It's beginning to look a lot like...the holidays

December 11, 2005|By DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ


Is there such a thing as a holiday tree?

At least one area resident said yes.

Nikki Fuss, an interior designer at Neikirk's of Hagerstown, said a friend of hers would buy a potted tree every December that she would decorate for Christmas. Then, Fuss said, her friend would redecorate the tree for the holidays that come after Christmas, such as St. Patrick's Day, and buy a new tree the following December.

"That was a holiday tree," Fuss said.

In contrast, the trees inside Neikirk's are not holiday trees, but rather Christmas trees, Fuss said.

"For me, it's always been a Christmas tree," she said.

And yet, when customers come to the West Franklin Street store, Fuss does not normally greet them with Merry Christmas.

"I'd probably go for 'Have a happy holiday' because of the stigma that's attached to (Christmas) now," Fuss said, noting her years in customer service have taught her to be diplomatic.


Terminology surrounding the period of time between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day has become the subject of great debate this year in small towns, large cities and the nation's capital.

Some Christmas trees have become holiday trees in what some see as an effort to be more inclusive to those who do not celebrate Christmas.

On Thursday evening, though, House Speaker Dennis Hastert flipped the switch illuminating the Capitol Christmas Tree for the first time in more than a decade. Since the 1990s, it was the Capitol Holiday Tree, but debate over the name caused Hastert to declare about a month ago that he would reclaim the tree in the name of Christmas.

City officials debate

In Hagerstown, city officials conducted a similar debate leading up to the Dec. 2 lighting of what nearly was a holiday tree in the middle of the lake at City Park, city spokeswoman Karen Giffin said. For the past two years, it was a holiday tree, Giffin said.

"For the last two years, we've called it a holiday tree," Giffin said. "There was ... no declaration to do it."

During a council meeting in November, Councilman Lewis C. Metzner, who is Jewish, questioned why the city had made the switch and argued the tree is not something that translates to other religions. As a result, Giffin said, the city rethought its decision and decided to once again call the tree a Christmas tree.

Mayor Richard F. Trump said he felt the city might have sought to be more inclusive, while he agreed with Metzner that a Christmas tree is just that, a Christmas tree.

"You're sensitive to what's politically correct, and ... we were just trying to celebrate the holidays," Trump said. "I think Councilman Metzner did a good job of refocusing this back to the fact that this is a Christmas tree."

The City Farmers Market will continue to host its series of Holiday Happenings events each Saturday through the end of the month, Giffin said. The city decided to call the series of events Holiday Happenings not necessarily to be inclusive, but because it sounded good.

"There's no specific reason," Giffin said. "It sounded nice, and they both began with 'H.'"

What they call the trees, and how they greet people this time of year, are two topics some area residents and merchants see as far from arbitrary. Individually, Smithsburg's mayor and members of the Town Council concluded their meeting on Tuesday by wishing residents a Merry Christmas.

As of Friday afternoon, nearly 1,070 people weighed in on an online survey that ran on The Herald-Mail's Web site during the week. The question was about the shift from the word "Christmas" to the word "Holiday." A majority of respondents, about 87 percent, said they felt the shift was stupid. Another 6.3 percent said they felt it was appropriate and 6.6 percent said the issue doesn't matter to them.

Christmas ... or holiday?

Barbara Dunlap, co-owner of Bingo Island on Oak Ridge Drive in Hagerstown, said for her, this time of year always has been Christmas, and the decorated trees that spring up around the area always have been Christmas trees. On Tuesday, Bingo Island hosted its annual Family Christmas Fun Nite for children and families.

Dunlap said she didn't consider calling this year's event Family Holiday Fun Nite nor does she wish people a happy holiday, although she doesn't mind if people greet her that way.

"I'm a Christian, I believe in God and Christmas is about Christ," Dunlap said. "I'm not offended if anyone wishes me a happy holiday, but I say Merry Christmas."

Dunlap said that in addition to the Christmas-themed Bingo event, she holds themed events around Easter, around the start of school in September and around Halloween. She said she held the Christmas event Tuesday, in advance of Christmas, because it was the only free night she could set aside for the event.

Doug Otzelberger, day manager of Poor Folks Gifts & Grocery on South Potomac Street in Hagerstown, said he objected to the shift in wording, but said he does not just say Merry Christmas. He also says the phrase in other languages, including German.

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