O' Unity Tree, O' Unity Tree | Dr. Paul Kengor | December 14, 2009 | Ignatius InsightO' Unity Tree, O' Unity Tree | Dr. Paul Kengor | December 14, 2009 | Ignatius Insight


'Tis the season. ... That is, to not refer to the Christmas Season as the "Christmas Season."

Of course, that's old news. But what's new news, or recent news, is the bewildering refusal in some quarters to call a "Christmas tree" a Christmas tree. Unfortunately, this isn't new to those of us from the Pittsburgh area. On that, I'd like to enlighten folks around the country, hopefully providing some exposure to something that merits national ridicule.

Each year, the City of Pittsburgh kicks off the "Holiday Season" with its "Light Up Night." The crowning touch (for almost a half century) is the lighting of the Christmas tree. This wonderful tradition connects Pittsburghers to the roots of their parents and grandparents.

For me, however, as a native Pittsburgher and a Christian, the moment has been spoiled: the Christmas tree is no longer called "the Christmas Tree." No, it is called "the Unity Tree."

Seriously, I'm not making this up. Outsiders will recoil or laugh hysterically at the thought, but it's true--and has been for quite a while now. (Click here.)

There's a curious thing about the Unity Tree, which always baffles me: It only comes out at Christmas time. Why is that?

Well, we know the unspoken reason--the same reason that's the reason for the season: Because the Unity Tree is a Christmas tree. And what could be more offensive to Christians than some anonymous power renaming their tree, and expecting them to accept this politically correct delusion in silent acquiescence?

I would never, for instance, dare insult my Jewish friends by refusing to call a Menorah anything but a Menorah, or demand a public renaming. I respect them, their faith, and the symbols of their faith.

Actually, I can even see the rationale in calling the "Christmas Season" the "Holiday Season," given that other faiths indeed share the season, and, further, given that the season generally encompasses holidays beyond Christmas, such as Thanksgiving and New Year's. I don't like it, but I can see it.

But how can you call a Christmas tree anything but a Christmas tree?

It isn't right to take the most common symbol of the season, found in every household that celebrates Christmas, and demand it be called something else. It disunites Christians from a unifying symbol that bonds them across their wide-ranging differences and denominations.

And aside from the spiritual aspect, it isn't right from a technical standpoint.

Overall, it entails going out of the way to arrogantly rename something you have no right to rename.

Yet, this is what happens every year in Pittsburgh--at Christmas time. Whether the new-speak architects realize it or not, they have--in the name of unity--affronted Christians during their special time.

Of course, all of that is obvious. It has outraged me for years.

And yet, that said, on further reflection, I've recently come to think that the name change is not so bad. Consider:

First, this year's Unity Tree has a sponsor, the healthcare company Highmark. It has been rechristened the "Highmark Unity Tree."

Well, on further reflection, the concept of a business sponsor is fitting. Commercialism has hijacked the religious holiday. Spending money buying things is the chief devotion for Americans this time of year. Far more deliberation is done in stores shopping than in churches praying. As a Christian, I must concede this truth.

Hence, it seems appropriate that the Unity Tree is elevated nearer Black Friday than Christmas morning. It honors not Jesus Christ but materialism. The sponsor of the Christmas tree is Christ; the sponsor of the Unity Tree is business. No argument from me.

Second, "unity" is a synonym for "diversity." Had those who divined "Unity Tree" suffered more time in our universities, they would have designated it the "Diversity Tree," which, incidentally, would have been a boon for tourism, drawing liberals everywhere in an annual pilgrimage to the Steel City. (The mayor's office blew that one.) Among the American left and campus community in particular, diversity is not only the buzzword but the central object of homage; it is the contemporary babe in the manger.

Of course, needless to say, excluding Christ from Christmas is not an act of diversity. It excludes, not includes. This is the ongoing fraud perpetuated by "diversity's" disciples.

Third, barring "Christ" from the tree is a tribute to secularism. What else is the Unity Tree, really, but a monument to secularism?

In sum, what we have with the Unity Tree is a tree that honors not Christ but secularism, commercialism, and the sham that is "diversity." If you think about it, this unholy trinity is truly what Christmas has become.

Yes, Pittsburgh has a symbol alright--an image that stands apart from Christ, separated from Christ. Maybe the do-gooders never intended that. But, hey, once you remove Christ from His place, it's a slippery slope.

(This column has been reprinted here by kind permission of The Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College.)

Related Ignatius Insight Articles and Books Excerpts:

The Mission: The Introduction to The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand | Paul Kengor and Patricia Clark Doerner
William P. Clark: The Quiet Catholic Who Changed the World | An interview with Paul Kengor
Surreal. And wonderful. | Carl E. Olson
What In Christmas Season Grows: On the Days Leading Up to the Nativity of the Lord | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
The Perfect Faith of the Blessed Virgin | Carl E. Olson
Come, Lord Jesus! The Meaning of Advent | Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J.
Mary Immaculate | Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen on Advent | From Through the Year With Fulton Sheen
Mary's Gift of Self Points the Way | Carl E. Olson
Immaculate Mary, Matchless in Grace | John Saward
The Mystery Made Present To Us | Fr. Alfred Delp, S.J.
Assumed Into Mother's Arms | Carl E. Olson
The Incarnation | Frank Sheed
"Born of the Virgin Mary" | Paul Claudel
The Old Testament and the Messianic Hope | Thomas Storck
Christmas: Sign of Contradiction, Season of Redemption | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
The God in the Cave | G.K. Chesterton

Dr. Paul Kengor is a professor at Grove City College and the executive director of the College's The Center for Vision and Values. He is also a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University. Kengor is a frequent television political commentator and opinion page contributor, as well as the author of several best-selling books. He is the author of The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand, God and Ronald Reagan, God and George W. Bush, God and Hillary Clinton, The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism, and co-editor with Peter Schweizer of Assessing the Reagan Presidency.

Kengor has worked for think tanks including the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Heritage Foundation, and has served on the editorial board of Presidential Studies Quarterly. He received his doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and his master's degree from American University's School of International Service. Kengor, a native of Western Pennsylvania, lives with his wife Susan in Grove City, Pennsylvania, along with their four children.

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