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Would You Like to See a Christmas Tree in Columbia Heights Plaza?

by Prince Of Petworth — October 13, 2009 at 3:00 pm 88 Comments

Christmas Aria, originally uploaded by paulv2c “Gone for a while”.

This topic came up in our discussion of the IHOP. So I’m happy to share the results with CM Graham and see what can be done if there is significant support. For the record, I’m Jewish as well and think it would be a nice touch. I’d say it should only be up for a month though – say Dec. 15th – Jan.15th? Or something like that?


  • me


  • Jimbo

    I’d rather see a hobo bicyclist.

  • USA! USA!

    Jan. 15 seems a bit late. When does the White House tree come up and down?

  • taylor.nmt

    I would vote yes for a holiday tree. While I will have a Christmas Tree in my house, public spaces should be nonsectarian.

  • Jim

    Can we do a Burning Man effigy instead?

  • Pennywise

    How about a wall commemorating all the dead and victimized of the city this year? Oh wait, that might lower property values and interfere with tourism. How about a wall commemorating the other giant waste of money perpetuated by a narrow and politically connected minority constituency: the Nats? Oh wait…

    We could combine the Burning Man x-mas tree thing, x-mas trees light up like a bomb once they’re dried out. That was always my favorite part of x-mas (done outside of course).

  • Herb

    Yes! Yes! Yes! A nice festive holiday tree! It should go up the Friday after Thanksgiving and stay lit through January 13 (my birthday).

  • YES! I would love to see a tree and a Holiday Market there. Or anywhere really. We’ve been talking about trying to put one together in the Uneeda Market space on H St. but this would also be a terrific location!

  • Dan Miller

    Yes! I’m not a religious believer, but a nice holiday tree is always cheering.

  • asl

    Where exactly in the plaza would it be?

  • Sure, why not, it would brighten up the plaza when the fountain will be turned off for the season anyway. It could go right in the middle of the fountain area.

  • MnomeNa

    I’m with taylor.nmt: A holiday tree would be visually stunning but a Christmas tree would be crossing the line a tad. Perhaps we could use the space to display a local artist’s work (sculpture/street art, etc) for a month, or put on evening holiday concerts, or even organize a clothing/food/gift drive for local low-income families.

  • THL

    Like it PoP, except Dec. 15 – Jan. 15 isn’t really the right time frame. Thanksgiving to New Years is the standard time frame for such things, so I’d go with that window.

  • Cardozomite

    Dec. 15th- Jan 15th? are you serious?

    The tree/decorations should go up on Dec. 6th, the day St. Nicholas (santa clause) died. They should them come down on Jan 6th, the day the Magi met the new born King and presented him with his royal gifts. Because, after all, if the decorations are down, how will the wise men find their way to the little baby je-bus?

    In my house, the decorations usually go up the weekend of thanksgiving since family is home and together at that time. My parents usually leave everything up until my next visit home after the holidays…

  • reflexive

    i would like to see a christmas tree. not a holiday tree.
    and no, i’m not christian, but i like christmas.
    if the us capitol can have a christmas tree, and the feds can call christmas a holiday, dc can have a freaking christmas tree.

    its not like we’re talking a city funded manger scene or a lamb sacrifice.

  • voiceofreason

    While I’d like to see a tree, i’d rather not have hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of taxpayer dollars have to be spent on the inevitable lawsuit(s) that would be filed over the constitutionality of the tree. Even though the city could or would likely win that lawsuit, they’d have to spend all that money to get to the result.

  • Cardozomite
  • Chewy

    agree with VOR; it’d be nice to have one, but i don’t think it is worth all of the headaches a tree would bring. the one at the white house will have to suffice.

  • Dirty

    Thank God it’s the National Christmas Tree…http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Christmas_Tree

  • ShermanAveGuy

    Can’t we develop an agreement in principle with ACLU, DC government, community organizations, etc. in which we all agree not to sue?

