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What’s that tree doing there?


Publication:Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date:Dec 22, 2011; Section:Opinion; Page Number:8A    

What’s that tree doing there?

The holiday display that shocked Madison

     What do you want for Christmas? I keep hoping Sally Forth and her family will stop fighting on the comics page. Reading about their ongoing family dysfunction reminds me too much of what is going on in Madison in the fight over Christmas.

    Gov. Scott Walker shocked the residents of Madison (I can hardly call them Madisonians) when he referred to the official holiday tree as, “the Christmas tree.” Apparently nobody in Madison knew what the tree was for, and that’s why they never bothered to oppose it.

    We could blame the schools. Surely there must have been some discussion of the historical nature of Christmas, even as an anthropological study. “And then those silly Christians cut down perfectly good trees, drag them into the house, and put lights on them. Sometimes they put a star or an angel on top of the tree.”

    “Teacher, why would they do that?”

    “The ACLU won’t let me tell you.”

    One can only wonder what the residents were thinking every year when Gov. Jim Doyle flipped the switch and lit the holiday tree.

    “Daddy, why is that man wasting the Earth’s precious natural resources lighting up that tree? And why did they cut it down?”

    “That’s Governor Doyle, and I’m not sure why. He said something about the ACLU preventing him from saying the real name of the tree.”

    “Is it like that sexist story, Rumpelstiltskin?”

    But year after year the holiday tree would make an appearance in Madison and apparently nobody knew why. It was a “holiday” tree and it offended no one.

    Then a new administration took office. In a press release, aimed at the youth of Wisconsin, Walker asked students from around the state to decorate ornaments for the Christmas tree that honored Wisconsin’s veterans.

    Gasp! A-a-a Christmas tree? Is that what it is?

    The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s Annie Laurie Gaylor, an unrepentant Grinch, a female Burgermeister Meisterburger, an unredeemed Ebenezer Scrooge, had this response, “It’s essentially a discourtesy by the governor to announce that. He intends that to be a slight and a snub to non-Christians, otherwise he would not do it.”

    Yes, it was a discourtesy to actually call a Christmas tree a Christmas tree. It’s worth noting that the governor was snubbing other religions Tuesday by participating in the lighting of a menorah for Hannukah. Or as Annie Laurie Gaylor would call it, an expensive “holiday” candelabra.

    As if that wasn’t enough to upset the atheists at FFRF, another organization decided to remember that Christmas is actually about the birth of Christ and put up a Nativity scene in the Capitol. Not sure what was more offensive in Madison, the display of the Nativity scene or that the Wisconsin Family Action got a permit first.

    Gaylor complained to the Wisconsin State Journal, “Every day it’s religion, religion, religion.” Or as Dickens wrote, “… and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.”

    The FFRF responded with their own version of a Nativity scene with little versions of Charles Darwin, Mark Twain and Albert Einstein. Perhaps understandably they did not use my favorite Einstein quote, “God does not play dice,” as that might invite a conversation more complex than they intended. Can we discuss Spinoza in the state Capitol?

    It’s too bad the FFRF didn’t include other prominent atheists in their little display, including Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin, although they did include the anarchist Emma Goldman.

    Despite their silly attempt to provoke, it’s a relatively ho-hum affair. The real provocation is the reason for Christmas, the birth of a child in a manger around 2,000 years ago in a little town of Bethlehem. He was born to save us all, and in that spirit we pray for the Gaylors of the world to find the true meaning of Christmas and to let go of their contempt of their fellow man.

    Gaylor will probably respond, “Humbug!”

    So let us look to another Madison, the famous first lady Dolley Madison, who would toast Christmas at the White House, “Merry Christmas! God Bless America!”

    (James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

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