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State News

'Tis The Season For Political Posturing: The Holidays Come To The Capitol

This years display from The Church of The Flying Spaghetti Monster
Nick Evans
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The holiday spirit is in the air at the state’s Capitol, and that means displays are going up.  Some are a bit unique, but earlier this week Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam presented Christmas trees to the Cabinet.  But like most politics around this time of year, there’s plenty of rhetoric mixed in with the tinsel.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas at the state capitol.  It’s also beginning to look a lot like whatever holiday the flying spaghetti monster celebrates.  Just like last year, the Capitol’s public forum will be filling up with displays that are overtly religious, and displays that are explicitly anti-religious, aimed at making a point about the separation between church and state. 

Last year, Chaz Stevens made a splash with his Festivus pole covered in Pabst Blue Ribbon cans.

“All of this shouldn’t be here,” Stevens said at the time. “The government shouldn’t be in this business of allowing the mixture of church and state.”

He’ll be setting up his Festivus pole again this Monday. 

But others like Lucien Greaves are a bit more tolerant.

“We want to put forward a message that not only respects plurality but shows that we can put our religious differences aside and hope for everybody to have a happy holiday season whatever their beliefs are,” Greaves says.

The Satanic Temple of Florida's display.  This is the exact same display that was not allowed last year.
Credit Florida Department of Management Services
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The Satanic Temple of Florida's display. This is the exact same display that was not allowed last year.

Greaves is from The Satanic Temple of Florida.  They’ll be setting up their display—a diorama of Lucifer falling to hell—on the 22.

But the state’s Cabinet officials are sticking with the good old Christmas tree for their offices.  Last Tuesday Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam presented each of them with a 7-foot-plus Virginia Pine, and Florida Governor Rick Scott let a former paralegal from with the Attorney General’s office do the honors of lighting up his tree.

All four of the trees came from the Havana Christmas Tree Farm, just up the road. 

Literally. 

The street running in front of Florida’s historic Capitol building turns into a highway just north of town.  The tree farm is fourteen miles up on the left.  They’ve got over 5,000 trees on 30 acres, so they use heavy duty golf carts to get around. 

“You can tell the difference between the trees here how they grow,” tree handler Renae Marsh says.  “The cypress trees they have more of a softer petal on them.”

Leland Cypress
Credit Nick Evans
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Leland Cypress

The Cypress foliage is almost like a flat fan of blunt-ended pine needles, but the Virginia Pine is covered in sharp needles sticking out all over the place. 

Sometime after Thanksgiving, the farm starts seeing people coming out to get their tree, but Marsh says they’re pretty busy during the rest of the year, too.

“The other eleven months, we’re planting trees—we’re getting the field ready,” Marsh says.  “If a lot of trees are cut from one field, we’ll crop it down and start all over.”

Concheta Cole works at the farm, too, and she says they do a lot of planting to replenish the trees they sell. 

“For every tree that’s cut down,” Cole says, “we usually replant about two to three hundred trees.  Every year.”

Back in the Capitol on Tuesday, the Governor’s tree is lit up, but noticeably low on other decoration. 

Virginia Pine
Credit Nick Evans
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Virginia Pine

“You can see they’re in various stages of decoration,” Putnam says. “But you can go by the Attorney General’s office, the CFO’s office, or our office and you can see a more fully-decorated Virginia Pine, Florida-grown Christmas tree.”

Although Putnam may not be making a big deal about religion, with that emphasis on Florida-grown, it’s clear those trees are about more than just the holiday spirit.