November 25, 2005

Boston “holiday tree” stirs controversy

By Jason Szep

BOSTON (Reuters) - Boston set off a furor this week when it
officially renamed a giant tree erected in a city park a
"holiday tree" instead of a "Christmas tree."

The move drew an angry response from Christian
conservatives, including evangelist Jerry Falwell who heckled
Boston officials and pressed the city to change the name back.

"There's been a concerted effort to steal Christmas,"
Falwell told Fox Television.

The Nova Scotia logger who cut down the 48-foot (14-meter)
tree was indignant and said he would not have donated the tree
if he had known of the name change.

"I'd have cut it down and put it through the chipper,"
Donnie Hatt told a Canadian newspaper. "If they decide it
should be a holiday tree, I'll tell them to send it back. If it
was a holiday tree, you might as well put it up at Easter."

Falwell and the conservative Liberty Counsel led a campaign
that threatened to sue anyone who spreads what they see as
misinformation about Christmas celebrations in public spaces.

The controversy reflects the legal vulnerability of city
and state governments over taxpayer-funded displays of
religious icons and concern over crossing the line in the
separation between church and state.

Last year, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger lit what
he called a "Christmas tree" at a state ceremony. The year
before, he and former California Gov. Gray Davis presided over
ceremonies for the more secular "holiday trees."

In Boston, many residents voiced their dismay over the Web
site that promotes a December 1 ceremony for "Boston's Official
Holiday Tree Lighting."

Christmas has become too politically correct, said 64
percent of people who responded to an online poll by a CBS
television affiliate in Boston.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said he would keep calling the
Nova Scotia spruce a "Christmas tree" regardless of what it
said on the city's official Web site.

"I grew up with a Christmas tree, I'm going to stay with a
Christmas tree," Menino told reporters on Thursday.

But the controversy cast a pall over a long-standing
tradition between Boston and Canada. Nova Scotia donates a tree
each year to Boston in gratitude for the city's help after an
explosion killed about 1,900 people and injured 4,000 others in
Halifax in 1917.