- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Government offices and political agencies in the District were as delicate as snowflakes yesterday when discussing what they call the Christmas trees inside their buildings — with some exceptions.

“The calendar the federal government gave to us said ‘Christmas holiday,’ so we’re saying it’s a Christmas tree,” said Staff Sgt. Lorenzo Parnell of the D.C. National Guard.

The recent concern among Christians about efforts to make Christmas a secular holiday was reignited when The Washington Times reported Tuesday that House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert directed officials to rename the tree on the Capitol’s West Lawn the “Capitol Christmas Tree.”

“I strongly urge that we return to this tradition and join the White House, countless other public institutions and millions of American families in celebrating the holiday season with a Christmas tree,” Mr. Hastert, Illinois Republican, wrote in a Nov. 16 letter to Architect of the Capitol Alan M. Hantman.

The first Capitol tree in 1964 was known as a Christmas tree but was renamed a holiday tree in the mid-1990s to acknowledge other cultural traditions, sources said. Nobody knows who ordered the change or when it occurred, however.

In Boston last week, the city’s reference to a tree on Boston Common as a “holiday tree” drew threats of legal action from the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s law group, the Liberty Counsel. The city has since referred to the tree as a Christmas tree.

First lady Laura Bush is among those sticking with tradition.

Mrs. Bush said yesterday the first family’s 18 -foot Fraser fir — in the Blue Room and adorned this year with crystal ornaments and white lilies — would be called a Christmas tree.

“We know that Americans celebrate the season in a lot of different ways, but I think we’ve always called this the White House Christmas tree. And I think it’s particularly beautiful this year,” she said.

President Bush will light the National Christmas Tree, which stands south of the White House on the Ellipse, today at 5 p.m.

Mr. Hastert will help light the Capitol Christmas Tree during a ceremony next Thursday.

Though Mr. Hastert and the Bush family firmly believe in the Christmas tree, some in government and political offices seemed more concerned yesterday about not offending others.

The 6-foot-tall, light-covered trees inside the Department of Transportation’s four D.C. buildings are called “holiday trees,” said Carolene Bloomfield, a community-activity coordinator for the agency

“When having a Christmas party, we don’t call it that,” she said. “Although it’s tradition to call it Christmas, we call it holiday.”

Miss Bloomfield also said the agency uses “holiday tree” so everybody inside the buildings “feels good” about themselves.

“You have to make it seem as though nobody is left out,” she said. “In America, you want everybody to feel special, so you call it a holiday.”

At the Department of Housing and Urban Development, spokesman Brian Sullivan said a tree in the agency cafeteria — alongside a Hanukkah menorah — will be called a Christmas tree.

“It’s a Christmas tree, for heaven’s sakes,” he said. “People call it what it is, generally speaking.”

Other offices said they simply had not thought about what to call their trees — or were perhaps playing coy to avoid the debate.

“We do have a tree in our lobby,” said Chad Colby with the Department of Education. “We don’t have an official name for it. … We’ve never been asked.”

The Library of Congress and the Department of the Interior hang holiday decorations but do not have names for them.

“There are two trees outside the secretary’s office decorated for the holidays, but I don’t know what they’re being called. They don’t have a sign on them,” said Dan DuBray, a spokesman for the Interior Department, which issues permits to cut live Christmas trees through its Bureau of Land Management offices.

There is no official tree inside the Pentagon, and none were seen yesterday inside the House and Senate office buildings.

“There are always Christmas trees up in the building,” Pentagon spokesman Glenn Flood said. “If [employees] wants to put up one, that’s their call. There is no directive that says do. There is no directive that says don’t.”

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