  • Bigzom25

    festivus pole imo

  • Cardozomite

    what is the difference between a holiday tree and a christmas tree besides the name? Do you walk around and say, “look at that mighty fine holiday tree that store has up”? No, its a christmas tree either way…

    At least a christmas tree would bring some true green to the plaza, those solar panel poles just don’t do it for me.

  • rg

    I think it is a great idea. Though being DC it should stay up until June, and only then be torn down by residents because bulk trash wont pick it up. We coul be real ghetto and get a fake one and leave it up year round, fully decorated. Do they make 60′ metal trees?

  • Heather

    Why not just put it up now? I saw my first Christmas commercial last week, so it must be holiday season already, right? Oh what, it’s October 13? Right.

  • andy

    i vote yes to christmas tree. will hasten arrival of winter-themed romantic comedy starring jennifer aniston and matthew mcconaughey set in columbia heights.

    JA (as Ruby Tuesday waitress with mucho flair): “So, d’you want to meet me after work for a drink at wonderland’s bedroom?”

    MM (as firefighter from fire station on 14th & newton): “all right, all right, all right…”

  • TonyS

    i think its interesting that almost every comment is against a Christmas Tree… but in the poll it is supported 3-1. Shows that its just the vocal minority who post comments on this site at times.

  • On what grounds would people (who?) sue over a christmas tree, out of curiosity? You mean because it could be construed as Christian (despite having pagan origins)? Let’s see. Our money says “In God We Trust.” There’s a tree on the White House lawn every year, as well as one in times square. I think maybe, just maybe, we might be able to pull it off without the ACLU and anti-religious zealots making it their raison d’etre to have it removed.

  • Larchie

    With the fountain turned off in the winter, a nice big seasonal focal point would be a great thing. I wouldn’t want it to be a real tree, though. It just seems wasteful if every little plaza in this country needs a 50 to 100 year-old tree to be chopped down every year.

    A Christmas tree would be quite festive, and the “solar trees” would make great menorahs.

  • Anonymous
  • voiceofreason

    Jamie, similar displays across the nation disagree with you. I agree with you in principle, but the lawsuits would be inevitable.

  • Herb

    Yeah I really don’t see how throwing golden twinkly lights on something suddenly makes it a symbol of religion that so inflames the populace that lawsuits would result.

  • Anonymous

    no way. A christmas tree would be destroyed in a matter of days. Plus it clogs up the view of the plaza, which means people would be sitting under/behind it drinking $2 pints of rotgut.

  • jcm

    I would like one. I’m an atheist and don’t bother to do a tree in my house, but I think they’re pretty, and effectively secular at this point.

    There’s very little chance of a lawsuit against a tree. A nativity scene, on the other hand, would (rightly, IMHO) be the subject of a lawsuit pretty much instantly.

  • Herb

    I am well aware of lawsuits over Manger scenes on public lands; I’m not sure I recall any over a tree with lights on it. Seems silly (but I’m sure someone will use the Google thing and find an example).

  • Dan

    Atheist here and think it would be cool. The Christmas tree has pre-christian roots and I don’t see it as a particularly sectarian symbol, such as a crèche or crucifix.

  • If the lawsuits are inevitable, then I assume there have been lots of them in the past. Can you provide references?

    The only thing I could find was from Seattle a few years ago. They took a tree down in the airport after a rabbi asked that a menorah also be displayed. He then said he never meant for them to take it down and withdrew his request, and they put the tree back.

    That incident does not really seem to add up to “millions of dollars in legal defense” but I am interested to know on what basis you think this is “inevitable.” Given the thousands of other municipalities that somehow manage to put up trees without spending millions of dollars defending against inevitable lawsuits that never happen.

  • Anonymous

    I think all the lightposts should have holiday decoration, expanding the holiday feel up and down 14 street.

    Also would like to see a tree in the middle of the fountain

  • rg

    I havent seen the new park. But instead of a tree how about an ice rink? Will that work there?
    guy from up north ch w/old ccm skates

  • Iceman

    RG – you’ll have to go to Crystal City or Reston for an outdoor rink for a casual skate. If you’re looking for a hockey rink Ft. Dupont and Wells in CP, MD are probably the closest, aside from Kettler.

