Rift Grows Between Iceland and Norway Over Christmas Tree

Rift Grows Between Iceland and Norway Over Christmas Tree

A proposal from Oslo’s mayor to stop sending an annual Christmas tree to Reykjavik has sparked a furious reaction from Icelanders, many of whom have interpreted the move as a calculated snub.

“Fabian Stang, you have insulted an entire nation,” Tomas Frosti Sæmundsson, an Icelander living in Norway, wrote on the website of Norway’s Aftenposten newspaper. “I suggest you shove the tree up your whatever.”

Oslo Mayor Fabian Stang this month wrote to his Reykjavík counterpart Jon Gnarr suggesting that the 50-year-old tradition should be brought to an end and that instead of shipping a Christmas tree, Oslo should instead pay for one to be felled on Iceland itself.

“It is more environmentally friendly than transporting it over a long distance and the pine could be damaged during the long journey across the ocean,” Stang argued in an article in Iceland’s Morgunbladid newspaper.

However, the proposal triggered a somewhat frosty reaction from Gnarr.

“Sad. But what has Iceland ever done for Norway?” the mayor, a former punk musician, wrote on his Facebook page. “Well, we wrote their story and Heimskringla was the foundation for the independence of Norway in 1905. But who cares about some old books anyway?”

Stang’s press spokesman Rune Dahl told The Local that Oslo’s intentions had been misinterpreted in the light of the breakdown of talks between Iceland and Norway over mackerel quotas in March.

“Some mistook this as a political gesture: first we can’t agree to a mackerel quota and then we stopped sending the tree, and I think this and the upcoming election has been mixed together as a very strange view,” he told The Local. “People in Iceland have taken it personally, and the mayor in Reykjavik hasn’t done much to dampen the public anger.”

Dahl estimates that ending the tradition would save the council around 900,000 kroner ($150,000).

“It’s really a strange tradition to cut down a tree and send it by sea to another country, and also for the last few years there’s been problems with the shipping company,” he said. “It’s a question of cost.”

Oslo also plans to end the even more expensive tradition of sending a tree to Rotterdam.

“It’s a nightmare to Rotterdam,” Dahl explained. “First the tree is shipped to London and offloaded. Last year the Christmas tree in Rotterdam looked like it had been on a three-week bender.”

It plans to continue shipping a tree to London, however.

“The London tree will continue to be a priority,” Dahl said. “It’s an important thing. Everyone knows that the tree comes from Oslo. I think there were 10,000 people at the lighting ceremony of the tree last year.”

    Wisconsin School District Sets New Christmas Music Policy

    Wisconsin School District Sets New Christmas Music Policy

    One of the most reported stories in the war on Christmas during 2013 has come to a quiet conclusion. The Wausau School District famously censored traditional Christmas carols resulting in the disbanding of school music groups and a huge community uproar over the issue last October. The school district superintendent came under intense scrutiny for a broad decision limiting religious-themed music from public concerts by school groups.

    After months of contentious and visible debate in the media locally and nationwide the Wausau School District finally decided on a policy that removes school administration from the decision process. Music teachers and the community will now collaborate on music selection.

    “It wasn’t so much an administration deciding,” said Board President Michelle Schaefer. “It was the music teachers planning and deciding and really making their own concerts.”

    A district-wide community board will also meet with music departments at least once a year to make sure everyone works together.

    Keep an eye tuned to this school district next season. The next time you hear “O Come All Ye Faithful” fall from the lips of a high school choir group you can bet a letter will be sent to the school district from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which is also based in Wisconsin.

      Christmas Displays Brings Charges of Harassment

      Christmas Displays Brings Charges of Harassment

      A Rockland, Massachusetts man says he is being wrongfully bullied by his town because he has a passion for Christmas and displaying blowmolds, Christmas lights and other festive decorations. A disgruntled neighbor, who happens to be the town collector, is reportedly behind the effort to fine the man repeatedly for running a business out of his home in retaliation for the holiday displays he puts up.

      Local newspaper The Enterprise shows David Balch in front of his Rockland home and tells the story of his journeys to bring new decor items into his collection. Those pieces he does not need or want he routinely sells to other collectors.

      Balch likens his hobby to occasionally holding a yard sale to clear out unwanted items and that it isn’t a business at all.

      But those claims have done little to prevent a town zoning enforcement officer from observing Balch’s transactions with those who visit him to purchase unwanted items. Twice Balch has been fined $300 for violating zoning regulations that ban businesses in residential areas.

      Balch contends it is all about the neighbor, Judy Hartigan, and has even set up a Facebook page detailing their long ongoing dispute. Additional photos of Balch’s display can be found on the Facebook page. Balch has lived in the home for over a decade and claims Hartigan has complained about his Christmas display many times. He feels he is being harassed by the town and that Hartigan is instigating it.

        Massachusetts School Committee Rejects Community Vote for Christmas

        Massachusetts School Committee Rejects Community Vote for Christmas

        The fight in Norwood, Massachusetts continues. Despite a vote of 76 percent in favor of calling the holiday vacation “Christmas Break” on school calendars the local school committee insists the name change will not happen. The referendum vote was non-binding and at a meeting this week the school committee rejected the call to acknowledge the vote, according to The Blaze.

        Courtney Rau Rogers, chairwoman of the School Committee and one of the three members who have repeatedly voted in favor of winter recess, said she is not budging on her stance. She said the school calendar is a simple document to tell when the school is in session, but it is not designed to promote any religious philosophy.

