Gov. Steve Beshear has angered some Christians with his yuletide terminology.
A giant evergreen that will brighten the Capitol lawn this winter won’t be called a Christmas tree. Instead, the Beshear administration has dubbed it a “holiday tree.”
The Rev. Jeff Fugate, pastor of Clays Mill Baptist Church in Lexington, said Christians find the change troubling.
“If you call it a holiday tree,” Fugate asked, “which holiday are you talking about? We don’t put up a holiday tree for Easter or New Year’s or Thanksgiving. We put a tree up for Christmas.”
Beshear administration spokeswoman Cindy Lanham said the tree will be in celebration of a variety of winter holidays, including Christmas and Hanukkah.
“This is a special time of the year for many Kentuckians,” she said.
The spat in Kentucky is only the latest in an ongoing Christmas debate. Some retailers, including Walmart, have returned to greeting customers with “Merry Christmas” after coming under attack for directing employees to say “Happy Holidays.”
In Kentucky, political foes are using the issue to bash the Democratic governor and his administration.
“Steve Beshear in his continued swing to the left shows that political correctness is more important than Kentucky values,” said Republican Senate President David Williams of Burkesville. “It is difficult to see how anyone could take offense at the cherished tradition of Christmas at the Kentucky Capitol.”
Beshear spokeswoman Jill Midkiff said the terminology is intended to be inclusive.
“Obviously, to Governor Beshear and the first lady, who are both Christians, it is certainly a Christmas tree,” Midkiff said. “What is important is to remember what this time of year is all about — family and caring for those less fortunate.”
Using the term “holiday tree” typically is intended to avoid offending people who are not Christian, said Paul Simmons, an ethics professor at the University of Louisville. And he said “holiday tree” is the more fitting description, considering the tradition started out among pagans and was later blended into the Christian celebration of Christmas.
“It really is a more generalizable symbol,” Simmons said.
The Beshear administration sent out a public call on Monday for Kentuckians who think they might have the perfect “holiday tree” to consider donating it to the state. The solicitation called for a pyramid-shaped tree between 35 and 50 feet tall.
Sounds like a Christmas tree to Martin Cothran, spokesman for the Family Foundation of Kentucky.
“It’s the administration that stole Christmas,” Cothran said. “I think their heart is two sizes too small,” he said, quoting a line from How The Grinch Stole Christmas.
Fugate said he believes the Beshear administration has caved to political pressure.
“What’s bothersome about this is that it’s not the majority opinion,” Fugate said. “There is a groundswell of Americans who are fed up.”