BOBBY HARRISON: Celebrating Capitol Christmas sometimes gets complicated

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – It’s time to put up the Christmas tree my daughter announces with a flair and drama that only she can make work.
The only problem is that I am getting ready to settle in to watch the South Carolina-Auburn Southeastern Conference championship game – only the event I have planned my whole day around.
No problem, my lovely wife and daughter explain. They will put up the decorations. I can watch the game.
The rest of the afternoon is spent by me being torn between watching the game and putting up Christmas decorations. Putting up those decorations is not a quick task in my house. It pretty much means re-decorating the entire house.
I joke to my wife that she must hold a world’s record for number of nativity scenes. My wife responds, but I am not sure what she says. My attention turns to the game where Auburn’s Cameron Newton has just scored another touchdown.
“Wow he is good. What was his price to play at Mississippi State?” I silently ask myself.
In the end, my wife puts up the vast majority of the decorations, followed by my daughter and then me in a distant third place. The boys, the ones at home the day after Thanksgiving, help carry the tree into the house and might have put on an ornament or two.
When it comes time to take down the decorations, my lovely wife Jill will do just about all of that.
Hey, it will be bowl season.
So who am I to complain? I love Christmas decorations and I do enjoy the quality time with family members decorating for the season – in between the football games, of course.
In general, I just I love the season.
Christmas eve is my favorite day of the year. Of all the events surrounding Christmas, nothing is more special and humbling than the Christmas eve communion service.
Over the past few weeks, the state Capitol also has been decorated for the season.
The ornate, marble-filled building has been adorned with Christmas trees (multiple ones) poinsettias, ribbons and garland. It is indeed a site to behold.
There are Christmas lights outside and even a nativity scene on the first floor.
The various court rulings on the issue of religious decorations in public buildings, such as the state Capitol, are confusing at best and perhaps in truth conflicting.
Does putting up a Christmas tree and lights represent an unconstitutional religious statement? After all, Christmas is a Christian holiday.
Or are Christmas trees OK because Christmas is now such a universally celebrated holiday thanks to the commercial aspects?
The nativity scene was funded by a private organization – the 9/11 Remembrance Foundation. It is on the first floor in an area where a vast array of groups – including the Elvis Presley Memorial Foundation – have put up displays in the past.
To many Mississippians there is Jesus high atop the list of most important, followed by Elvis. So it would only be appropriate to have both celebrated in the Mississippi Capitol.
Perhaps the fact that the nativity scene is being funded by a private group makes it OK. Maybe that is an easy and simple method of determining when it is OK or not OK – from a legal standpoint – to put up a religious display on public property.
Works for me.
But what if someone wants to put up a menorah next year, or some type of Muslim display? Yikes, could someone put up a display proclaiming God is dead or could the controversial Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church come to the Mississippi Capitol and put up a display saying all Mississippi soldiers killed in combat in recent years got what they deserved because of America’s tolerant attitude toward gays?
Living in a representative democracy that touts a freedom of religion and a freedom from religion can be a messy thing.
But Christmas is a grand and special thing – so much so that we don’t need the government, a television station or department store to tell us so.
Merry Christmas and happy holidays.
While all might not celebrate the Christian aspects of Christmas, hopefully all can feel the spirit the holiday is supposed to represent.

Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau Chief. Contact him at bobby.harrison@djournal.com or call (601) 353-3119.