Wisconsin governor returns 'holiday tree' name to evergreen

FILE — In this Nov. 30, 2012, file photo, Fourth-graders from Medford Elementary and Stetsonville Elementary schools perform during a Christmas tree lighting ceremony at the State Capitol in Madison, Wis. Gov. Tony Evers has gone back to calling the state Capitol Christmas tree a holiday tree, reigniting an old fight over what to call the evergreen. Wisconsin politicians began referring to the tree as a holiday tree in 1985. Former Republican Gov. Scott Walker declared the tree a Christmas tree in 2011, drawing the ire of the Madison-based Freedom from Religion Foundation.

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has gone back to calling the evergreen on display at the state Capitol a holiday tree, reversing his predecessor who declared it a Christmas tree.

The state Department of Administration places a huge evergreen in the Capitol rotunda every year ahead of Christmas. The tree has been a tradition in the Capitol since 1916.

Politicians called it a Christmas tree until 1985, when they began referring to it as a holiday tree to avoid perceptions that they were endorsing religion. DOA allows other groups to place displays in the rotunda as end-of-the-year holidays approach, including a menorah and a Festivus pole, a nod to the fictional holiday in the “Seinfeld” television series. But the controversy over what to call the tree has never really died.

In 2007 the Republican-controlled state Assembly passed a resolution to call the tree a Christmas tree, but it died in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Former Republican Gov. Scott Walker, the son of a Baptist minister, declared the tree a Christmas tree when he took office in 2011.

Evers, a Democrat, called the tree a holiday tree on Friday. He announced the tree’s theme will be “Celebrate Science” and asked schoolchildren to submit science-related ornaments to adorn the tree.