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'Holiday' tree lights City Park

December 03, 2005|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - It's a 14-foot spruce, in the middle of the lake at Hagerstown's City Park - but what should it be called?

A Christmas tree? Or a holiday tree?

The city of Hagerstown is calling it a holiday tree.

Some people who watched it light up for the season on Friday disagreed.

Continuing her annual tradition of serving homemade hot chocolate, Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh said it was an example of liberal blather.

"It's the times," she said.

"It's always been a traditional Christmas tree," said Marie Ebersole, who stopped to see the light displays she had seen in progress each day she passed the park. "Why change it now to be politically correct?"

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"What holiday could it be? Any holiday?" her husband, Charles Ebersole, wondered. "You're putting up the trees for a particular holiday."

The Christmas vs. holiday debate has flared up in places such as Roanoke, Va., Boston and Washington, D.C., according to media reports.

Last month, Hagerstown City Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said during a council meeting that he was disturbed by a Herald-Mail preview story referring to a 30-foot blue spruce in Public Square as a holiday tree.

He was pleased, though, when it became a Christmas tree five days later, in a story covering a festive lighting ceremony.

"We have a Christmas tree," said Metzner, who is Jewish. "We shouldn't refer to it as anything other than Christmas."

As a source for the preview story, Karen Giffin, a spokeswoman for the city, told a reporter that it was a holiday tree and not a Christmas tree.

In a press release about Friday's tree lighting at City Park, Giffin also called the 14-foot spruce a holiday tree.

Leslie LeBlanc, who helped lead a group of Girl Scouts in carols at the park on Friday, said Christmas trees, at their historical root, are not a Christian tradition, yet they became connected to the holiday.

If people are uncomfortable calling them Christmas trees, "holiday" is an acceptable substitute, she said.

"As early as the 17th century, Germans had transformed this pagan symbol of fertility into a Christian symbol of rebirth," the MSN Encarta online encyclopedia says.

Teresa Mort of Maugansville brought her 22-month-old daughter, Autumn, and 8-year-old son, Tyler, to the park for the lights. She was surprised to hear that the city was calling it a holiday tree and even surprised by the term itself.

"When you decorate a tree, you decorate it for Christmas," she said. "You don't decorate it for anything else."

Her friend, Sara Wetzel, knew of an exception. She said her grandmother has a true holiday tree. It's a small tree she hangs upside down and designs for Easter, birthdays and other occasions, Wetzel said.

Dozens of people endured freezing temperatures at the park Friday night to watch the tree light up entirely blue, then red, then green, then all of the colors together, then white.

Other light displays at the park featured shapes and messages. From a portable stage on the side of the road, Giffin called them out to the crowd: a penguin, a skating bear, a reindeer, ducks, Peace on Earth.

Scott Bezanson, portraying Santa Claus, chimed in with a "ho, ho, ho" as each shape lit up.

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