Controversial Christmas trees

I’m sick of Christmas being a source of controversy. Christmas is a big flippin’ deal in North America. But it isn’t all peace and joy, let me tell you.

christmas-tree.jpg

Controversial Christmas tree #1

From the Globe and Mail, a story about a municipality who narrowly voted to put up an artificial tree:

While most cities have been oiling snowplows and constructing ice rinks in anticipation of winter, the politicians in one small Ontario town have dedicated themselves to resolving a historical debate that continues to polarize Canadians this time of year.

Artificial Christmas tree or real tree?

For more than a week, the councillors of Quinte West, a municipality east of Toronto, have wrestled with the question.

At Monday’s council meeting they were split, 6-6, until Mayor Bob Campney stepped in with the deciding vote for a fake tree.

The issue erupted last year when some councillors cut down a seven-metre pine and hauled it into town on a flat-bed truck.

Unfortunately, there was a municipal employee who was allergic to the tree. He tried to cope through the holidays with a swollen face, but was forced to buy medication and work outside the building. The municipality had to compensate him almost $2,000.

In the end, the mayor felt his compromise was sound.

“My feeling was, we can put up an artificial tree, a good tree, inside, and put a big real tree outside, and everyone going by can enjoy it.”

Councillor Fred Kuypers, who is in his eighth year as a councillor, says when the town decorates the tree outside, he’s boycotting the event.

“For me, the fun is gone.”

Controversial Christmas Tree #2

From CBC Nova Scotia, a story about Donnie Hatt, who regrets donating a 50-foot spruce tree to the City of Boston:

A spruce tree grower in Nova Scotia isn’t happy his Christmas tree has become a “holiday” tree.

bah-humbug.jpgEvery fall, the province sends a tree to Boston as a thank-you gift to that city for helping Halifax after the devastating explosion in 1917.

But Donnie Hatt, of Beech Hill, says he wouldn’t have sent his 36-year-old, 16-metre white spruce this year if he knew it would be called a “holiday” tree. In fact, he’d rather see it run through the wood chipper in his backyard. …

Officials with Boston’s parks department decided it would be less offensive to some people and generally more inclusive if the word “Christmas” was dropped.

“I think it’s a bunch of bullcrap,” Hatt is quoted as saying.

Sing it along with me, kids:  Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year!

It’s the hap – happiest season of all
With those holiday greetings and gay, happy meetings
When friends come to call,
it’s the hap – happiest season of all.

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21 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Bill
    Nov 29, 2005 @ 16:54:00

    A Christmas tree is a Christmas tree.

    There are Christian traditions and there are non-Christian ones.

    Being a world of many cultures allows us to have all of them.

    If I see a Menorah in a window at Hanukkah I don’t call them holiday lights.

    In 2001 The Taliban leaders issued a religious edict deeming two of the World’s tallest Buddha Statues, which are carved into a mountain, as non-Islamic and ordered their destruction.

    Although I am not Buddhist I see this as a great loss of a traditional symbol, in much the same way I might morn the demise of the Christmas tree.

    I think it is more honourable to say your religion doesn’t offend me, then ban it from being seen or spoken.

    To Christians this is to be a time of Joy, let them have their joy at Christmas.

    Reply

  2. Mary P.
    Nov 29, 2005 @ 17:27:00

    I love Hatt’s quote: “It’s a load of bullcrap.”

    And it certainly is. Christmas is Christmas; Eid is Eid; Deepivali is Deepivali; Hanukkah is Hanukkah and on and on and on…

    If ethnic variety is a good thing – which it is – if we believe cultural variety enriches society and all heritages should be proferred respect, why be squeamish about this particular one?

    It’s mystifying, and very silly. Do we really want a generic “holiday” that has no more meaning than your January VISA statement?

    Reply

  3. aaron
    Nov 29, 2005 @ 18:49:00

    Regarding the Boston tree:

    When it’s a matter of semantics, why bother? If they really want to put up a holiday tree, shouldn’t they use something other than a spruce, so that it’s neutral, rather than the tree of preference for a specific religion?

    Regardless, I assume Boston’s decision is tied to concern over government endorsement of religion. A private entity wouldn’t think twice about the matter, but there have been a number of court cases in recent years involving municipal holiday displays and whether they violate the separation of church and state. This despite the fact that in a couple of weeks, on the White House Lawn, there will be over 50 decorated Christmas trees (each representing one of the states or territories in the U.S.).

