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December 2, 2014

CityMetric Advent 2: The Pennsylvania city that revolted against its Christmas tree

By City Monitor Staff

We’re not American, but we gather that in the week leading up to Thanksgiving, you’re meant to be thankful. Thankful for friends; thankful for family; thankful that it’s only another month before the next long holiday weekend.

This Thanksgiving week, though, the residents of Reading, Pennsylvania, decided that they’d had enough of being thankful. They were ready to make a stand. Because the Christmas tree erected in the centre of town this year just wasn’t good enough

Yes, we know, it actually looks fine. We’ll just have to take their word for it. Image: courtesy of the Reading Eagle.

“This town’s Christmas tree is so sad and hideous that residents want it replaced”, proclaimed E! Online. “Everybody that took part in bringing this tree here should get fired”, one resident told CBS news.

It turns out locals did have a point: the city crew responsible for finding a tree had set out to cut down a majestic spruce from a nearby farm, but the ground was too wet for their truck to drive close enough. So instead, they cut down a pine from a local park and erected it downtown. It thus seems likely that the outcry was due partly to the tree’s slightly threadbare appearance, and partly to the feeling that the city was cutting corners at Christmas. 

It would be a nice, festive ending if the city had accepted and celebrated the ugly tree despite its limitations, Ugly Duckling or Grinch-style. But residents instead decided to strip the ugly tree and raise money for a new, more beautiful tree, with swankier decorations. That one was unveiled in a ceremony on Sunday, complete with the city’s traditional pretzel decoration on top (a reference to the area’s many bakeries).

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That, however, is not the end of the story. In a bizarre turn of events, the city has now decided to keep the stripped tree on show with a single red light, in tribute to a famous Peanuts comic strip, in which Charlie Brown has a sad, spindly tree with a single red bauble. Because they’ve decided it’ll make a nice – wait for it – tourist attraction.

It turns out the city authorities hadn’t anticipated the level of press coverage the uproar would cause, and realised just as the sad tree was being dismantled that they should capitalise on it. So Reading’s new “Charlie Brown Day festival” will take place on 20 December. Francis G. Acosta, president of the city council, explained the decision by saying: “It’s no longer about just redecorating the tree. It’s about making it something that the city can take advantage of.”

This is, as Christmas messages go, depressingly mercenary. Luckily, Jeff Waltman, the council’s vice president, has a soul a little more Christmas spirit. He told CBS:

It sends the wrong message to take down this tree. None of us in our city are perfect. If we took out everything that is imperfect in our city it would be empty.

What’s that? No, we’re not crying. It’s just really… windy in here. 


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