At the center of the courtyard of my high school stands a tall, bare conifer. Although it resembles what most Americans would call a "Christmas tree,” the tree has no lights, no ornaments and no star at its peak. After two weeks of conversation and controversy, this tree has endured. And now, it is here to stay.
This tree, dubbed as the "Winter Community Tree,” was originally brought to Aragon High School by the school’s leadership class as a way to promote school spirit and rally support behind the school’s winter fundraiser Toys for Tots. Originally, the tree was to be decorated by students and new unwrapped gifts for Toys for Tots were to be dropped off by the tree. Now, however, the tree is disassociated from the Toys for Tots program and the tree is not allowed to be decorated.
So how did this tree lose so much value? Currently, Aragon has been trying to tread a fine line between upholding its previous decisions and not trying to offend anyone.
When the tree first went up at school, many teachers and students were stunned. To many people in Aragon’s community, the tree symbolized the school’s acceptance of Christian culture. Many Jewish, Muslim, Atheist and Christian students and faculty alike felt that the tree was inappropriate for display by a public institution.
By constitutional standards, a school display of a Christmas tree is legal. A majority of Supreme Court justices have expressed that the Christmas trees is a secular symbol in American society and therefore does not overstep the separation of church and state.
Still, many students and faculty at Aragon have state that a Christmas tree is in fact not a secular symbol. Rather, such students and faculty see the tree as a symbol of the Christian celebration of Christmas.
Thus, a discussion throughout Aragon began concerning the role of the Winter Community Tree. Indeed, the original intent of the Winter Community Tree was not to offend students who didn’t celebrate Christmas. The tree was a tool to help raise donations for a good cause. But the tree did in fact inadvertently offend students.
So what should be done with the tree? I feel like the current status of the tree is now in an odder place than it was originally. Since the tree is not allowed to be associated with the Toys for Tots program (likely because the association between the tree and presents would make it seem more like a Christmas tree), it will not contribute to the publicity of the Toys for Tots program. Since the tree is not allowed to be decorated (likely for similar reasons), many Christian students wonder about the absence of decorations from the tree. Yet, if the tree had been decorated and was still associated with the Toys for Tots program, there would have likely been some continued protesting by students and faculty who didn’t celebrate Christmas.
Thus, the current status of the tree is a compromise. It is not a Christmas tree; rather it is just a conifer which stands in the middle of Aragon’s center court. It is not decorated; there are no presents beneath it. It is simply a pine tree which will, come January, leave the school.
In the end, neither party is completely satisfied. The students who celebrate Christmas wonder about the absence of presents and ornaments. The students who don’t celebrate Christmas still feel like the presence of the tree is inappropriate. Maybe instead of leaving the pine tree up, the Winter Community Tree should have been removed. Maybe instead of keeping the discussion on the decision process regarding the tree a secret, the students should get to hear the reasoning behind its status. But since the tree is still here and no public statement has been made, students at Aragon are left to wonder about its presence. Every time I pass by center court I know I take a look at the tall stately conifer and wonder exactly what it means to me.
Andrew Lyu is a senior at Aragon High School. Student News appears in the weekend edition. You can email Student News at firstname.lastname@example.org.