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Are Christmas trees still a religious symbol?

December 16, 2011 |  6:22 pm


Christmastime can be more than a battle for parking spaces at the local malls.  It can also be a battle over how much space the icons of Christmas should be allocated in buildings, parks and streets.  Where should a Nativity scene be allowed (outside of a Christian church)?  You won't find one in most courthouses.  But is a public park an acceptable setting?  The city of Santa Monica knows this debate well.  Atheist groups asked for -- and received -- space in the city's Palisades Park overlooking the ocean.  A Jewish group also was allocated space for a menorah.  But the organizers of the park's traditional -- and extensive -- Nativity scene are angry that they ended up with a fraction of the space they are allocated most years.  The decision on space was done by a random lottery overseen by the Santa Monica city attorney.  Multiple atheist groups applied for spaces and ended up being earliest in the drawing.   

Although civic buildings tend to veto religious expressions of the holidays, Los Angeles City Hall has put on display a Christmas tree and a menorah. Is that equal time for religious expression?

Some people -- and some courts -- believe that Christmas trees are now a secular expression of holiday festivities.  There are some who also argue that menorahs can be interpreted as a nondemoninational symbol of light and hope.   Some of our editorial board members begged to differ.   There may be many people of non-Christian religions enjoying -- and even installing in their homes -- Christmas trees these days, but there's no question that the ornamented trees, whatever their pagan origins, were long ago adopted by Christians as a ritual display during Christmas.

What do you think? Are Christmas trees and menorahs now secular symbols of cheer and hope during the holiday season?  Or are they still religious symbols?


Photos: Battle over Christmas displays

In Santa Monica, a battle over displays at Christmas

Atheists 'hijack' Nativity display in Santa Monica, critics say

--Carla Hall

Photo: Nativity scene in Santa Monica; Gina Ferazzi/ Los Angeles Times

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