    As for CH plaza… it’s too small and i don’t think you could accommodate a area for rental skates, place to keep the zam, etc. Now, Meridian Hill park might be a different story, but it would take a while.

    Gotta love the old ccm’s…

  • jcm

    Jamie, there actually haven’t been many. In County of Allegheny v. ACLU, the Supreme Court held that a menorah is constitutional, and a nativity scene is not. The ACLU didn’t bother to question the legality of the christmas tree at the same location.

    There’s also the time the ACLU threatened to sue if the county didn’t put up a Christmas tree, since they were already displaying a menorah.

  • saf

    Iceman – what about the Sculpture Garden rink?

  • voiceofreason

    A ten second google search resulted in christmas tree lawsuits in New York, Arizona and Pennsylvania. Some dropped. Given the press such a lawsuit would get in the nation’s capitol, it is basically a given that some organization would file one.

  • jcm

    voiceofreason, since you didn’t bother to actually cite any of the cases, I can’t see what happened in the cases you’re claiming exist, but if it’s “basically a given” that someone would file a lawsuit over a tree in the Nation’s Capital, then shouldn’t they go after the giant one sitting in front of the White House?

  • djdc

    Is the plaza district property? Or is it owned by the owners of the surrounding building(s)?

  • E

    VoR: I think you’re being dramatic. There are SO MANY Christmas trees that go up in DC over the holidays. They’re in public buildings, on the Mall, in stores, etc. I don’t know why those ones wouldn’t attract lawsuits, but one in CH would.
    Unless you’re planning on filing a lawsuit, in which case, please just give everyone a heads up before the neighborhood dumps a whole lot of money in twinkly lights.

  • voiceofreason

    Huh E? I wouldn’t do that, I’m in favor of the tree going up.

  • voiceofreason

    I hope you’re right though, I hope I am being too dramatic, because it would be a colossal waste of public money defending a lawsuit.

  • Sullivan

    Yes, Yes, Yes!! And wreaths on the light poles, too. I expect Target will be a destination for many shoppers in the city and the street scape could use a little sprucing up.

  • @vor – by references I meant links. Saying stuff without a link does not qualify as a reference. If you are going to stand by your position (which defies all logic, since nobody else here has even heard of such a thing) then provide links.

    Finally, even if there was a lawsuit or threat of one, why do you think we’d “spend millions of dollars” instead of just taking the tree down, like Seattle did when they thought (at first) they might face one?

    Your logic still baffles me though, since as I’ve already noted, there’s a huge one on the white house lawn every year that I would think a much juicier target than one in Columbia Heights.

  • voiceofreason

    That CNN story is highly suspect. It’s counting small business by number of employees, not by whether it’s an independent business. For example, Best Buy would count as a small business under the criteria used by the article.

  • voiceofreason

    Oops, wrong thread, sorry.

  • Georgetown puts up a holiday tree in Francis Scott Key Park, which is the most analogous situation I can locate. I have not heard of any lawsuits stemming from this tree. It’s not the best looking tree, but certainly passes the secular test. No angels or Santa in evidence!

  • voiceofreason

    It’s not my duty to provide you links Jamie. You’re more than welcome to do the ten second google search I did on “christmas tree” and lawsuit and find on the first two pages lawsuits in the states I mentioned plus Boston.

    You’re right though, the city may just remove the tree, but they’d still be spending money on initial response to the lawsuit, and on putting up and taking down the tree. But I still think it’s a pretty much slam dunk that some organization would want to seek the publicity by filing a lawsuit.

    As for the National xmas tree, I have no idea if there was ever any litigation over it, and if not, why not.

  • OldHouseLover

    No tree. And screw you “holiday tree” folks. I’m sorry, but just because Christmas has morphed into a materialistic national joke doesn’t mean ubiquitous symbols of it don’t offend non-Christians like me. Maybe we should have a “Holiday Menorah” instead. Get it?

