Boston's 'Holiday Tree' Sparks Controversy

Giant spruce tree's name leads to local outcry over role of religion

Last week the city of Boston officially renamed the giant spruce tree in Boston Common a “holiday tree” instead of a “Christmas tree.” This move has sparked controversy over the role of religion in municipal holiday celebrations.

In addition to local outcry from Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, who has said he doesn’t support the change enacted by the Department of Parks and Recreation, the televangelist Rev. Jerry Falwell has ridiculed the city and threatened a lawsuit over the incident.

“There’s been a concerted effort to steal Christmas,” Falwell told FOX Television last week.

Meanwhile, some members of the Christian community at Harvard criticized the notion of a “holiday tree.”

“The ‘holiday tree’ really is ridiculous. This is the Christmas season, and Dec. 25 is Christmas, not some general feel-good day of celebration,” said Philip D. Powell ’06, a member of the Harvard-Radcliffe Christian Fellowship.

Similarly, the editor of the Christian journal Harvard Ichthus, Jordan L. Hylden ’06, argued that renaming the tree did not advance the goal of inclusivity.

“We should be celebrating our religious diversity, instead of covering it up with bland inanities about ‘holiday trees,’” Hylden said.

On the other hand, the president of the Harvard Secular Society, Matthew R. George ’07, said he’s “all for keeping religious displays off of public property.”

“A move towards secularizing holiday displays is all right with me,” George said.

Reuters reported that several Boston residents voiced their dismay over the renaming of the tree on the city-run website promoting the Dec. 1 “Official Holiday Tree Lighting.”

According to the Boston Globe, Menino tried to distance himself from the effort to rename the tree, saying that he would continue to call the Nova Scotia spruce a “Christmas tree” regardless of the official name given by the Boston Department of Parks and Recreation.

“I grew up with a Christmas tree, I’m going to stay with a Christmas tree,” Menino told the Boston Globe on Thursday.

The Nova Scotia logger, Donnie Hatt, who felled the 48-foot tree was also upset about the name change, saying that he would not have cut down the tree had he known it was not going to be called a “Christmas tree.”

“I’d have cut it down and put it through the chipper,” Hatt told the Halifax Herald. “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.”

“Boston should just put ‘Return to Sender’ on it because we sent it as a Christmas tree, not a holiday tree,” Hatt said.

Nova Scotia Premier John Hamm has also joined in the debate.

During a trip to Calgary, Hamm was asked to speak on the situation, since the province of Nova Scotia donated the tree to Boston.

“When it left Nova Scotia, it was a Christmas tree,” Hamm said, according to the Toronto Globe and Mail.

The tensions surrounding the tree this year have cast a shadow over a tradition between Boston and Canada.

For the past 34 years, Nova Scotia has sent a carefully-selected tree to Boston as a gesture of gratitude for the help that Boston gave to Halifax—the capital of Nova Scotia—in the aftermath of a December 1917 explosion of two ships near the port of Halifax that killed and injured thousands of citizens.