The Interim

For years, the centerpiece of a beautiful Christmas display on Boston Common has been a majestic Christmas tree from Nova Scotia, a thank you gift for Boston’s outstanding help in the wake of the devastating Halifax Explosion in 1917. The lighting of the “official Christmas tree” on Dec. 1 has come to mark the traditional start of Boston’s Christmas season.

This year, the mayor’s office announced in a press release that it would be called a holiday tree, not a Christmas tree – less offensive, more inclusive.

At once, the Orlando-based Liberty Counsel criticized the secularization of the holiday. It has threatened to sue any city or school district that attempts to secularize Christmas. Its Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign has the backing of evangelical Christian preacher Jerry Falwell.

“We want to educate people that it’s okay to say Christmas, that it’s not a four-letter word,” says Mathew Staver, the group’s president and general counsel.

In Nova Scotia, tree donor Donnie Hatt said, “We sent it as a Christmas tree, not a holiday tree.” Calling the decision “a bunch of bullcrap,” he declared he would have fed the 36-year-old white spruce to the wood chipper, had he known it would be misnamed.

When contacted by a barrage of U.S. television and radio stations and newspapers, he suggested Boston should just put “Return to Sender” on it.

But Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, perhaps sensing an international incident in the making, quickly began insisting, ‘’I consider this to be a Christmas tree.” On official lighting day, in front of thousands of people, he again called it a Christmas tree.

In the meantime, back in Nova Scotia, the town council of Oxford unanimously passed a motion by Deputy Mayor Leonard Allen, proclaiming that the entire month of December should be referred to as the “Christmas season,” because the holiday originated from the birth of Jesus Christ.

Allen says he only wants Christmas to be Christmas.

“The word Christmas seems to be disappearing. I don’t see the need to change the name to ‘holiday season’ or ‘mid-winter break’ to make it politically correct. We have a right to celebrate things as they are,” he says.

Non-Christians still have the right to celebrate their religion in their own way, he adds.

Allen says he hopes other towns will follow suit. He’d also like schools to go back to calling their holiday concerts “Christmas concerts.”