  • Marcus Aurelius

    I think that the ACLU case can be read as recognizing that the Christmas tree and the menorah have become secular symbols for the winter holiday season and thus don’t necessarily indicate an endorsement of any particular religion. The display at issue in that case featured both a Christmas tree and a menorah. So it’s possible that if a lawsuit were to be filed over a Christmas tree at CH plaza, it would seek to have a menorah added to the display to avoid an appearance of favoring one religion over another.

  • GforGood

    Bigzom, I would be with you, but there are already 3-4 big, multibranched and solar powered festivus poles there (for the record, I think they actually look pretty nice). 🙂

  • Zuckerman

    I’m Jewish, I’ll agree to a XMAS tree so as long as the Star of David is perched on top of it. Also, to the Jews on this blog that have no problem with a Christmas tree shame on you.

  • Patrick

    I’ll even one up you and say there could also be a Santa’s village on weekends, hopefully to encourage families to do Christmas shopping at DC USA.

  • Lars V.

    Yay, what Zuckerman just wrote.

  • Marco

    Just put up a Christmas tree and a menorah; problem solved. Still, Im sure the ACLU will find somebody to sue DC, pain in the asses that they are.

  • Schwartzman

    Yeah Zuckerman, you tell ’em.

  • ontarioroader

    Why should gov’t be funding/allowing displays on public space for make-believe and overly commercialized ritualistic bs? You want a x-mas tree, menorah, etc… fine, I want a statue of the easter bunny and tooth fairy dancing on a pentagram. Hopefully there WILL be some ACLU lawyer to sack up and help keep religion separated from gov’t.

  • rg

    Thanks Iceman and SAF, sculpture garden it is. If memory serves the ice was terrible but the rink wasnt crowded, so the good with the bad. Now if i can just find a place to sharpen the skates and Im good to go.

  • Arnold Craig

    If the sight of a Christmas tree in a public space is so horrifyingly offensive to some people, then how have the White House and national Christmas trees survived?

  • Bitter Elitist

    I’m for a tree, menorah, Mithras!

  • E-Rich

    I’m with PoP on the timing, but that’s mostly because my birthday is December 15th, and in my house, we had a rule that no Christmas decorations could go up before my birthday. Other than that, I could care less. a suppose a tree would be nice.

  • rg

    Oddly enough. I would like to see Michael Bey(sp) design a holiday theme for the park. Perhaps lots of pyrotechnics, maybe set fire to Vin Diesel. Something my kids could enjoy.

  • andy

    if adams morgan can have festivus “the airing of the grievances” maybe columbia heights can do the “feats of strength.” see you there around winter solstice time.

  • voiceofreason

    I think it’s kinda amusing that people call this small slab of concrete a “plaza”.

  • Here we have holiday trees in various public and public/private spaces in DC, not including the White House and Capitol trees. I seriously doubt anybody will single out one in Columbia Heights for a lawsuit, especially if a menorrah and Kwaanza candles are included:

    Georgetown’s Francis Scott Key Park:

    Washington Harbour:

    Connecticut Ave near Dupont Circle:

    Union Station:

    National Airport:

  • CHP

    I’m Jewish, but I do think it’s only us that are offended by public displays of Christmas, and that it’s an American-Jewish phenomenon that originates from this particular holiday being used as a tool of discrimination and exclusion for our parents and grandparents’ generations.

    What I find more offensive is this attempt by people to placate Jews by equalizing symbols of the relatively minor holiday of Hannukah with those of the major holiday of Christmas.

    Christmas hasn’t really been a religious holiday since at least the 80s, and more recent non-Christian immigrant populations don’t seem to be as offended by it as we are. Frankly, if I were living in a new country–let’s say India–I’d participate in local Hindu holiday celebrations happily.

    Personally, I’m in favor of the cheapening of any Christian holiday symbol by its shameless association with good old godless American consumerism. If anyone should be offended by a Christmas tree being set up in a public plaza across from a major urban shopping center, it should be Christian people.

  • Herb

    Are we still talking about this? Regardless I will be putting up my own tree the day after Thanksgiving. Anyone is welcome to come over and help trim it with my retro ornaments consisting of space ships, robots, toy cars and some random pink flamingos.

