Religious Symbols

Your article made me think of the simple times of my childhood in the ‘20s and ‘30s. My parents were atheists. So were my grandparents on my mother’s side. But we always celebrated Christmas, as did my grandparents. It was a national holiday. My grandparents even had a fine Dore Bible, with a deep, gilded leather cover, on their front parlor table. It was the “in” coffee table book of the ‘80s--the 18 80s, that is.

The Sunday before Christmas, my father and his two best friends, Mr. Bassetti and Mr. Ackerlund, who were also atheists, and I, when I got old enough, went out in the soggy, dripping rain forests of Washington state to search for three perfect Christmas trees. This took about two hours, for, as each man found what he thought was the best tree yet, they all stopped and talked about things, with many quotations from ancient and modern literature, even the Bible, if applicable. Eventually, we headed home with three 8-foot trees, as nearly perfect as possible, lashed to the top of the car. By now, we were soggy and dripping and steaming up the car’s interior, and thoroughly happy.

We children of all three families attended various Sunday schools, depending on which neighbors and friends wanted to give us a chance at salvation. Our parents said it’s good to know how other people think, and remember you’re guests, be polite and don’t argue. If you have any questions, ask them when you get home. As my mother said, “It’s the home training that counts.”

My parents, as well as a good many of the Christian parents, would have been shocked if religious songs had been sung in school during the holidays. The attitude was: “If I want my children to learn religion, I send them to church.” Anyway, some of these stout Protestants weren’t sure about " . . . round yon Virgin, mother and child . . . . “


The Christmas tree, however, isn’t formally, a Christian symbol. As I understand, we got it from the English, who got it from Queen Victoria, who brought it from Germany. It’s a leftover, and a beautiful one, from the pre-Christian tree-worship of Europe.

If a city erects a cross or a menorah, it’s erecting a symbol of a definite religion, and this comes too close to establishing a religion; or, if they erect both, a pair of historically linked religions.

A Christmas tree and a dreidel are non-religious symbols of two of our largest religions. Perhaps, instead of banning all religious symbols at this time of year, we might find a more beautiful alternative that would draw us together. If during the mid-winter solstice, which has been celebrated since long before the dawn of history, we agreed to erect symbols of all the religions of Los Angeles, including Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, American and Mexican Indian religions, to name just the largest, we would have something beautiful. I don’t know what the symbol for secular humanism would be. Perhaps, just a simple peace symbol, which would sit comfortably with Jesus of Nazareth, the Prince of Peace.