Philly’s ‘Holiday Tree’ Name Lives On, as Other Cities Drop the Silliness

Call me petty when it comes to criticizing political correctness, but when I heard that my city of Philadelphia was calling the 65-foot tall 2018 spruce decorated with 4,000 LED lights and 50 ornaments on the north side of City Hall a “Holiday Tree” I shook my head in disbelief. Even this year’s tree lighting ceremony, which I did not attend, was more “Christmas neutral” than the lighting ceremonies in the past. Accompanying music this year included “Let It Snow,” but in 2017 or 2016 it was “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.”

A Facebook acquaintance who told me that I shouldn’t be concerned about little things like this received this quote by Blaise Pascal in response: “Little things console us because little things afflict us.”

Several years ago the Philadelphia Museum of Art began calling their outdoor annual Christmas tree a "Holiday Tree.” The use of the word “holiday” of course raises the question: Which holiday? But how can one answer if one is not “allowed” to call the holiday by name, which of course is Christmas? “Holiday” in its most generic wide umbrella definition might be said to include all holidays celebrated at that time: Hanukkah, as well as the new kid on the block, Kwanzaa.

But Hanukkah and Kwanzaa already have their special symbols, and in fact they are called by their true names. Say it loud and say it proud! It is only Christmas that is being denuded and stripped of its special character; its birthright name by which it should be called.

But here’s the rub: You mention anything about an “assault on Christmas” and you are regarded as a fanatical Christian conspiracy theory nut who belongs right up there with Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. They also love to remind you of the Christmas tree’s pagan roots, to which I always respond: “So what? The nuns were honest enough to teach that to us in grade school.”

Words are important; names are important. Often when you change the name of something you change its meaning. In 2010 the word “Christmas” was removed from the signs at the annual holiday market on Philadelphia’s Dilworth Plaza. Amid protests and cries of foul play, then-Mayor Michael Nutter wisely reinstated the Christmas signs in 2013.

Philadelphia started renaming its Christmas Tree a “Holiday Tree” in 2014. Mayor Kenney was elected in 2015, and that put a seal on the enshrinement of the word “holiday.” On the national front, President Obama, in his last year in office (2016), announced that the White House Christmas Tree would be called a “Holiday Tree” and that religious-themed ornaments were forbidden. President Trump, to his credit, reversed that in spades. In the White House this year there are probably more Christmas trees than at any time in history.

Why all the fuss about Christmas trees, anyway? After all, December 25 is listed as a federal holiday: Christmas Day.   

The National Christmas Tree in Washington has been called a Christmas Tree since the tradition began in 1923. However, there’s the story of another Christmas Tree on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol that was always known as the “Capitol Christmas Tree” until the late 1990s, when the name was changed to “Holiday tTree.” In 2014, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert changed the name back to the “Capitol Christmas Tree.” At the time, the Washington Times reported: “The speaker believes a Christmas tree is a Christmas tree, and it is as simple as that.”

The newspaper also reported that the Capitol tree was renamed a “Holiday Tree” in an effort to acknowledge the other holidays of Kwanzaa and Hanukkah -- “although no one seemed to know exactly when the name was changed or by whom. Insidious interlopers, that’s who.

In Philadelphia’s older and wiser sister city, Boston, religious diversity operatives (the Department of Parks and Recreation) renamed that city’s giant Christmas tree on the Boston Common a “Holiday Tree” in 2005, and all hell broke loose. Leave it to those teabagger Bostonians to take a stand, unlike, say, Philadelphians, who don’t seem to care a whit about who renames their annual tree or even what name it’s given.

After The Harvard Crimson reported the change, debates were common all over Boston over the role of religion in municipal holiday celebrations. Boston’s Mayor Thomas Menino announced that he objected to the change enacted by the Department of Parks and Recreation. Menino said that he would continue to call the Nova Scotia spruce a “Christmas tree” regardless of the name change. “I grew up with a Christmas tree, I’m going to stay with a Christmas tree,” he said. Harvard’s Christian community also got into the act, calling the name “holiday tree” ridiculous and maintaining that December 25 is “not some general feel-good day of celebration.” Others chimed in and stated that the name change did not advance the goal of inclusivity.

Now, if only Philadelphia had a mayor who wasn’t afraid to stand up to political correctness.

The best comment regarding the 2005 Boston tree came from the Nova Scotia logger who cut the tree down in the first place. The Crimson reported: “Donnie Hatt, who felled the 48-foot tree was also upset about the name change, saying that he would not have cut down the tree had he known it was not going to be called a 'Christmas tree.'”

“I’d have cut it down and put it through the chipper,” Hatt told the Halifax Herald. “If they decide it should be a holiday tree, I’ll tell them to send it back. If it was a holiday tree, you might as well put it up at Easter.”

No matter what city you live in, it’s never too late to get the name “Holiday Tree” changed back to Christmas Tree again. If it can happen in Boston, it can happen anywhere, even in Philadelphia. But for this to occur it’s going to take effort on the part of city residents to stop feeling embarrassed about the issue, as if caring about it was somehow indicative of a little mind an inch or so away from religious fanaticism. Philadelphians and others have only to look at the state of California to know that you can keep the name Christmas and still have a state government on the cutting edge of all things progressive, pseudo-Marxist, and politically correct.

In California, on December 6, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. -- America’s version of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau -- teamed up with his wife, First Lady Anne Gust Brown, to light up the state’s 87th Annual Capitol Christmas Tree.

Shocking but true, that’s Christmas as in Christmas.