Abstract Christmas tree sparks protests in Brussels


Brussels' controversial Christmas tree in action

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Thousands of people have signed a petition against an abstract light installation replacing the traditional Christmas tree in Brussels city centre.

More than 11,000 signatures have been gathered in the online petition and a Facebook page attacking the new feature has been launched.

Critics accuse officials of opting for the installation for fear of offending non-Christians, especially Muslims.

But the mayor's office said it was part of a theme this year of "light".

Start Quote

We know we are living in a country with a Christian culture, we take no offence over a traditional Christmas tree”

End Quote Semsettin Ugurlu Belgian Muslim Executive

Traditionally, a 20m (65ft) pine tree taken from the forests of the Ardennes has adorned the city's central square, the Grand Place.

This year, it has been replaced with a 25m (82ft) construction, though smaller real Christmas trees still decorate the square, a spokesman at the mayor's office said.

The city's website said the new "tree" was one of five "light" installations around the Grand Place this year, offering visitors the chance to climb to the top and enjoy "beautiful views" of the city.

Tourism councillor Philippe Close at the mayor's office said the aim was to show off the "avant-garde character" of Brussels by blending the modern and the traditional, to produce something new and different.


Brussels hosts one of the most popular winter markets in Europe and many are worried that the contemporary construction is incongruous with the 17th-Century buildings that surround it, the BBC's Maddy Savage reports from the city.

The light installation has even been nicknamed The Pharmacy by some who say the glowing cubes resemble the green cross symbol you find outside many chemists around the world.

Bianca Debaets, a Brussels councillor from the Christian Democratic and Flemish party, said she believed a "misplaced argument" over religious sensitivities had moved Brussels to put up the light sculpture.

"For a lot of people who are not Christians, the tree there is offensive to them," she told reporters.

Erik Maxwell, from Brussels, told BBC News: "We think the tree has been put up for cultural reasons.

"A tree is for Christmas and Christians but now there are a lot of Muslims here in Brussels. So to avoid discussions they have just replaced a tree with a couple of cubes! I am more traditional, I prefer the usual tree. That's better for the Belgian people."

A recent estimate in the Belgian newspaper Le Soir suggested Muslims made up 22% of the population of Brussels and its region as of 2010.

'Pleasure of winter'

Parts of the Belgian press have been keen to suggest that the tree is an example of "political correctness", designed to be more appealing to non-Christian religious groups than a traditional fir tree, our correspondent says.

However it seems likely that the media storm is influencing public opinion rather than reflecting it.

There was applause and plenty of oohs and aahs in the square at a preview of the nightly sound-and-light show that will take place there until the New Year, our correspondent reports, adding that the enthusiasm suggests some sceptics have been won over.

"What we want is just to modernise the pleasure of winter, of this Christmas market and all the image of Brussels," said Councillor Philippe Close.

"The Christmas tree is not a religious symbol and actually lots of Muslims have a Christmas tree at home.

"For people who want a traditional religious symbol, we have the nativity scene here in the square. For people who want modernity, we have this new tree."

Semsettin Ugurlu, chairman of the Belgian Muslim Executive, representing the Muslim community in Belgium, said his organisation did not mind any kind of Christmas tree.

"We know we are living in a country with a Christian culture, we take no offence over a traditional Christmas tree," he said.

Miryam Oostling, a visitor from Leeuwarden in the Netherlands, told the BBC: "I quite like the tree. It's a piece of modern art. It's cosy!"


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  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    So Belgium don't want to put a Christmas tree up because it might offend Muslims but the ban Muslim women wearing veils in public. Typical muddle from the capital of EU muddles really.

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    Allah will be pleased with this. No terror attacks on Brussels it seems!

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    Disgusting mealy mouthed hate-mongering from right wing politicians and press.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    has anyone mentioned yet that it probably cost hundreds of times more than a tree as well!

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    The fact that there are other Christmas trees in the square means the protesters have no argument. Although I would prefer an actual tree, I quite like it.

    I'm always jealous of the Christmas decorations in big cities as those in our town are pitiful. I went to London in December once and even some individual shop displays put our council's under-funded efforts to shame.

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    This is unbelievable. I live in India & can't believe that all this is just for political correctness ! All my life, I have seen people celebrating publicly & everybody is a part. You will see Muslims joining Hindu festivals and Hindus and Muslims joining Christians for Christmas etc. I am extremely surprised by this. Also, it sends a wrong message by showing Muslims as "intolerant".

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    Please note that the Sound & Light show will run up to December 27 only (safety measure). Thanks for your understanding. More info about the Winter Wonders programme is available on VISITBRUSSELS website.
    We look forward to welcoming you and please feel free to give us feedback about your Brussels experience through our visitors' satisfaction questionnaire.

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    WoW, the Mayor really got suckered in to that one didn't he!

    That thing is monstrous. You can call it an abstract representation of a Christmas tree all you like, if that is how your brain copes with it.. but honestly, it is a pile of boxes lashed together with some steel string.

    Try to imagine how ridiculous this thing looks during the day too. Like a hashed together pile of Tetris pieces!

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    1 Hour ago
    ' Socialism hates religion.'


    Scocialism does not hate religion, rather it seeks to implement those tenets of equallity, peace, charity etc that most peaceful religions espouse yet fail to carry out.
    In fact most religions have at their core socialist ideals which is why people are so attracted to them

    Communism on the other hand.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    Christians cut trees, waste a lot of energy during Chirstmas times. That is the way of life for them. They do not consider enviroment until Christmas ends, after that they start talking how to save enviroment. Stop cutting trees, stop wasting energy during Christmas times. Save the planet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    Who cares if the Christmas tree is not Christian ... it's become a
    tradition in majority-Christian countries. This tree is Brussels PC and I'm fed up with their interference in our traditions whilst insisting of recognising those of other countries (countries European immigrants have fled from anyway).

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    Right, who's stolen all the letters and numbers?
    Can someone name the idiot who came up with this idiotic idea of a Christmas Tree?
    I've now cancelled Christmas here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    I would suggest that some of those who claim to take offence on behalf of Muslims have their own hidden agenda of misrepresentation and division. I live opposite a Mosque and have had a couple of members of the congregation congratulate me on my Xmas lights. In my experience most ordinary Muslims have no objection whatsoever to Christmas (Jesus was one of their prophets after all).

  • Comment number 142.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    I quite like it...

    It's a nice abstract representation, clean and bright.

    But then, I don't care for traditional Christmas decorations! Why not have a more 'traditional' tree as well, for those who prefer that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    Looks yucky. Wouldn'y encourage me to visit Brussels. Just a bit silly. Funny time of year to have the theme of light. Can't we just go back to midwinter sacrifice?

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    As a permanent resident in Brussels, I find this decision to replace the Christmas tree as totally unwise. The tree added to the festive mood, gave the Grand Place a very special atmosphere at Xmas. Why do authorities tinker with unnecessary, uncalled for changes? Tourism will suffer as a consequence. Situated at the heart of a vibrant city, the Grand Place has always appealed to tourists galore.

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    Oh for heavens sake, stick a crescent on the top, a light sabre on one side and a chubby happy fellow on the other. And just for the atheist you could cut a whole out of the middle.

    I despair, I really do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    Why do christians think it OK to inflict their gluttonous, commercialized festival on everybody else? Like many people born in the UK, my parents attempted to raise me in the christian faith, which I comprehensively rejected once I was able to see it for what it is. There is a perception we live in a christian culture. We do not. Those days are gone. We live in a secular society. Go Brussels!

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    If they have the money to waste on this object then good luck to them!


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