Environmental Group Wants to Replace Rockefeller Christmas Tree

story_lrgimage_2010_04_R5963_Midtown_Petition_Against_Rockefeller_Christmas_TreWhat’s more green than a Christmas tree? Not cutting it down in the first place, says a pro-environment group petitioning Rockefeller Center to end its holiday tree-lighting ceremony.

The group, Save a Giant Tree, hopes to collect 10,000 signatures to persuade Rockefeller Center management to replace the tree with artwork fashioned from recycled materials.

“We want to see something that of course does justice to the holiday season — but it doesn’t have to be a dead tree,” said Jennifer Knox, who started the group last December when she saw a 70-year-old, 76-foot Norway spruce being trucked into Rockefeller Center.

“The act of cutting down a tree of that size is just ludicrous,” Knox said.

Instead of placing an old tree in the traditional spot above the skating rink, Knox said organizers could display a green sculpture comparable to Jeff Koons’s “Puppy” topiary, which was a popular hit when it went on exhibit at Rockefeller Center in 2000.

A light display, similar to those of Hong Kong and Madrid, could also celebrate the season without cutting down a tree, she said.

The group has so far collected 200 signatures.

While organizers listen to the concerns of environmental groups, the tree is the centerpiece of the season and a longstanding tradition, said Keith Douglas, senior director of sales and marketing at Rockefeller Center.

“There is thought that goes into it and we’re trying to be as sensitive as we possibly can,” Douglas said.

Organizers, who do not pay for the trees, look for Norway Spruces are older and in unusual circumstances, he said. Crews also re-forest homeowner’s yards after the trees are taken away.

Last year’s tree was donated by Connecticut homeowner Maria Corti, who was going to have to cut down the tree in her front yard because the roots were interfering with her septic system, Douglas said.

At the end of the last holiday season, the tree trunk was donated to Habitat for Humanity to be used as lumber in building a home for a Connecticut family, The New York Times reported.

Branches from the tree were turned into mulch and donated to the Central Park Zoo, Boy Scouts of America and other organizations.

In recent years, the event designers have switched to LED lights, and installed solar panels above 45 Rockefeller Center in order to power up the display off the New York City electrical grid.

“It really is the kickoff to the holiday season and we’re very proud of that,” Douglas said of the display.

The efforts to green the Christmas tree exhbit encourage Knox that an even bigger step is possible.

“Traditions change when the resources around them change,” she said.

Forced Christmas Music Measure Dies in California

Californians apparently weren’t feeling the Christmas spirit during Merry Susan Hyatt’s five-month carol initiative signature collection effort.

The measure failed Friday when the final signature count turned out to be only half a percent of the required 433,971, according to the secretary of state’s office. In all, 2,176 signatures were collected in California between Nov. 2 and March 29.

Hyatt is a retired substitute teacher from Riverside who now lives in Redding. She announced her initiative drive in November, saying schools needed to provide children with the opportunity to listen to Christmas carols during the Christmas season.

Hyatt, who wouldn’t give her age, said it didn’t make sense to celebrate the birthday of Jesus without inviting him to the party, and she believed bringing Jesus back into the classroom was the only way to curb violence among children.

The initiative would have forced schools to provide children the opportunity to listen to or perform Christmas carols and would have subjected the schools to litigation if the rule wasn’t followed.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, along with other similar groups, opposed the measure and said it was blatantly unconstitutional.

In December, Hyatt joined forces with the Redding Tea Party Patriots to enhance signature-collecting efforts.

“Unfortunately, I think we got involved too late,” said Tea Party Patriots President Erin Ryan of Redding.

Hyatt said it was difficult finding people in other counties willing to partner with her. She said she thinks having paid signature collectors would have helped as well.

“I think you need to pay people because I had volunteers, and I’d call them and they wouldn’t have anything,” she said.

Hyatt said she is disappointed but won’t try again next year.

Is Christmas Next?

A federal judge in Wisconsin has declared that the 50-year standing tradition of a National Day of Prayer violates the “establishment clause” of the First Amendment which creates a separation of church and state.

“I understand that many may disagree with that conclusion and some may even view it as a criticism of prayer or those who pray,” Crabb said in her opinion. “That is unfortunate. A determination that the government may not endorse a religious message is not a determination that the message itself is harmful, unimportant or undeserving of dissemination.”

The opinion comes in a case filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based group of self-described “atheists” and “agnostics.”

You can bet that this will be appealed to the Supreme Court and, if it loses, the Freedom From Religion Foundation will then sue to ban Christmas as a Federal holiday.