But it is ironic that the Christmas Tree is the focal point of the argument. Indeed, many government officials (and businesses, too) are attempting to rename the Christmas Tree a 'Holiday Tree.' But it was only a very few years ago that conservative Christians themselves condemned Christmas trees as pagan symbols, the work of the devil.
The History Channel (link here) has a wonderful, short history of the Christmas Tree. I've reprinted a little bit here:
To the New England Puritans, Christmas was sacred. The pilgrims's second governor, William Bradford, wrote that he tried hard to stamp out "pagan mockery" of the observance, penalizing any frivolity.
The influential Oliver Cromwell preached against "the heathen traditions" of Christmas carols, decorated trees, and any joyful expression that desecrated "that sacred event." In 1659, the General Court of Massachusetts enacted a law making any observance of December 25 (other than a church service) a penal offense; people were fined for hanging decorations.
To be certain, the display of greenery, trees and decorations are all pagan in origin, not Christian at all.
Again, quoting from the above link from The History Channel:
The shortest day and longest night of the year falls on December 21 or December 22 and is called the Winter Solstice. Many ancient people believed that the sun was a god and that winter came every year because the sun god had become sick and weak. They celebrated the solstice because it meant that at last the sun god would begin to get well. Evergreen boughs reminded them of all the green plants that would grow again when the sun god was strong and summer would return.
The ancient Egyptians worshipped a god called Ra, who had the head of a hawk and wore the sun as a blazing disk in his crown. At the solstice, when Ra began to recover from the illness, the Egyptians filled their homes with green palm rushes which symbolized for them the triumph of life over death.
Early Romans marked the solstice with a feast called the Saturnalia in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture. The Romans knew that the solstice meant that soon farms and orchards would be green and fruitful. To mark the occasion, they decorated their homes and temples with evergreen boughs.
Separation of Church and State was much stronger when our country was founded than it is today. Christmas itself WAS NOT a government holiday. In fact, stores and businesses themselves did not close on Christmas until just a little over 100 years ago. Congress held sessions on Christmas Day.
Scrooge was not unusual in expecting his employees to work on Christmas. It was not a "holiday." In fact it was Dicken's "A Christmas Carol" than began a movement toward making Christmas a Holiday. Dickens was considered a radical and a socialist and a general trouble maker.
Calvin and protestant leaders rejected both the celebration of Christmas and Easter as pagan trivializations of sacred events.
The White House NEVER had a Christmas tree until President Franklin Pierce, our 14th President set up a tree in 1856. And he was nearly impeached for adopting the German pagan tradition. It was a huge controversy.
Christmas DID NOT become a National Holiday until 1870!!! Alabama was the first state to make Christmas an official holiday in 1836. Believe it or not, this was one of "official" and one of the real reasons for the Civil War!!! Southern States celebrated Christmas (Arkansas and Louisiana joined in passing Christmas Holiday laws), but Northern states strict forbid any such celebration!! At one time you would be fined in Boston for openly celebrating Christmas!!
In the early 20th century Teddy Roosevelt again banned the Christmas Tree from the White House, but this time on the grounds of conservation. As an ardent conservationist, he led a battle against cutting down trees for decoration. The White House must set an example.
I wish you all a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Festive Kwanza, and a Blessed Winter Solstice.