The compulsion to sacrifice cherished traditions on the altar of political correctness has made its way to Italy, just in time for Christmas. In the town of Bolzano, officials ordered the removal of a traditionally decorated Christmas tree that stood in the city’s town hall. The reason? Fear of offending a Muslim group set to visit the area.
The trouble began when a sports organization decorated the hall for its athlete-of-the-year ceremony, as the Voice of Europe reported. After the ceremony, Veterani dello Sport — roughly translated as the National Union of Veterans of Sport — left the Christmas decorations up for all to enjoy.
The day after the ceremony, Veterani dello Sport received a phone call asking for the removal of the Christmas tree, and of other decorations as well. The request was made because a Muslim association would be visiting the hall, and the festive decorations “could hurt their feelings or offend them,” as Voice of Europe reported.
This did not sit well with some of the city’s leadership. “We must still have the courage to be indignant,” said Allessandro Urzì, one of Bolzano’s political officials, in a translation of the original Italian as provided in a press release on L’alto Adige nel Cuore.
Indignant — indeed.
In polite society, overtly disparaging the religion or culture of any group is frowned upon — and in some cases, it’s also illegal. This is part of what makes life in a civil society — well, civil. The case of the town hall Christmas tree in Bolzano, it is important to note, doesn’t involve the thumbing of noses at the tenants of Islam. Instead, it involves honoring the longstanding traditions and cultural expressions of another group.
So how does the existence of a common, seasonal cultural expression — a Christmas tree — equate to disparaging another group’s culture or harming the group in any way? The short answer is that it doesn’t.
At what point do the well-intended, pre-emptive attempts to assuage the feelings of one group cross over into the territory of offending another group? How is it acceptable to repudiate the gift of Christmas decorations from the athlete’s organization to ostensibly protect a visiting Muslim group from witnessing those expressions?
It stretches the imagination to believe that a Christmas tree in Bolzano’s town hall given as a gift would represent the tipping point of offense in a town that, at this time of year, is steeped in all things Christmas.
Bolzano is an Alpine city of about 100,000 in the South Tyrol province of northern Italy. The medieval city is currently in the midst of its beloved Christmas Market — Italy’s largest — where the Advent atmosphere is almost palpable. The market includes Christmas trees, of course, as well as other overtly Christian decorations, symbols, foods, shops and events.
Ironically, the city’s website proudly and boldly describes the many beloved attractions of the festival, which is more than two decades old: “Underneath the Christmas tree the nativity returns in real rustic alpine style: the Holy Family with cow and donkey inside a real miniature stable.”
The medieval city is currently in the midst of its beloved Christmas Market.
Unless the visiting Muslims will be blindfolding themselves for the trip to Bolzano’s town hall, they will surely be subjected to the sights, sounds, and smells of Christmas. Perhaps officials are hoping a town hall culturally sanitized to cater to the visiting group’s presumed preferences may somehow make up for the myriad Christmas-related offenses that saturate the rest of the city.
Michele Blood is a freelance writer based in Flemington, New Jersey.