It is one of those urban legends of the internet age, a fake news outrage that will not go away; the story has circulated for years. It’s not true, of course, but that doesn’t inhibit the story’s circulation: President Barack Obama has not ordered that the traditional White House Christmas Tree be referred to as a “holiday tree.” It is not true this year. It was not true last year or the year before or the year before that.
I can imagine that next year we will have memes floating around on the Facebook and the Twitter about the fact (ha!) that we can have Christmas trees at the White House again now that Donald Trump is president. It still won’t be true, but … (sigh) … whatever.
But I’d like you to imagine something with me, just for a moment. Imagine an even grimmer scenario. Imagine that President Obama had announced that there would be no White House Christmas Tree at all – not merely that the tree would be referred to as a “holiday tree,” but that there would be no decorated evergreen tree with lights, and tinsel, and baubles at the White House at all. Can you imagine the outrage and fury of those who believe that there is, in fact (there isn’t), a war on Christmas?
If the legends are true (and they probably are not) it wasn’t until Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) that the evergreen tree was connected with Christian celebration of Jesus’ nativity. So for some twelve hundred years Christians were perfectly able to celebrate the miracle of Jesus’ birth without a holiday tree.* Ϫ
But who cares? The tree is not the important part. Call it a Christmas tree, an Xmas tree, a Holiday tree, or a Tannenbaum (which means generically “fir tree” (and I notice that no one freaks out at the carolers singing oh Tannenbaum, oh Tannenbaum, wie treu sind deine Blätter…)) or don’t have one at all. It doesn’t really matter.
*Yes, twelve hundred, not fifteen hundred. Christians didn’t even celebrate Christmas until around the year 300…
Ϫ And why not call it a holiday tree? If we’re putting them up as early as Thanksgiving (as many people do) and leaving them up until New Year’s Day or Epiphany - the tree is part of the decorations for several holidays. And the word “holiday” itself means “Holy Day” for crying out loud. If Christmas Day isn’t a holiday holy-day, I don’t know what is…