true name, a Christmas tree. Until then, I will continue to feel robbed of my freedom to celebrate Hanukkah in the way I feel appropriate, insulted by a school which claims to be sensitive to my needs.
Reuven M. Lerner, a senior in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, is editor in chief of The Tech.
Wow. - Matt