Posted on December 11, 2008

Quebec’s Christmas Tree Becomes Holiday Tree. Then Back to Christmas Tree.

Graeme Hamilton, National Post (Toronto), December 10, 2008

Fresh off Monday’s election victory, Quebec Premier Jean Charest has a new cabinet to craft and an “economic storm” to be tamed. So it is not surprising that his schedule might be subject to last-minute changes.

But late Tuesday, his office issued a puzzling correction to his agenda of public events for today. “Please note that some modifications have been made,” the notice said. But in fact there was only one change to the previous agenda, which had been issued half-an-hour earlier.

He would no longer be attending the lighting of the “sapin de Noël,” or Christmas tree, outside the National Assembly at 5 p.m. Instead he would attend the lighting of the “grand sapin des Fêtes”—the big Holiday tree. Same time, same location.

It is not the first time that Christmas has tied Mr. Charest in knots. In December, 2006, Mario Dumont, leader of the ADQ, jumped on Mr. Charest’s reluctance to say the words “Merry Christmas” as the legislative session closed. The Premier had offered “best wishes” instead.

“I will be allowed even a reasonable accommodation to wish Quebecers, in due form, a Merry Christmas,” Mr. Dumont said. At the time, a spokesman for Mr. Charest assured Le Devoir: “There’s a tree at the entrance to the Premier’s office, and it’s called a ‘Christmas tree.’” Last year, Mr. Charest made sure to wish people a Merry Christmas in the cards he sent out.

Mr. Charest earlier this year insisted that the crucifix will remain above the speaker’s chair in the legislature, responding to a commission report suggesting the religious symbol sends the wrong signal in a secular state. So a crucifix is fine, but a Christmas tree is going too far. No wonder new arrivals to Quebec are sometimes confused about the society they are joining.