Tree Provokes Controversy

Winthrop House Divided Over Funding Holiday Celebrations

Call it a "holiday tree," an "X-mas tree," or any non-denominational name you'd like, but the 11-foot evergreen standing adorned at the head of the Winthrop House dining hall has become the center of a religious controversy.

In what Winthrop resident Peter S. Galatin '95 called a "glaring inconsistency," Winthrop House Committee members refused to fund a Hanukkah party in order to avoid endorsing one particular religion, but subsequently bought and put up a Christmas tree earlier this month.

Kristin M. Galanek '95, the newly elected committee co-chair, defended the tree as a holiday symbol. "From my point of view, the Hanukkah party had the explicit purpose of being a religious party," she said. "The tree was kind of secular. There is no religious element about it."

"The reason we have a tree is that it's just sort of a fact of American life and culture," Andrew J. Middleditch '95 said. "It is secularized to a great extent, although I don't think that one can separate it from religion."

But many Winthrop residents are unconvinced.


"Many people want to say [the tree] is divorced from Christianity," Galatin said. "But it's a very Christian symbol."

"It's alienating for students who don't have a Christian background," Daniel H. Nexon '95 said. "We should view Harvard as a secular institution."

Galatin said he wonders whether taking the "Hanukkah" out of his proposed party might have changed matters.

"If I had called the Hanukkah party a `Holiday-General-In-Mirth' party, would I have gotten money?" Galatin said.

Newly elected house Treasurer Arzhang Kamarej '95 said the incoming house committee's policy will be to consider funding for any event proposed to the committee, regardless of religious affiliation.

"Instead of not celebrating anyone's religion,we should make funds available for celebratingeveryone's religion," Kamarei said.

Though the tree is a religious symbol, "it'sreally important to make a distinction betweenofficial religion and popular religion," he said.

"It's nowhere written in the Bible that youshould get a tree and decorate it," said Kamarei,an agnostic of Muslim origins. "There are lots ofMuslim celebrations not written in the Koran.They're part of popular religion."

Though other house residents interviewed saidthey were aware of the controversy, they weresomewhat indifferent to the issue.

"No one really cares," Richard J. Beukema '95said.

But Winthrop's struggles with coordinatingdifferent religions during the holiday season arenot unique, Dunster House Committee Co-chairElizabeth A. Cotter '94 said.

The Dunster House Committee debated extensivelybefore moving to place both a Christmas tree and amenorah in its dining hall, Cotter said.

Leverett House Tutor John H. Howe said he hasraised the question of Harvard's holidaycelebrations with house residents, most of whomdidn't seem to care about the issue.

"You have a university that wants to bemulticultural, but Christianity kind of takesover, especially this time of year," Howe said