Tuesday, November 29, 2005

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.

Controversial Christmas tree #1

From the Globe and Mail, a story about a municipality who narrowly voted to put up an artifical 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.

Every 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.

Is Christmas fun anymore? More thoughts to follow in a subsequent post.


At 4:54 PM, November 29, 2005, Blogger Bill said...

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.

At 5:27 PM, November 29, 2005, Blogger Mary P. said...

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?

At 6:49 PM, November 29, 2005, Blogger aaron said...

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:

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

At 8:21 PM, November 29, 2005, Blogger The Misanthrope said...

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.

At 1:40 AM, November 30, 2005, Blogger Jack's Shack said...


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.

At 9:28 AM, November 30, 2005, Blogger Jack's Shack said...

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

At 12:37 PM, November 30, 2005, Blogger Wasp Jerky said...

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.

At 1:20 PM, November 30, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

• 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.

At 6:27 PM, November 30, 2005, Blogger Heather said...

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!


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