Plans for the new town Christmas Tree began over a year ago. The tree was transported from Spruce Pine and replanted in the park in late winter. Professional arborists informed the parks and recreation committee that winter was the perfect time to relocate a large tree. Our staff and the committee were also advised not to trim the limbs of the tree, nor heavily decorate it this first year. Placing an ornament at the top of the lead branch this first year was not to be done.
The previous town tree had been topped with a star. During last year’s Christmas celebrations high winds had caused the top to break out of the tree. The parks and recreation committee’s plan this year was not to place any ornament on top of this new tree since it has fragile first year growth.
When I arrived at the town lighting to see the cross ornament mounted on top of the tree, I was very dismayed and frustrated, not because it was a cross, but because the plan which had been in the making for months had not been followed. I feared we could be right back in a situation where the top branch of the new tree would be broken and future growth impaired. So, the removal of the cross on top of the town Christmas tree was not driven by animus toward any specific religious symbol. My discussions with the town manager at the town lighting that someone overheard, were in the context of why the original plan had not been followed, and who had arbitrarily decided to place the cross on top of this fragile tree. My response was out of frustration and momentary confusion. I apologize if anyone took offense.
My best information is that the self-fabricated cross was placed on the tree by a town employee after the tree had been officially decorated by the town crew. Apparently, he failed to understand that when the decision was made not to top the tree with the star owned by the town, that meant no topping whatsoever. The employee had no authorization to do what was done. I suspect if the cross had never been placed on the tree, this controversy would not have developed.
With that said, the group that held a vigil around the Christmas Tree on Monday night feel very strongly that removing the cross was a symbolic example of marginalization of the Christian faith at this Christmas season. I have had a cordial and candid meeting with Reverend Ford of First Baptist Church who has been the leader of the group. I have also had individual conversations with town board members to get their input.
Over fear of damaging the tree, I took the lead and had the cross removed from the tree. I am the person who now will initiate a compromise by having the cross placed lower on the tree in a location that will not damage the new top. The cross will be on the tree for this Christmas only.
As this new tree grows and matures this coming year, a system to secure a top ornament will be developed and reviewed. If feasible, next year the tree will be topped with the traditional star. The current lights and Christmas ball ornaments will be the decorations for the tree. The tree will be professionally trimmed next year as planned. During the coming months the town board may want to review these procedures and plans.
I deeply regret the decoration of the tree has become a divisive issue in our community. This is the time of the year where communities, families and friends should come together in love, affection and respect for one another, regardless of faith.
See you at the Christmas parade on Saturday morning.
- Town of Highlands Mayor Pat Taylor