Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Christmas Tree Controversy

Here we are again! The Christmas tree controversy in the United States!

Millions of firs and spruces will be cut on the Christmas tree farms with the sole purpose of bringing joy to the Christmas celebrating households, stores, shopping malls, and offices across the country. The larger specimen will be put on display in or outside of city halls, governor mansions and even the White House. One of the most famous Christmas trees ever is the Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Plaza in New York City.

Millions of trinkets and decorations will be sold to those who want to make their trees look pretty. Millions of Christmas tree lights will be sold for this purpose. Just like every year. But just like the last year and the year before, this ritual will be overshadowed by a political  controversy. A Christmas tree is not allowed to be called a Christmas tree anymore. It is a holiday tree! What holiday?! - you may ask in disbelief. The April Fool's Day maybe? The argument goes that in a country that prizes itself for tolerance it is offensive to non-Christians to have a Christmas tree on display. Why have a tree at all?

The incorrigible people who insist on calling Christmas tree a Christmas tree are severely criticized by the liberal press and politicians and ridiculed by the enlightened talk show hosts. And believe it or not, the public is laughing.

But no matter how much fun is being made of the Christmas tree or the Christians who insist to call it so, Christmas tree will always be a Christmas tree.

In Germany people enjoy their Christmas trees, in German "Weihnachtsbaum" not a "Feiertagsbaum" or holiday tree. The French have their "sapin de Noël" or "l'arbre de Noël" not a "sapin de fête". Even the British are allowed to have a Christmas tree. But in America it is politically incorrect to have a Christmas tree in a public space. What you are allowed to have are the politically correct "holiday" trees, decorated with taxpayers' money for the joy of all Americans: Christians, non-Christians, and the atheists alike.

Ah! Wait! Political, cultural or religious correctness would require you not to have any Christmas tree at all, but if you decide to have a tree in a public space and your tree looks like a Christmas tree, you would actually have to call it a Christmas tree, if you wanted to be correct. Isn't it? The decorated tree is a Christmas tree! If the Martians, the atheists, the non-Christians wish to enjoy a decorated tree, they are free to do so, but they have to accept the fact that it is a Christian tradition. Just like the Easter Egg is an Easter Egg and not a holiday egg.

The whole argument might appear trivial and ridiculous to those living outside of the United States. For the Christians in America it is an assault on their tradition, if not the religion itself.

The tradition to decorate trees may have Roman and Celtic origins, but it began as Christmas tradition in Germany in the 16th century and spread from there around the Christian Europe.

The legend, however, has it that the tradition goes back to the late seventh or early eighth century when St Boniface, who converted the German people to Christianity, was said to have encountered a group of pagans worshiping an oak tree. In anger, St Boniface is said to have cut down the mighty oak tree. To everybody's amazement a young fir tree sprung up from the roots of the massacred oak. St Boniface took this as a sign of the righteousness of the Christian faith.

It was not until the 16th century that the fir trees were brought indoors at the time of Christmas. It is said that one cold  Christmas Eve, about the year 1500, Martin Luther was walking through a snow-covered woods. He was struck by the almost divine beauty of a group of small evergreen trees. Their branches, dusted with snow, shimmered in the moonlight. When he got home, he set up a little fir tree for his children. He decorated it with candles, which were lighted in honor of the Baby Jesus' birth.

The Christmas tree tradition came to the United States either with the Hessian troops during the American Revolution, or with the German immigrants to Pennsylvania and Ohio. But their custom wasn't popular at first.

The New England Puritans abhorred any sign of religion and banned Christmas altogether. It wasn't until the end of the 19th century that the Christmas tree tradition become universal in the United States.

During the Great Depression, a new kind of business sprung up - the Christmas tree farm! Nurserymen couldn't sell their evergreen trees for landscaping, so they simply cut them dawn for Christmas. Cultivated trees were preferred by the city dwellers because they appeared more symmetrical than the those growing in the wild. Besides, one did not have to spend hours looking for a right tree in the forest anymore.

People enjoyed their Christmas trees undisturbed until the recent attacks on their tradition. Strangely, it isn't the tree itself. It is the tree's name. A not so subtle nuance, though! The public can have its tree for as long as it is called a holiday tree! 

How about the Santa? Will he lose his job soon?

By Dominique Allmon ©2011