Season’s greetings. Happy Hanukkah. Merry Christmas. Joyous Kwanzaa. Boxing Day wishes. Solstice greetings.
Tis the season for goodwill and holiday greetings. But, as legal columnist Andrew Myers points out in this week’s About the Law, it’s also the time for silly lawsuits over First Amendment challenges to public holiday displays.
The arguments over politically correct displays in town parks, in front of municipally owned buildings and in school hallways grow tiresome.
Political leaders, including Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, are taking some heat for referring to the towering evergreens found in many Statehouse rotundas as “holiday trees.” Chafee deflected criticism by saying he was only following “tradition,” established by those who preceded him in the governor’s office.
What exactly is a holiday tree? No other December holiday focuses on a tree, nor even includes one as part of traditional celebrations. So, a Christmas tree becomes a holiday tree to represent what exactly?
For more than 500 years, there have been Christmas trees. Noticed any Hanukkah tree sales? Wiccan solstice branch lots? To paraphrase Gertrude Stein, a Christmas tree is a Christmas tree is a Christmas tree. Either don’t put one up or call it what it is. This holiday tree nonsense is simply that.
There are no Hanukkah bush lighting ceremonies in Rockefeller Plaza, no Kwanzaa orange atop the White House Christmas tree.
If a town fire department wants to string holiday lights on its front-yard tree, why not? If local Jews want to put an oversized menorah on the town green, why stop them? What possible offense can a symbol of the season cause? And if, as no doubt some will be quick to respond, it does, look the other way, turn the other cheek.
In schools, the issue of December holidays gets about as sticky as a half-eaten candy cane. Schools should not assume every child’s family celebrates the same holidays and in the same way.