For this year only, all faiths invited to participate
Twice now in recent weeks a Facebook debate based on misinformation fueled a movement – this time to put a cross back on top of the town Christmas tree in K-H Founders Park. (The previous debate was about Main Street beautification plans.)
The cross was on the Christmas tree at the town lighting Saturday night but was removed and according to town officials, the symbol of the cross was not the reason.
Last year, the wind caught the star topper on the original Christmas tree in the park and snapped the top off – an action that affected the growth of the tree, said Town Manager Josh Ward. The tree suffered other problems as well, which is why a new tree was sought and planted elsewhere in the park.
“Once the top snaps off, it just bushes out and never gets its shape back,” said Ward. “We want to be careful with this new tree until the top is strong enough to withstand the wind.”
At the advice of an arborist, the Rec Park Committee, made up of Commissioners Amy Patterson and Brian Stiehler, instructed the town not to put anything on the top of the new tree for at least a year.
However, Ward said while decorating the tree, the town’s electric crew thought something should be on top, so they put up a cross thinking the wind would pass around it rather than push against it.
Mayor Pat Taylor said when he saw the cross Saturday night, he was concerned – not because it was a cross, though he believes the star the town traditionally puts atop its tree is more ecumenical in nature – but because the town was instructed not to chance the top snapping off. That being said, the action was unauthorized.
“Obviously, people have misunderstood the reason for the removal of the cross; it was done to protect the tree,” said the mayor.
Commissioner Brian Stiehler, who is an agronomist and horticulturalist, and who was involved in the selection and placement of the new tree in the park, said it’s critical at this point not to do anything to destroy the shape of the tree from here on out.
“Once the top snaps off, it grows into a bush and isn’t a tree anymore,” he said.
Over the year, the new Christmas tree will be professionally trimmed and if it is strong enough next year, the star will likely be put on top.
“I hate that this has been blown up this way. It’s a big misunderstanding,” said Stiehler. “Even on the mayor’s weekly broadcast he told people not to expect anything on the top of the tree this year.”
Though some are saying taking the cross down is like taking “Christ” out of Christmas, there are others who prefer a star.
For many, the star represents the symbol of Advent – the coming of the Messiah – and the cross represents his death and resurrection.
Highlands, like most towns and cities is comprised of all kinds of people of all kinds of faiths – Jews, Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists, and a myriad of Protestant denominations. In any case, many relate to the star in an ecumenical way.
In fact, Commissioner Stiehler, who wasn’t at the tree lighting this year, got two calls later that night from citizens concerned that a cross was on the tree instead of the traditional star.
However, Monday night, about 30 people gathered in the park to peacefully protest the removal of the cross and requested it be put back on top of the tree.
Opening with the hymn Amazing Grace, Dr. Mark Ford, pastor of First Baptist Church Highlands, spoke to the crowd – many of whom were his parishioners.
“We are here on this cold night to declare that Christmas is about Christ who came for one reason; he came to show the love of God and to die for our sins.
“And because of that, we think this Christmas tree should have THE symbol of Christ on it which is the cross.
“I would declare to you as Christians, we have suffered enough and have been marginalized by society. We are seeing ourselves pushed to the margins by political correctness and by political institutions and even other religious institutions that basically want us to be quiet.
“I understand why. But I would say to you, as Christians we may get pushed to the margins, but we should go with the clear message that we believe in Jesus Christ and he is the reason for this season.
“We need to keep praying and expressing our sentiments. We are not here in any form of violence or any form of anger, we are here to say to our mayor and our town, please put the cross back on this tree because in this public square in this day I believe we have a right to have that cross up there.
“The explanation that was given to me by the mayor was that to put any kind of topper on the tree it may damage that tree. Because of that they were going to hold off putting any kind of topper up there, star or cross.
“And if that is the legitimate reason, and the reason we can’t have anything up there because we are worried about the health of this tree, I would ask, if nothing else, bring it down a foot or two and put it out front and let the whole world still see that the reason for the symbols like Christmas trees and wreaths is because of Christ.
“So, mayor, please put the cross back up and do it for the people of this town who still have faith in Christ,” said Pastor Ford.
Once the town realized the original tree planted in the park wasn’t healthy and therefore not growing, another tree was sought and a new location in the park decided upon. It debuted at the town lighting, Saturday, Nov. 24.
Art and Angela William paid for the new tree – somewhere in the vicinity of $12,000 – and in-kind services from various companies in town took care of transporting it, digging the hole and planting the tree.
“We want to protect the tree. Why jeopardize it?” said Stiehler.
In the spirit of compromise, however – for this year only – Mayor Taylor has now said the cross can be placed lower on the tree where it won’t damage the new top. In addition, other faiths have been invited to put a symbol on the tree, too.
- Article and photos by Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper