Thursday, December 01, 2005

Oh C/h/r/I/s/t/m/a/s/ errr, F/e/s/t/i/v/u/s/ uhhh H/o/l/i/d/a/y/ ummm, Seasonal Tree

There has been a bit of a scuffle, in print, this year, with various commentators making hay/noise/lathering-at-the-mouth about some supposed plot to "kill Christmas."

There is the usual complaints about some areas not allowing crèche to be put up on taxpayer-funded properties.

Blog and journal entries about how terrible McDonald's is, over an apparently apocryphal policy of having employees say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Marry Christmas."(I say apparently apocryphal, because when I got my juice&McMuffin special the other morning the drive-in lady wished me "Merry Christmas" instead of "happy holidays")

A *certified* apocryphal tale about how the USPS is supposedly out to discredit "Christian Christmas" because they didn't have 2005-issue Madonna & Child stamps (no, they don't have 2005-issue Madonna stamps because they still have 2004-issue Madonna stamps left, and won't print a new issue until they run out of what they have)

And the free-fire zones around what to call municipal celebratory trees -- such as the one in Boston, that the City Fathers have decided to call the "Holiday Tree" instead of the 'Christmas Tree" this year. And I can just see someone trying to claim that Boston is some hotbed of atheism and anti-religious and anti-Christian action, considering the wealth of Irish-Catholic, Italian-Catholic, Polish-Catholic, Vietnamese-Catholic, //fill in the nation//-Catholic, Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Baptist and, well, Congregational congregations. (the logger who cut the thing is now claiming he wouldn't have sold it to the city if he knew it wouldn't be called a "Christmas tree." Oh well, There Are Other Loggers)

Part of the theatre this year is (where else?) in Washington DC, where there are two trees of note - in the White House itself and on the ellipse between the Senate and House of Representatives.

Today's NY Times has a short piece about it ("Three Trees, but Only One Star?" -- the "third tree" refers to the one in New York City's Rockefella Plaza, where the "architects" involved always conspire to light theirs the night *before* either of the Washington trees)

On the White House Tree:

The National Christmas Tree is elaborately decorated and lighted by General Electric Co. There are snowflakes, a giant model train and singers, dancers, movie stars and TV personalities.

The event has evolved since the first tree was decorated in 1913. The lighting became a presidential ceremony in 1923, when White House aides told a somewhat reclusive Calvin Coolidge they couldn't afford an extension cord that would reach from the tree to his office

On the Congressional Tree:

In the 1960s, Congress decided it was time for a Capitol tree. After several failed attempts to cultivate live trees, the U.S. Forest Service delivered a 40-foot Norway spruce from West Virginia in 1970, giving birth to an annual tradition.

The Capitol tree comes from a different national forest every year, and states jockey to donate. They form fundraising committees and throw fundraising galas, in the manner of political campaigns.


The Capitol tree is decorated with thousands of handcrafted ornaments made by students and artists. Home-state politicians surround it during the lighting ceremony.

"I think the tree is the people's tree; it complements the other tree by the White House," said Eva Malecki, spokeswoman for the Architect of the Capitol, the office responsible for the tree. "I think of the White House tree as the one in your formal living room. Then the Capitol tree is the one in your family room, with the ornaments you made."

Paul Pincus, a former chief Capitol landscaper and the tree's steward until his retirement in 1995, had a less flattering comparison: "The feeling, the emotion that goes into the Capitol tree is something really special. That other tree, some decorator does that tree; there's nothing personal about it. It looks like it could be in any shopping mall."

There has been some disagreement, over the years, about which tree in DC should be first energized -- the one in the White House or the one on the Ellipse. During the Reagan years Tip O'Neil (Speaker of the House 1975-1987). used to have the congressional tree lit before the White House tree. These days, with the House, Senate and White House under GOP occupation, the White House tree gets primacy (the Congressional tree will be lit up on THursday, 12/8/05).

As for "naming" the tree,

But there is always room for adjustment. In the early 1990s, the Capitol tree became known officially as the "Capitol Holiday Tree," a nod to non-Christians. Pincus said he was proud that there were no angels on top of the tree -- it was festive but nondenominational.

"We got lots of letters back then from people who thought it should be called the holiday tree, simple as that," said Pincus.

Not this year. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) wrote a letter to the architect of the Capitol asking that the tree be renamed the Capitol Christmas Tree, and the architect obliged.

"The speaker wanted the name changed to reflect what it is -- a Christmas tree," said Hastert's spokesman, Ron Bonjean. "The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive."

Over on the Ellipse, supporters of the White House tree said they approved of the name change. As long as it is not lighted first.

I wonder, just *how* did the nation's congress *survive* without a "Christmas tree" for a decade?

Shocking, just shocking, I say.

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