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Tree lighting debacle one of many to come

The Union Leader reported Tuesday that the longtime tradition of decorating a tree in Durham’s Memorial Park may soon come to an end because of its exclusionary nature. The town has made no official decision on whether they’ll light the tree next year in lieu of the pushback.

The conversation started when Rabbi Berel Slavaticki of the UNH & Seacoast Chabad Jewish Center requested a nine-foot menorah be lit adjacent to the Christmas tree but wound up facing red tape. Town Administrator Todd Selig denied Slavaticki’s permit request, claiming concern over vandalism and public safety, per The Union Leader.

While Slavaticki and Selig came to a mutual agreement, it involved relocating the menorah to a different public park and limiting its display to one night.

Our “Merry Christmas” treatment has dipped considerably in the last decade for the same reason this might be the last time we see Durham’s tree decorated. Department stores have coined the term “Happy Holidays” as a Band-Aid fix for those of us who recognize a separate religion from Christianity.

This tree situation is a bit harder to walk back. You could argue that the menorah stands as a religious symbol where the tree with lights is just a tree with lights, but that’s a product of exposure. Christianity makes up around two-thirds of the United States’ religious preference according to a survey of over 35,000 Americans by the Pew Research Center.

Widespread exposure to Christmas decorations has normalized the holiday and led to its severance from the religion it precedes. It’s also why Selig referred to the tree in Memorial Park as a nonreligious symbol but hesitated to put a menorah on display.

Ask yourself whether that’s the right decision. Focus on the fact that a Rabbi was denied an opportunity to celebrate the first night of Hanukkah in town, to represent his beliefs, to avoid risk of vandalism. No one wants to decimate a Christmas tree because it’s a massive rooted piece of wood, and perhaps more relevant, because most of the students on campus are Christian or atheist and have no reason to do that.

Removing the tree isn’t the biggest issue but it contributes. Instead of focusing on what might make people feel uncomfortable and eliminating it, strive to include those who feel marginalized by providing the opportunity. All you’re doing by ending the tree ceremony is silencing more voices.

We’ve reached a point in this social environment where everyone’s afraid to step on toes. Maybe the public’s voice has gotten louder, and maybe the Internet contributes, but the underlying theme remains “do not offend me, or else.”

I get annoyed with both the offended and offending parties. The former because the world isn’t out to get you and you should know that. The latter because your mother taught you better. But both persist and the result manifests in controversies like this Christmas tree lighting. If silencing parties is the answer, we’re going to live in an especially grey world soon enough.

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