A spate of letters to the editor lately claim it's intuitively obvious to the most casual observer that the big evergreen tree in the Capitol is a "Christmas tree," and any idiot should be able to see that.
This would come as a complete surprise to the Israelites of 2,000 years ago, who lived in an area where trees of any kind were scarce, and pine trees were completely unknown.
Evergreens were, however, native to northern Europe, where various pagan religions respected them as a symbol of persistent life, because they didn't wither and die over the winter, as did most other plants, including crops.
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Christian missionaries, trying to ingratiate themselves with the natives, essentially swiped the local practices, relabeled them as Christian, and thereafter pretended they had invented them. This is similar to the way they stole Dec. 25 from the Roman festival of Saturnalia and the myth of the virgin birth from half a dozen predecessor religions.
Indeed, as Tom Flynn points out in his 1992 book, "The Trouble with Christmas," almost none of the practices we now associate with Christmas originated with Christianity -- they were all co-opted from elsewhere.
Richard S. Russell, Madison