    FWIW, knowing Christianity’s propensity for co-opting pagan traditions, I looked about, and sure enough:
    http://www.fabulousfoods.com/holidays/xmas/treehistory.html

    So if Boston would simply identify the tree as representing Pagan tradition, I’m sure everyone would be happy. 😉

    Reply

  4. The Misanthrope
    Nov 29, 2005 @ 20:21:00

    My proposal is to celebrate Christmas every other year. It would certainly have more meaning as a holiday, not necessarily religiously, but it would be more appreciated than it currently is, mostly by consumer businesses.

    Reply

  5. Jack's Shack
    Nov 30, 2005 @ 01:40:00

    Q,

    I have long been of the opinion that if I were Christian I would be offended by the commercialization of the holiday.

    In any case my big issue with the holiday stems from what I see in the US as an attempt to circumvent the laws regarding the separation of church and state.

    I haven’t any issues with people decorating their homes. I don’t really care all that much about decorating private businesses. Even the constant wishes of Merry Xmas are usually fine.

    When I get irked is when I feel as if someone is trying to stuff it down my throat.

    But I have to agree that calling a tree a “holiday tree” is just silly.

    Reply

  6. Jack's Shack
    Nov 30, 2005 @ 09:28:00

    BTW, on a side note I wanted to say that I really enjoy those quotes on the right side of the page.

    Reply

  7. Wasp Jerky
    Nov 30, 2005 @ 12:37:00

    While I agree that calling a Christmas tree something other than a Christmas tree is silly, keep in mind, as aaron points out, that Christmas trees are pagan in origin, not Christian. Perhaps we should call them Pagan trees.

    Reply

  8. Q
    Nov 30, 2005 @ 13:20:00

    • Bill:
    Well said.

    • Mary P.:
    Do we really want a generic “holiday” that has no more meaning than your January VISA statement?

    That’s precisely where I’m going in my follow-up post. If you extract the spiritual component of Christmas, you’re left with just the ka-ching! of the cash registers.

    • Aaron:
    I’m not convinced there was any direct borrowing from paganism when it came to Christmas trees. In the 16th C, I don’t think the Church had to appropriate pagan symbols in order to supplant paganism in the hearts of the people. (As it had been necessary to do earlier in Church history.)

    That said, I don’t think the Christmas tree has any direct connection to the birth of Christ, either. My concern is actually broader than the Christmas tree issue — it’s the whole movement to turn Christmas into a purely secular celebration.

    I’m aware of the difficulties with respect to public buildings. More on that to come.

    • Misanthrope:
    I have a proposal of my own to put forward … though I doubt either one of us will see our proposals put into effect.

    • Jack:
    Your recent posts on the subject have helped me to sort out my own thoughts on the subject. Thanks, as always, for the dialogue.

    And thanks for the other comment, too. You’re the first person to mention the quote of the day feature — I wasn’t sure anyone had even noticed it.

    • Wasp Jerky:
    I’d be a little happier if we called them “eternal life” trees, which I gather is what they signified to pagans. That would be suitably broad to capture religions other than Christianity, without reducing the trees to a mere bauble associated with a secular season dedicated only to buying lots of stuff.
    Q

    Reply

  9. Heather
    Nov 30, 2005 @ 18:27:00

    And everyone will be happy to know that the big news here in the Maritimes that Oxford Nova Scotia just signed a proclamation that they were celebrating “Christmas” and not the “Holidays”.

    And if you ask me, semantics…BAAA-HUM-BUG!

    Reply

  10. trish
    Nov 26, 2007 @ 02:57:16

    I agree that Christmas should be celebrated every other year.

    We need a break from a lot of other things, too. I would like to see all major league sports take a year off, too. Just shut it all down for a year, watch all the men go thru withdrawal, then bring it all back at their appropriate starting times.

    I can wish, can’t I?

    Reply

  11. russ
    Nov 26, 2007 @ 15:10:16

    I think we are all missing the point really, christmas unfortunately has become a “ka-ching” event there’s no denying that, but surely its up to each and everyone of us to celebrate christmas as it is meant to be regardless of race, colour, creed, i am not a religious man but i feel christmas is a special time that brings people closer to each other, makes us think about others for at least a couple of days a year, which surely must be a good thing.

    Reply

  12. Maddy
    Nov 29, 2007 @ 08:00:00

    I am totally confused by this “holiday” crap… we don’t refer to the Easter bunny as a “holiday bunny” or call Jesus fish “Religious Fish”. Why is it that around Christmastime suddenly the whole Christian religion becomes so controversial? It’s still the same religion it always is, but for some reason people are offended by it now. If someone wants to pay to stick up a giant menorah in the park, let them, but it doesn’t mean that you have to take down the Christmas tree too. People are taking away from the true meaning of Christmas with all these arguments about where and when Christmas decorations could be hung and what they should be called. Why not just hang them wherever you feel like and call it Christmas decorations, and let anyone else who wants to stick up their decorations for their holiday and let them call it what they want too? We can get along with more then one religion in this world without causing a big controversy.

