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 Saturday, 21 December, 2002, 08:35 GMT
Canada's Christmas tree controversy
A decorated Christmas tree
A 'holiday tree' according to Toronto's city officials

In Canada, as in many other parts of the Christian world at this time of year, it is hard to escape the sights and sounds of Christmas.

In these commercial times it seems that no self-respecting shop or home is without its gaudy decorations and fairy lights.

Certainly the one thing nobody overlooks is the all important Christmas tree - except in Toronto.

City officials there have decreed that the 15-metre pine recently erected in the city centre is not a Christmas tree - but a holiday tree.

Sign for a department store's Christmas shop
Would the name 'holiday shop' have the same ring to it?
Professor Barry Levy, an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi and the head of religious studies at Montreal's McGill University, is perhaps an unusual person perhaps to defend the Christmas tree but he believes there is no excuse for not calling it by its proper name.

"I believe that this is an unnecessary attempt to secularise Christmas," he said.

"That object is identified as a Christmas tree - it's not a Hannukah bush, it's not a winter tree, it's not a festival tree - it's a Christmas tree - we all know it for what it is.

"Quite frankly I'm offended on behalf of Christians for whom it's a symbol of some importance - that they should have a religious symbol converted into a secular one just in order to accommodate it into public display."

Marketing campaign

It is a view shared by some of those caught up in their Christmas shopping - or should I say holiday shopping - in downtown Montreal.

"I am a Christian and it's a Christmas holiday and it's a Christmas tree. The Christmas comes from Christ so to call it a holiday tree doesn't make sense to me as a Christian," said one shopper.

However another does not entirely disapprove of the move: "Maybe they did it to take the religion out of the holiday season - or to include all the other religions," he said.

Staff at Canada's Royal Mint have also been hard at work excising the word from a recent television advert for a commemorative coin.

That object is identified as a Christmas tree - it's not a Hannukah bush, it's not a winter tree, it's not a festival tree - it's a Christmas tree

Professor Barry Levy
"On the first day of giving my true love gave to me...a coin from the Royal Canadian Mint!" sings the voiceover - to the tune of the more familiar song.

The Mint says it changed the word to suit its marketing campaign - not for ideological reasons. But it still got swept up in the Christmas tree controversy.

Political correctness

Toronto's flamboyant mayor Mel Lastman eventually backtracked and said that the tree has always been and always will be a Christmas tree.

So was all this political correctness gone mad or was there something else going on?

Will Straw, professor of communications, at McGill University says it is just a sign of changing times.

A traditional Christmas pudding
Could this soon become a 'holiday pudding'?
"These are ongoing social changes which always appear extremist at the beginning," he said.

"The idea that you call women Ms seemed like a ludicrously contrived extremist kind of thing 20 years ago but now it's a normal thing that you find in newspaper articles, letters and so on.

"So I think we're just getting used to a change in how we see this holiday."

See also:

19 Dec 02 | UK
18 Dec 02 | Business
16 Dec 02 | England
16 Dec 02 | Business
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