Controversy Lit in Boston Over 'Holiday' Tree Change

A controversy was sparked in Boston after a giant “holiday tree” replaced a "Christmas tree" this year for the city’s “official holiday tree lighting,” prompting conservative Christian lawyers to press for the name to be changed back.

The name was changed just before the city’s tree lighting ceremony on Dec. 1. The matter was brought to the attention of city officials by Dr. Jerry Falwell and the Liberty Counsel, a Christian legal group that had vowed to take legal action against the spreading of “misinformation” to city and government officials.

“There’s been a concerted effort to steal Christmas,” Falwell told Fox television.

The controversy represents the concern which cities around the country have faced over the possibility of being sued when publicly-funded displays at the year’s end come under scrutiny over first amendment and church-state implications.

When the name change in Boston was first made known to the donors of the tree, they said they would have preferred that the city not take it in the first place.

“My family donated a Christmas tree. If Boston wants to call it something else, maybe they should send it back,” said Donnie Hatt, according to the Chronicle Herald of Nova Scotia.

Boston should “just put Return to Sender on it because we sent it as a Christmas tree, not a holiday tree,” he said.

For the past 34 years, Nova Scotia in Canada has donated a Christmas tree to Boston in thanks for its help following a 1917 tragedy known as the Halifax Explosion where two ships collided, setting off volatile materials that damaged much of the city. Hatts’ 14-meter tree had been in his front yard, growing for the past 36 years.

Liberty Counsel President and General Counsel Mathew Staver, who is running a campaign called the "Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign," took up the matter and appeared on various television programs to get his view across that Christmas should be respected.

“"We want to educate people that it’s OK to say Christmas, that it’s not a four-letter word," Staver told the Nova Scotia Herald.

Boston parks commissioner Toni Pollak said that the term “holiday” was being used because it was more inclusive.

“Liberty Counsel's Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign is designed to educate about the constitutionality of Christmas and to defend against threats to Christmas,” wrote Staver in a statement released by Liberty Counsel.

“When education does not resolve the matter, we will go to court.”