GLOVER COLUMN: Christmas trees are now controversial?

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 2, 2007

The holidays are quickly approaching. It is a time traditionally held for family and friends and even good will towards others. But, oh, how the times are changing.

Christmas has turned into a farce. Commercialism has run rampant and taken much of the innocence and camaraderie from the holiday and turned it into an &8220;I want&8221; holiday.

This has been going on for years and will continue, I am sure, in years to come. I will find a way to live with it, I guess. But that is not the worst of it; what is really riling my feathers is the sudden outcry by some religious groups against Christmas trees.

Email newsletter signup

There is absolutely nothing even vaguely religious about Christmas trees other than their name and, possibly, some decorations that religious people choose to adorn them with. Yet a rabbi, Elazar Bogomilsky, in Seattle has insisted that the Seattle&045;Tacoma International Airport install an electric, seven-foot menorah to balance out the effects of the Christmas tree display in the airport’s lobby.

My first response to this is what kind of religious leader would be so crass as to compare a Christmas tree to a menorah?

Would a theological scholar not be informed enough to know that the Christmas tree doesn’t quite hold the religious relevance to any sect that a menorah does?

Maybe he needs to do a little research. I did.

According to the National Christmas Trees Association, evergreens were first used to symbolize life during celebrations held during the winter solstice in ancient Roman and Egyptian times. The practice was then adopted over many years by Germanic tribes under Roman rule and incorporated into their Christmas celebrations.

The association said the first recorded display of a decorated Christmas tree was in Latvia in 1510. This indicates to me that maybe a Christmas tree isn’t quite as crucial to the Christian holiday as, say, a manger scene or, say, a menorah might be to the Jewish Hanukah holiday.

In fact, the association says that Christmas trees were first brought to America by Hessian soldiers (German mercenaries for those who aren’t up to date on their history) during the American Revolution, circa 1777. The first recorded Christmas tree lot in the United States wasn’t started until 1851 in New York, and the first appearance of a Christmas tree in the White House was in 1856 during Franklin Pierce’s administration.

It appears to me that any correlation that Christmas trees have to the Christian religious holiday can only be of the loosest association. It seems to me that Christmas trees have fallen into the grey zone of the Christmas holiday that includes Santa and his reindeer and the gift-giving, corporation-driven side of the holiday.

Christmas trees are so loosely associated with the holiday that there are quite a few Christians who feel that it and the Santa side of the holiday should not be celebrated with the religious festivities. Christmas trees are also incorporated with the Christmas season celebrated by atheists and agnostics in the United States, so it is not a symbol of the season exclusive to the Christian religion.

This brings me back to my point. How does a religious scholar not know this background? Well, it isn’t a part of his religion, but one would think that a religious leader before leading a crusade against something as insignificant as Christmas trees erected in an airport for decorations would check in on the background of the symbol he is fighting against.

Maybe this whole thing is just a way for the rabbi to get into the news and maybe bring a little publicity to Hanukkah. Bogomilsky said he didn’t want this to blow up into such a media whirlwind as it has been, but that begs another question.

Why start this crusade if you didn’t want attention? Did Bogomilsky not realize that his comparison of a menorah to a Christmas tree would raise eyebrows?

Maybe this is yet another example of the public looking for things to whine about. Are Christmas tree displays the biggest issue that Bogomilsky has to get excited about? I definitely could think of a few things in this nation that need to be rectified a lot more than a non-secular Christmas tree display that I might find as a slight on my religion.

Brandon Glover is a staff writer for The Times. He can be reached at (334) 289-4017 or by e-mail to