A few years ago I asked; “What looks like a Christmas tree, smells like a Christmas tree, and is decorated like a Christmas tree but isn’t a Christmas tree?”
From 2008 until 2011, the Wisconsin State Capitol displayed a tree from the Friday after Thanksgiving through the New Year. Decorated with lights and ornaments, the tall balsam fir was labeled the “Capitol Tree”. Prior to 2008, the tree was referred to as the “Holiday Tree”.
On Nov. 6, 2013, Gov. Scott Walker issued a press release announcing this year’s theme for the Capitol Christmas Tree would be “Wisconsin Traditions.”
Governor Walker wasn’t the only elected leader referencing the official tree as a Christmas tree. Fox6NOW.com quoted Mayor Tom Barrett’s invitation to attend Milwaukee’s historic 100th Anniversary Christmas tree lighting.
“I hope all of Milwaukee will join us on November 20th as we light the 100th annual Christmas tree,” said Mayor Barrett. “Our tradition dates back to 1913, and on Wednesday we begin another century of marking the holidays in this special way.”
In fact, on December 6th, 2013, the White House Blog posted President Obama’s plan to participate in “the lighting of the National Christmas Tree.”
With 95 percent of Americans celebrating Christmas each year (Gallup Polls December 24, 2010), 68 percent of them prefer “Merry Christmas” over “Happy Holidays” (Rasmussen Reports survey November 2012).
As named, the “Capitol Christmas Tree,” is consistent with the United States Supreme Court’s position that government can sponsor displays of religious heritage (Lynch v. Donnelly, 1984). The celebration of Christmas, which has included the traditional Christmas tree for several hundred years, is definitely a part of our heritage.
Wisconsin however, is not promoting any one religion. During the month of December, the capitol’s first floor rotunda hosts displays ranging from the Chanukah Menorah Display to various Nativity Scenes.
According to a Department of Administration spokesperson, the only parameters for the scenes are space. Groups are granted permits according to the order in which they were requested. Obscene displays are prohibited.
Even the group against any sort of religion – the Freedom from Religion Foundation- put up an anti-religion display. Their display and plaque will appear alongside a Nativity Scene through the end of December.
On its descriptive plaque, the beautifully decorated tree gracing the capitol rotunda is referred as the 2013 State Capitol Christmas Tree. Referencing the tree in the state capitol as a Christmas tree is reasonable and consistent with the majority of Wisconsinite’s values and traditions.