        “Christmas is still listed on our school calendar,” Rau Rogers said. “It’s a federal holiday. It’s just no longer the name of the break we have at the end of the calendar year,”

        She noted that 26 different languages are spoken in the schools and that the children belong to many different faiths. “To change this language back at this point in time becomes exclusionary and, whether deliberately or not, promotes one particular religious world view over all the others.”

        Rau Rogers also said that with just 18 percent voter turnout, the vote on the nonbinding referendum could hardly be considered overwhelming support for the measure.

        But committee member Paul Samargedlis, who has repeatedly voted in favor of Christmas recess, believes the board is obligated to listen to the people.

        “The way I look at it is simple: No one asked us to change the language in the first place,” he said. “There was no outcry. There was no one saying, ‘Change it.’ Some committee members took it upon themselves. But now the town has spoken pretty strongly in favor of changing it back.”

        There are many Christians who see a shift in language about Christmas — “holiday cards” and “holiday trees” are oft-cited examples — as evidence of a “War on Christmas.” The Norwood School Committee is no stranger to being drawn into that argument. Several years ago, it voted to remove a nativity scene from the lawn of Balch Elementary School in South Norwood.

        “We had a manger on that lawn for 70 to 80 years,” said Helen Abdallah Donohue, a town selectwoman who voted to put the nonbinding referendum on Monday’s ballot and supports returning to the original Christmas language. “We had 700 signatures in support of it and the whole town wanted it, but the School Committee voted against it. We had to give up on it.”

        Theresa McNulty, who has been the driving force behind the effort to persuade the committee to return to the original language, said that those who say the new language is more inclusive are using it as a cover.“They will say they wanted to do it for diversity, and all that kind of talk, but this is just part of the movement in our country to demote Christianity,” she said.

        Clearly this is yet ANOTHER case of a local school authority unfamiliar with the nature of Christmas as recognized by the U.S. Federal government. Christmas was never set up as a religious holiday in the United States. It came about way back in 1870 as an answer to federal workers’ complaints that they did not get the day off like their private sector counterparts did. In establishing the holiday the United States government established Christmas as a secular observance. That many hold it sacred just happens to be a coincidence that causes great confusion to this day.

          South Carolina Christmas Bill Advances

          South Carolina Christmas Bill Advances

          Another southern state has a Merry Christmas bill in the works. The South Carolina Education Committee advanced Tuesday a bill allowing schools to display scenes and symbols associated with winter holidays. The bill is intended to protect schools and other public institutions from being sued for displaying or acknowledging Christmas.

          Under the bill, a religious icon such as a nativity scene must be either paired with a secular symbol or grouped with at least one other religion’s symbol. Supporters say a Christmas tree qualifies as a secular.

          The bill also specifies that staff and students can greet each other with “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hanukah.”

          Rep. Bill Sandifer says his bill does not violate the separation of church and state. American Civil Liberties Union state director Victoria Middleton says she believes it does and calls the bill unnecessary.

          The bill is similar to the Merry Christmas Bill first passed in Texas last year and since adopted in various forms by several U.S. states.

          Oslo Ends the Tradition of Giving Christmas Trees

          Oslo Ends the Tradition of Giving Christmas Trees

          A big Bah-Humbug to the City of Oslo, Norway for ending a 60-year tradition of giving a tall Christmas tree to the city of Reykjavík in Iceland. Claiming it to be too expense and not-so-environmentally friendly the Oslo City Council points out that Iceland has grown so much in the past years that they finally have their own pine trees large enough to use as a Christmas tree.

          Every year since 1952, the City of Oslo, Norway has presented Reykjavik City with a huge Christmas tree for the festive period. The tree is always placed in the heart of downtown Reykjavik, and is ceremoniously lit every year on the first Sunday of the advent. Families gather to sing Christmas carols and join in the festivities, and a few Yule Lads usually make an appearance.

          The Austurvöllur Christmas tree is decorated with hundreds of individual white lights. The tree itself is traditionally 12 – 16 meters tall and the sight of it decorated in white light has become an iconic Reykjavík Christmas image.

          The festivities start with The Reykjavík Brass Band playing popular Christmas tunes. Before a representative of the city of Oslo formally gives the tree to the people of Reykjavík the Choir of the Reykjavík Cathedral sings Christmas carols and hymns. The lighting ceremony is traditionally attended by the Mayor of Reykjavík, formally announcing the arrival of the tree from the forests surrounding Oslo.

          Oslo has long been a giver of trees, carrying on similar traditions with the cities of Rotterdam and London. Rotterdam was notified that their tree will not be arriving this year either. But, for whatever reason, Oslo will continue sending a tree to London.

            Town Overrides School Board to Name Christmas Break

            Town Overrides School Board to Name Christmas Break

            It wasn’t even a close vote. 76 percent of voters in Norwood, Massachusetts said the school board was wrong to change the school calendars. The measure calls for the public school vacation week currently named “Winter Recess” to be renamed as “Christmas Recess.”

            The committee renamed the winter break period as “Winter Recess” two years ago. Jim Drummey and Theresa McNulty of Norwood were unhappy with the committee’s decision and led the push to get the resolution on the ballot after an effort to rename the vacation week failed in May of last year.

            “We think there is a movement in our country to demote Christianity and Christmas is the name of a Christian feast day,” McNulty told local media shortly before the vote.

            The current school calendar does not reference Christmas, only “Winter Recess.”

            “We’re not excluding anybody, of course you want diversity, of course you want to respect all religions, but the only one that’s getting disrespected right now is Christianity,” said Drummey.

            Norwood School Superintendent James Hayden downplayed the battle over the naming of the vacation week.

            “This is not a fight about Christmas. We acknowledge it. It’s about being representative for everyone. I hope we can get beyond being hung up on labels,” said Hayden.