An Oregon school unwittingly unwrapped some controversy this year when they erected a Christmas tree in school halls.
Earlier this month, North Eugene High School (NEHS) in Eugene, Oregon put up a Christmas tree in the entryway to the school cafeteria. Meticulously decorated with ornaments and lights, and towering over students, the tree was unmissable.
One problem: not everyone was feeling warm and fuzzy about the choice of holiday decor.
Sprucing Up the School
After students at NEHS went home and told their parents about the festive new decorations at school, one family in particular objected and complained to administrators.
The Lesters, who are Jewish, argue that the Christmas tree does not belong in public schools. It is an overtly Christian symbol, they say, and the tree’s presence at the school excludes children of other faiths, or no faith at all.
“This is public property and I mean it’s supposed to be an education for everybody, not just people who are Christian and not just people who are Jewish,” Parent Rick Lester told local news outlet KEZI.
He says it would be better if the school put up holiday decorations honoring other faiths, but still worries that may make secular students feel excluded.
A Holiday Tree?
One resident, Connie Betts, says that the tree should stay up, despite complaints. “I think Jesus is the reason for the season,” she stated. “If you don’t share that opinion, then just look at it as nature that’s beautiful with colorful lights and beautiful music.”
But Lester disagrees. “Christmas is supposed to be a religious holiday, not a secular holiday,” he says. “Keep it that way, don’t call it a holiday tree, call it a Christmas tree.”
School Board member Jenny Jonak might co-sign that statement. In a school board meeting following the initial complaint, she said that “calling something a ‘holiday’ tree does not make it represent multiple religions.”
The School’s Response
The school’s principal, Nain Munoz, drafted an apologetic email to parents, explaining that the tree was part of an annual fundraiser.
“As a school, our goal is to ensure all feel welcome and can see themselves reflected in our celebrations and displays. Again, our efforts in this case missed the mark and for that I am sorry.”
At this point, no one, including Lester, wants the tree taken down. “We don’t want to be the ones to ruin everybody’s fun,” he explains. “We just want people to understand this wasn’t appropriate.”
What do you think? Is there an argument to be made that the Christmas tree has transcended its namesake and become a secular holiday decoration?
Or is it indeed an explicit symbol of Christianity that should be kept out of the classroom?