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Controversy Cuts Down on Christmas Tree Displays

  • Ted Landphair

This ornament depicting three kings, or wise men — said to have journeyed to behold the newborn Jesus — would be banned as too religious in some places

This ornament depicting three kings, or wise men — said to have journeyed to behold the newborn Jesus — would be banned as too religious in some places

Officials who planned the Climate Summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, determined that Christmas is, almost by definition, a religious holiday. And Christmas trees, which Denmark grows and exports by the millions, are religious symbols.

So they ruled that fir trees in the vicinity of the summit meetings must go undecorated.

The Danes are by no means alone in this viewpoint. An entire Florida county and several U.S. schools have banned decorated trees from public spaces. The architect of the United States Capitol instructed children in Arizona who were making ornaments for this year's Christmas tree in the nation's capitol, that none could have a religious theme. That office later relented, and the tree now includes one that wishes happy birthday to the child who Christians believe was the son of God.

The soaring U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree has drawn criticism — not for its beauty, but for what some feel is its religious symbolism

The soaring U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree has drawn criticism — not for its beauty, but for what some feel is its religious symbolism

While the spectacular tree that's hoisted on the grass behind the White House each holiday season is still called the National Christmas Tree, presidents starting with Jimmy Carter, who was a Southern Baptist Sunday school teacher, have also hosted Hannukah parties and lit a National Menorah, the candelabrum that symbolizes Judaism.

At the lighting of the National Christmas Tree this year, President Obama referred obliquely to the birth of Christ as the story of a child born far from home to parents guided only by faith.

But he added that it was a story that reflects what he called a tradition that has come to represent more than any one holiday or religion, but a season of brotherhood and generosity.

By most accounts, the Christmas tree which is called O Tannenbaum in a German song, sprang from pagan roots. But with or without religious ornaments on a Christmas tree's boughs, the star atop the Capitol, White House, and millions of other such trees remains a clear reference to the star of wonder, star of night that, Christians believe, guided shepherds and kings to the birthplace of Jesus Christ more than 2,000 years ago.

Read more of Ted's personal reflections and stories from the road on his blog, Ted Landphair's America.

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