  • Mal

    @rg – I’ve wanted to try the sculpture garden rink for a while now – never got the chance last year. If you find a place to sharpen your skates, let me know at mavanyo at gmail dot com ! I have a pair of figure skates from way back in the day that are a little snug but doable.

    PoP – we should have a *holiday* skating get-together! All religions! (ftr I’m agnostic/atheist/not raised with any religion)

  • Larchie

    Hey, voiceofreason, we call it a ‘plaza’ because it IS a ‘plaza.’ There really is no other word for it. Are you confused about which one we are talking about? Or just confused about the meaning of the word ‘plaza’?

    @CHP, you have a point about the equalizing of a Christmas tree and a menorah in public displays. Then again, for faithful Christians, Easter is much more important than Christmas (just as the High Holy Days are more important than Hannukah). Perhaps it’s just my own personal rationalization, but I think during the time around the winter solstice when the days are shortest and it’s completely dark when people get out of work, it is a great civic gesture to bring more light to the streets. I love how Old Town Alexandria strings all of their street trees with lights, for example. Nowadays, a Christmas tree is, or perhaps should be, a much more plural symbol than its name suggests, and is favored because of its familiarity. But I’d take any winter light display over nothing.

  • Dboe

    I vote yes. And I like the idea of a holiday market that Nichole mentioned.

  • Anonymous

    While I think it would be a beautiful edition to CH, I don’t want to see branchs thrown all over the streets because the misfits think it is a cool idea to destroy public property.

  • Victoria

    Just have the fountain spout eggnog.

  • ShermanAveGuy

    Why not put a Christmas tree up inside of DC USA in the large open space when you first walk in. I think that’s the best route. That way, it would be protected from the kids. It would also be on private property and so wouldn’t be open to law suits.

  • voiceofreason

    I guess it’s technically a plaza, since it’s a public area, but man, it’s so small! Plaza is definitely not the first word that comes to mind.

  • mj

    Maybe you can get Target to sponsor it since it would greatly improve that area during the very important Christmas season for them.

  • @voiceofreason: it is your job to provide links if you intend to back up your claims. No, you don’t have to, but likewise, I don’t have to place any weight at all in you unsubstantiated comments. Since your claim is far from intuitive, the burden of proof is on you if you expect anyone to believe it.

    But since logic doesn’t seem to work on you, I don’t suppose that the idea of “supporting a claim if you want to be taken seriously” makes any more sense to you. Just saying stuff doesn’t make it true.

  • Christ Stained Amerika

    If it dosen’t have a replica Nativity barnyard scene, complete with live animals, then it is just a Holiday Tree.

  • We’d love to see a Christmas Tree in that plaza. It’s looking nice and would add to the nightly glow of the area! YAY. We’ll help decorate too!

  • lalalala


    baseless claims are voiceofreason/dcdirewolf’s bread & butter. have you seen some of the threads in the CH forum?

  • voiceofreason
  • Actually, voiceofreason, or whoever you are, your links were a bit of a fishing expedition, weren’t they? just because you Google something and get some hits doesn’t mean it proves your point. Of the links I randomly looked at, one lawsuit was about a Christmas tree with large CROSSES as ornaments, in a bunch of others the lawsuits were dropped after they were deemed without merit, and others were poor analogies to the CH Plaza for various reasons (such as the tree was right in front of a courthouse).

  • Brett

    Here’s another vote from an atheist = yes to a Christmas tree please.

  • Mark L

    WTF is a secular holiday tree? The weight of over a century of symbolic associations will cause nearly everyone who sees it to associate any big pimped-out tree with christmas. Businesses, homeowners, condo boards, etc in the area can put up as much religious stuff as they want, but how can anybody argue against the inappropriateness of putting a symbol of a christian holiday in a public space? Many here are referencing what is done other places, or the aesthetic appeal of a tree, or the potential ramifications of having the tree. I agree with many such comments, but can’t get past the utter basic wrongness of the whole idea.


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