Tuesday, November 8, 2011

It really IS a Christmas tree

Focus of religious representation on public grounds should emphasize equality of faiths

The Holiday tree, as it's been called since 1985, has been a dazzling display within the Capitol rotunda that I've always looked forward to seeing for as long as I can remember. Of course, growing up in Madison, the Capitol itself fascinated me on its own. But seeing that tree, monumental itself when seen from the eyes of a child, always brought home the idea that Christmas was right around the corner.

Yes, I said Christmas. As a child (and I assume this is the case for children today), I never referred to the evergreen as a "holiday" tree. I called it what it clearly was: a Christmas tree. I still do, as an adult.

So when Gov. Scott Walker calls it a Christmas tree, it's ironically one of the few things I can agree with him on. I don't know if Walker is intending on promoting Christianity or not through his declaration -- if he is, then he's wrong for doing so -- but what I do know is that it's a Christmas tree, no matter what its official name may be.

As a liberal, this should irk me -- governments have no business promoting one faith over another. Were it the only display allowed in the Capitol, I'd be upset, even as a Christian, that other faiths weren't given the same opportunities to display their symbols of belief.

As it is, however, other forms of worship ARE granted areas within the rotunda to display their beliefs, including the Freedom From Religion Foundation's display that has, in the past, called religion "superstitious" and a device that "enslaves minds."

And that's fine -- all beliefs should be allowed to place their symbols on public grounds...if it's done in a way that's equal for all.

That's where the real concern lies. There are many questions we should ask ourselves on the subject. Are other faiths given the same treatment as Christians when it comes to their most sacred of holidays? Are Jewish groups allowed a sizable display in the Capitol during Yom Kippur? Are Muslims allowed to celebrate Ramadan in the rotunda for the entire month? Are atheists, too, granted a time comparable to the display of the Christmas tree to put up any thoughts they have on religion?

We shouldn't focus on what the tree is or isn't -- even under the moniker of "holiday," the tree is still a symbol of Christmas. We should instead focus on whether other religious (or non-religious) organizations are getting equal treatment from the state, if not during this time of year then during other times relevant to their belief structures.

If they're not, a clear religious preference has been established, a significant violation of the First Amendment on the part of our government. When that occurs, yes, I'll fight tooth and nail against displays of religion that exclude all others. But for now, I'm going to enjoy visiting the Christmas tree at the Capitol for another year -- and observe the other displays of religion presented to the public as well.


  1. But that's the thing. It brings to mind Christmas for you, but that ignores the diversity of faith traditions, some arguably older, that both decorate trees and celebrate a religious holiday during this season. Christians do not own the decorated evergreen tree, they borrowed it right along with the date that they celebrate Christmas. To call it a Christmas tree and *exclude* the other faith traditions that lay claim to the practice and this particular season is favoring one religion over another. Not to mention the fact that it's downright arrogant.

    As a former Christian I get where you're coming from, but I urge you to do a bit more research into the history of Christmas and the many practices that get identified as "Christian" in our culture. Christianity (like many religions and cultures) has had a history of adopting the practices of others which is not to say that they can't take on new meaning for modern Christians, but to pretend as if they didn't exist before Christians lay claim to them is dishonest. I think the better liberal perspective is to be more honest about these sorts of things and more respective of others which is why Governor Walker is wrong to call it a Christmas tree. Calling it a holiday tree is far more respectful of all those who observe the practice whether they be secular or not.

  2. Thank you for the comment, I appreciate the input. I am well aware of the history of the Christmas tree. I didn't feel it necessary to include it in this posting because I didn't want to delve into the history of the tree and it's non-Christian roots, but rather tackle the issue of the tree in its present form.

    You must admit that the vast majority of people who see the tree conjure up images of Christmas rather than the other connotations that you mentioned. Likewise, those who have had a problem with the tree's presence (even when it was called a "holiday" tree) did so because of its Christian symbolism.

    I respect your opinion, and you bring up some good points as well. Again, I think if other groups -- including those that feel the tree has a secular meaning to them -- should be allowed to place displays at the Capitol as well. Thank you for reading, and I appreciate the comment.

  3. As a christian I wish Happy Holidays to everybody including Scott Walker! May this be his last holiday season as Governor.