Fergus Falls Debates the Christmas Tree

News that Fergus Falls will hold a community Christmas tree lighting ceremony on the evening after Thanksgiving Day has switched on an interesting little debate on The Journal’s web site.

The topic at hand isn’t really whether the community tree lighting is a good idea. Most seem to think it is a fine plan, a good opportunity for people to come together to kick off the holiday season. Rather, the debate raises the question of whether the tree should be called a Christmas tree, a question that city council member Rick Wilson raised when the lighting ceremony was discussed at a meeting earlier this week, noting that, “We need to be respectful of what it’s called.”

That gets to one of the sillier and more extreme questions about the separation of church and state, one that has gained steam over the last 10 years or so in the name of tolerance.

The question, basically, is whether we can still have Christmas anyplace except in the privacy of our homes.

For fear of offending those who either don’t believe in the Christian holiday, who are extremists about church and state separation or who just like to make trouble, many organizations — from schools to retail stores to manufacturers to city hall — have taken Christmas out of the holiday season. Instead of preparing for Christmas during that period between Thanksgiving and, er, Christmas, we are now just celebrating The Holidays.

It is an example of political correctness taken to extremes, an exercise in national amnesia that would be hilariously funny if it wasn’t so dangerous.

Dangerous? Yep. The reality is that the holiday season, the run-up to Christmas, is based on a religious event, the most important event of the year — or second-most, depending on how you rank Christmas and Easter — for those who practice the nation’s dominant religion, Christianity. The holidays are about Christmas. Always have been.

Taking Christmas out of the holidays is like celebrating a birthday without admitting that anyone has gotten a year older.

Taking Christmas out of the holidays removes almost entirely the reason for the season. There is seldom enough recognition that the pre-Christmas weeks are the season of Advent, a time of mental preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Those who choose not to believe, or who follow a different course, should be absolutely free to chart their own path without discrimination. But for the majority of professing Christians, taking Christ out of Christmas, and Christmas out of The Holidays, is just plain wrong.

Part of the problem, of course, is in the American desire to sell, sell, sell. Calling the season The Holidays makes it OK for people of any and all religions to celebrate the season by buying lots and lots of gifts for each other. And, of course, the other big key to selling is to never offend a customer.

There is also a church-and-state issue, although it is one that tends to fall apart on closer inspection. In allowing people to express their religion, government is in no way forcing anybody to accept or adopt a religious practice they don’t like. Don’t care for a Christmas tree lighting ceremony? Stay home. Or if there are enough who want the city to hold a ceremony for another religion’s holiday, go ahead and ask for it.

The reality, though, is that Fergus Falls is a predominantly Christian community, and lighting a Christmas tree is nothing more than a recognition of that fact. To fail to call the tree a Christmas tree is giving in to the tyranny of the minority, a situation in which we take democracy to such an extreme that one dissenting voice can stop anything.

There is nothing wrong with calling a Christmas tree a Christmas tree. And there is a great deal about doing so that is right. I hope we can recognize reality here in Fergus Falls on Nov. 23.

By Dave Churchill, Fergus Falls Journal Online — 10/5/07

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