Wednesday, November 09, 2005

More on the Upside Down Christmas Tree Thing

I was mad! I was upset and so were a lot of you! (See my previous article entitled "Don't Believe Everything You Read.") But Craig Wilson from USA Today contacted me to respond to my letter to the newspaper. My comments were edited down in a way that left room for misinterpretation but he says that wasn't their intention and they're trying to figure out how to address it.

Unfortunately, I DO know how this happens. Back when I was a journalist my articles would get trimmed down to fit into the space available and more than once the original meaning of what I wrote was altered. And so it is again. All the news that's fit to print? Or just the number of words that fit? I hated that experience then -- even though I understand how it happens and believe it usually isn't done with detrimental intent -- but I still hate it. When you subtract whole paragraphs of meaning in a quote it may not be "intentional misquoting" but it's still inaccurate.

To make a long story short -- I said that the origin of the Christmas Tree was pagan -- not that upside down trees are pagan. I said that the original meaning had to do with eternal life and that the tree symbolically points to Heaven so that inverting the tree could (I agreed with Craig) be seen as sinister if one thought about it too much. But the honest truth, according to my readers is that the practice of hanging a Christmas Tree from the ceiling had practical benefits -- it saved space, it keep it safe from running children and pets and as a chandelier it could be made to look very beautiful and festive. One reader wrote to say she had heard it represented the Holy Trinity when placed upside down. I don't know why that would be but who am I to comment on that anyway?

I think the whole article was meant mostly in jest and I hope this explanation will lay the whole matter to rest. Your comments are much appreciated.

11 comments:

Vanessa said...

I really enjoyed the article and your comments, but I was surprised at how it did seem sort of anti-pagan. I actually came to your site for more background info on the Christmas tree and info on you and found your rant here. Very cool. :) Keep up the positive motivation.

Anonymous said...

Sheryl, sorry you've suffered what many of us who have also been quoted in the press have suffered. The misquote may not even have been intentional, but quotes are always 'flavored' for the writer's intention these days. At any rate, I'm glad the article made me aware of your web site. I live in Santa Cruz, also, and my wife and I would love to meet you some time.

Alvin said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Alvin said...

Having been misquoted myself, when I got the chance to write up an interview I was adamant that I would tape it and only use what was actually said. I think before any journalist is allowed to quote someone, they should have had the experience of being misquoted. That would be the smart thing to do. But then, like getting a driver's license or being elected president, no one has to pass an intelligence test to be a journalist.

Khrys from PA said...

I truly appreciate your message on this issue. It's amazing how much bad press a person can get from one small article. I have emailed a letter to the editor of USA Today complaining about it. It's one thing to misquote, but someone should have checked the validity of the statement. I feel better knowing that it was not your intention. As a Pagan, I am constantly battling negative stereotypes and our society's view of us. Anyone who is reading this blog, if you would like more inforamtion please check out www.religioustolerance.org or www.belief.net for more information on Wicca, and other Earth-Centered Religions. Knowledge is power. Thank you.

Paul Hood said...

Sucks to be misquoted, or even to be quoted out of context. I just read the original article, twice. The word "Pagan" does not appear anywhere in it, and actually Sheryl is quoted so little that it's pretty obvious what the reporter was up to. He didn't like the upside down Christmas tree, and wanted to goad somebody else into saying something negative about the concept. Any given day I personally, can give a pro and con opinion on anything. If a national newspaper prints only the con, oh man, that's bad. Nevertheless, it's publicity, and Sheryl gets to have her say if anybody who reads USA today visits the website. Speaking of context, it's USA Today, isn't it, not known for depth..
But since Sherly mentioned it, or didn't, as it were, that concept of positive-aspected or ill-aspected, sometimes represented by things being "right" side up or upside down is an interesting one. I don't know much about Christmas trees, but the triangular shape is fairly obvious, and could be taken metaphorically. Two triangles, one pointing upward, one downward, joined together make the 6 pointed "Star of David" and as I understand it, in some circles, represent the union of heaven and earth, male and female, all kinds of fun opposites. I could write an article about a tree with it's roots hacked off, suspended above the floor (dead) with tons of presents underneath on a holiday that for many has no religious meaning whatsoever. It may have been the USA Today reporters original intent, to do something like that. After all, a $600 FAKE tree, hung upside down so that more presents will fit underneath, that article alomost writes itself.
Of late, however, I've had to think more about the importance of earthly matters, and how that integrates with spiritual concerns; not opposes, not interferes with, but joins with. If a USA today article stirred up interest and got people thinking about the concepts of transendence and immanence, the temporal and the spiritual worlds and how they integrate, then maybe overall it is a good thing.

Sheryl said...

Wow! And Thank you! Believe it or not my next book, which is about Flower Essence Therapy, has a lot in it about the Star of David / union of opposites symbolism and how that relates to nature-based healing. Thank you for your comment!

k said...

Ha!
What's even more interesting is that they don't even mention that the inverted trees are a joke... a very expensive joke. Who would pay $599 for a fake Christmas tree?

I just shake my head in wonder of the silliness of it all...

Sheryl said...

Is that what they cost? Unbelievable!

nikki said...

I read the article and came over here right away to see what I was missing in this story. I couldn't fathom someone that wrote a book including the word solstice would basically say that upside down trees were evil. I just thought they were funny by the way. Here's another article (from AP) that first grabbed my attention the other day. Of course it was from Lawrence, Kansas and that's where I live so, you know how that is. Then later I saw a link to the usa today story. Anyway, in the article I am linking, it basically sounds like orignally (not 12th century originally) people just thought it was funny and now it's stuck. Interesting none the less.

Another story

Barbara Burns said...

I too read the USA Today article just now (it was posted on an email list that I belong to) - I found it interesting - I don't like the upside-down Christmas tree either - I didn't get it being so much anti-pagan (maybe they fixed it before I read it?) but I was not overly impressed with his writing style anyway.

I was VERY interested in your particular quote in the article [Sheryl Karas, author of The Solstice Evergreen: The History, Folklore and Origins of the Christmas Tree, quote from the USA Today article: “a 12th-century tradition in Central Europe”] and it has stirred a lot of interest in me to find out more about why it was a tradition in the 12th century ... I read and enjoyed the introduction and singing fir tree story on your website.

I wrote my own rant on my blog - you can read it here [http://barbaraburns.com/barbarablog/?p=90] and I hope people will use this information as an opportunity to read your book and discover about the traditions we do not know about. Please let me know if you do not want me to use your quote from the article and I will remove it but that is what truly caught my attention and interest and is fueling my desire to read your book and discover what you found out about the various Christmas tree traditions through the years.

I find upside-down Christmas trees disrespectful to trees, bizarre and abnormal ... trees do not grow that way. They grow up to the sun and at winter solstice, they need all the warmth they can get, especially in the colder climates.