    Reply

  13. Pill
    Dec 01, 2007 @ 05:05:23

    Very nice christmas tree but screensaver not downloadable (

    Reply

  14. Stephen
    Dec 01, 2007 @ 08:08:15

    Hi, Pill:
    Sorry about that! This post is actually a year old. Google has been sending all kinds of traffic to me (currently 2000+ hits per day) when people search for a photo of a Christmas tree.

    Reply

  15. SeaSpray
    Dec 01, 2007 @ 13:39:04

    Good post! Christmas every other year…NO WAY! A lot of us love Christmas!

    I am going to do a post about this soon because concerned with how they are watering down or trying to deny Christmas. It is a holiday season and Christmas is celebrated within that season. Christmas is the only one of those Holidays that celebrates with a “Christmas” Tree. I am a Christian and even though there may be pagan origins our family emphasis is on the birth of Christ and then we have fun with the other stuff too. I look at it as one big birthday celebration! 🙂

    I also would not be offended if someone celebrated their holiday or greeted me accordingly.

    The people that expend all this energy to censor it should put it into something like feeding the hungry or something that will actually benefit society.

    I found you because of this picture too. 🙂

    Reply

  16. SheWolf
    Dec 06, 2008 @ 08:13:21

    Okay, first of all, the “christmas tree” didn’t originate as a Christian icon. there is nothing in the Bible about putting up an evergreen with lights and decorations to celebrate the birth of Christ. or gift exchanges for that matter.

    your so-called Christmas tree started as a PAGAN tradition to celebrate the Winter Solstice. since the winters were so hard it was tradition to find something green that would have made it through the worst of the winter and decorate it to remind the community that better days were ahead and we made it through another one. the community would check the food storage and re-distribute what was left among the town, hence the large meal and the exchange of “gifts”.

    Christians of the day couldn’t fight the tradition that was so wide spread so they adopted it and renamed it a Christmas tree.

    I don’t have a problem with people keeping the word Christmas when relating to that particular event but come on, learn some history and don’t be so damned elitist about your religion.

    by the way, Easter egg hunts and chocolate exchanges aren’t Christian traditions either. look it up.

    Reply

  17. Lori
    Dec 06, 2008 @ 10:26:30

    To keep it short and simple- I am with Bill- the first comment. I don’t begrudge any one else their beliefs and celebration of them. I want to keep it Christmas.

    Reply

  18. Bill
    Dec 06, 2008 @ 10:48:54

    First of all Yes a Christmas tree was a pagan symbol there is no questioning that.

    Second it was co-opted by Christians centuries ago, but by simple adoption not some dumb plot by the church. The Christmas tree became part of Christmas in the same way Santa Claus has and gift giving etc.. by cultural inclusion.

    Lastly all you NEO-Pagans should really read more than new age literature that was written in the 70’s and was mostly invented. The Christmas tree was associated with the Winter Solstice but this is not entirely proven as the solstice marked the rebirth of the sun gods Mithras or sol invictus, to which no tree symbolism was ever connected.

    Most Neopaganism is entirely modern in origin, while some attempt to reconstruct Pagan religions through historical and folkloric sources, and do so very poorly I know of only three historians that follow a pagan faith and they say most Neopaganism is bunk. So for all those who want the Christmas tree back you can’t have it because it isn’t yours it was part of a religion now long gone. Yes this may be regrettable, but at least this one nice point of paganism lives on.

    That said I am not one to stop people believing as they wish Neopaganism might be a perfectly acceptable religion to practice but let’s stop prtetending it has any accurate connnection to its historical roots It is about as historical as Neodruidians.

    Reply

  19. Jim
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 21:50:11

    you canadians are fucked up!

    Reply

  20. Danielle
    Dec 16, 2008 @ 18:30:15

    I feel it is ridiculous that there are those who carry on about the word “Christmas”. What was once supposed to be a Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Christ has now become a day dedicated to fulfilling the desires of the American people. Personally I would rather have our government focus on things of importance than remove the word Christmas from a tree that has no relationship to the Christianity’s beliefs.
    I suppose individuals who loaf the word “Christmas” are searching for a way to justify their celebration of what was once a Christian holiday.

    Reply

  21. Chalice Willis
    Dec 17, 2008 @ 19:19:58

    If the stupid jerk has allergies to conifurs, then he can go get meds. from his Dr. They can put the tree as far away from his cubical or what ever.
    My sister is allergic to ecuptilus trees (sp?)…which is in all cold medicine, She thought she was suffering from colds, when infact she had Hay-Fever to certain trees…
    Damnd near killed her.
    Duh!

    Reply

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