Plenty of Room in the Chamber for Senate Christmas Tree

The ornaments were hung by the lite guv with care.

There are some in the news media who would use the blessed occasion of the first-ever Texas Senate Christmas tree’s unveiling to further their own narrow political interests. Some would crack wise about the House and Senate engaging in a tree-measuring contest, or note the tree’s pagan roots as tributes to such lower-case-g gods as Ra, Saturn and Balder.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick will have none of that clatter. Only silver bells and trot-trot-trotting reindeer hooves for this lite guv today.

Dan Patrick unveils his Christmas tree in the Texas Senate.
Dan Patrick unveils his Christmas tree in the Texas Senate.  Patrick Michels

Patrick celebrated his great idea to buy a tree for the Senate chamber at a press availability today. Hanging one small ornament with care (to ensure local TV didn’t miss the shot), he explained that this choice ornament, like the Holy Grail itself, would be the humblest, smallest bauble to adorn those blessed branches. The ornament, hanging from a red bow, offers a rustic depiction of Joseph, Mary and the little baby Jesus.

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“Let’s not forget,” he cautioned the gathered press, “that when Jesus came, he was the small infant.”

One reporter had the gall to ask Patrick whether the story of Mary and Joseph’s great trek from Nazareth, and their cool welcome upon arriving in Bethlehem, put him in the mind of anyone else out there today, any other families who might be far from their middle-eastern homes and seeking refuge this holiday season.

Patrick, Santa-like in his attention to the season, was swift with his cheery reply. “I’m focused on Christmas, not politics today,” he said. There are indeed other religions with other holidays, he allowed, but “Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus.” As if to underscore the point, he wore on his lapel a pin with American and Texan flags hanging from the arms of a cross.

And celebrate he did!

Its arborial arms spread wide over a sea of handsomely wrapped packages, the classically decorated 24-foot pine casts a soft glow within the often harsh chamber where the state’s business is done. Patrick assured the press it was paid for — at a cost of about $500 — from his own campaign funds, and that despite its being a Virginia pine, the tree comes from the town of Denison, Texas. He said he hopes tourists visiting the Capitol will find it makes a fitting backdrop for their holiday photos.

Dan Patrick unveils his Christmas tree in the Texas Senate.
Jesus, the lieutenant governor reminded the gathered press, was “the small infant.”  Patrick Michels

“I just think it makes it fun,” he said. “We want to make the Christmas spirit in the Capitol even bigger.”

Before the press conference, Patrick availed himself of more than a few photo ops with the esteemed evergreen, inviting visiting children from Freer Junior High School to stand before him as he beamed for their teacher’s camera. Merrily dispensing with questions of their naughtiness or niceness, Patrick chose two lucky tots to hang ornaments on the tree as he looked on.

Then, gingerly scaling a ladder by the tree, the lieutenant governor took the liberty of placing a large golden teardrop-shaped decoration on a branch well beyond the children’s reach.

Dan Patrick unveils his Christmas tree in the Texas Senate.
Patrick declined to engage in politicking on the festive occasion of installing a towering religious symbol in the center of a government chamber used by elected officials to pass laws.  Patrick MIchels

Descending the ladder, Patrick gathered his staff around the tree beside him and smiled for photos with them, too.

“Say Christmas!” he instructed first, and then, “Say Merry Christmas!” Handing off his iPhone for one more shot, he looked around at his close colleagues and friends, sharply dressed in their suits and skirts and holiday sweaters, and relished the precious moment they were preserving for history together, and smiled as he told them, “I feel like we’re in school and I’m the teacher.”

Patrick Michels, a former Observer staff writer, is a reporter at the Center for Investigative Reporting.

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Published at 3:19 pm CST
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