Wisconsin Capitol tree should be for everyone

The Wisconsin State Assembly voted to rename the Capitol rotunda holiday tree a “Christmas” tree. (Photo by Corey Coyle / CC3.0)

The Wisconsin State Assembly, by a vote of 64-30, adopted a resolution Nov. 12 declaring the decorated tree in the Capitol rotunda be called a “Wisconsin State Christmas tree.” The same resolution was passed by the Assembly in 2007, but died in the Senate.

Obviously, calling it a “Christmas” tree pins the decoration to one religion’s holiest day. Labeling it a holiday tree, which it was called since 1985 until 2010, signals inclusion. Former Gov. Scott Walker broke with tradition by piously dubbing it a “Christmas” tree. Current Gov. Tony Evers decided that it should go back to being called a holiday tree.

Kudos to the governor for also calling for a “Celebrate Science” decoration theme. Students are invited to make the ornaments, so Evers deserves praise for turning this into an educational moment. In recent years under Walker, cut-out manger scenes had even turned up at the tree.

The legislators piously voting for this resolution should themselves go back to science class. They don’t realize that the real reason for the season is the astronomical event known as the Winter Solstice — the shortest, darkest day of the year, celebrating for millennia in the Northern Hemisphere with festivals of light, tree decorating, yule logs, gift exchanges and other festivities.

They should go back to history class, too. The Puritans actually banned the observance of Christmas Day, knowing full well all the secular trimmings associated with it had pagan roots.

While the Assembly “gotcha” votes may seem laughable, there is a darker side to them. The impetus is clearly Christian Nationalist, with legislators misusing their civil, secular authority to endorse and promote their own religious views and so-called holy book over other religions, and over nonreligion.