Thursday, December 13, 2007

Communism and the Christmas tree paradox

I’m a long time listener to the Rush Limbaugh show and mostly, if not always agree with what he is saying. Nevertheless he made me laugh this past Tuesday when I was listening to the podcast of his show. He was talking about Chinese (or ChiComs as he calls them) buying up Christmas trees and said that, I quote “This would never have happened in the Soviet Union. Well, if it did and the state caught you, you'd be shot by a firing squad. Religion was not allowed in any shape...”

Well, I grew up in the Soviet Union, and while it's true that religion was suppressed in all its shapes and forms, Christmas trees or “New Year trees” (Новогодняя Ёлка) as we called them were an integral part of the Soviet culture. The reason is that, had Communist simply denied people such an appealing symbol as the Christmas tree and Santa Clause, it would cause resentment to the whole idea of Communism especially in the early days. Communists were smarter than that, rather than getting rid of the symbol they adopted it as their own, renamed Christmas tree to “New Year’s tree” and Santa Clause to “Grandpa Freeze” (Дед Мороз) making them secular or “folk” symbols without changing anything the way they looked, by the way.

Growing up the Soviet Union, I remember lighting up New Year tree and receiving gifts from the “Grandpa Freeze” every year. It was almost ritualistic and everyone did it. New Year's trees were lit at local chapters of the Communist party, in schools, kindergartens and in Kremlin by the Secretary General on live TV.

Christmas however was completely forgotten, I remember, reading an old novel in school where the term Christmas tree was mentioned – the first time I heard it. All the children in class asked the teacher what it was, and teacher said, “Well, that’s what they called the New Year tree, back in the dark years of region”

Coming to this country it was a cultural shock to find out that Christmas tree is a regions symbol connected to Christianity, and that non-Christians, Jews for example don't do it. As a consequence many Jews from the Former Soviet Union, especially the older generation still light Christmas (or New Year) trees at home refusing to accept that it has any religious meaning.


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