Downed evergreen tree becomes symbol of COVID-19 crisis

Scott Williams
Racine Journal Times
A 40-foot evergreen knocked over in a storm has become a symbol of the beleaguered holiday season during the COVID-19 pandemic for residents in the Wind Lake area of the Town of Norway.

NORWAY, Wis. (AP) – For a holiday season marked by the upheaval of a public health crisis, residents along Loomis Road in the town of Norway think they have found the perfect symbol.

When storm winds Nov. 10 toppled a 40-foot evergreen in the Wind Lake neighborhood, residents at first figured they had a mess to clean up.

Then they realized that the image of a holiday tree laying flat on its back is a fitting metaphor for the disaster that 2020 has come to represent during the COVID-19 pandemic.

So neighbors left the downed evergreen right there, roots and all. And they decorated the mess with makeshift ornaments symbolizing the COVID-19 outbreak, including face masks, rolls of toilet paper and empty beer cans, the Racine Journal Times reported.

Complete with a sign declaring "COVID Christmas," the unusual holiday display is turning heads among neighbors and passersby.

Property owner Ginger Dittman said the tree had been growing on her property for 40 years. Seeing it knocked down during the holiday season seemed to fit right in with 2020's events.

"It tipped over, and it represents what a lot of people have been going through," Dittman said. "Everything is just falling apart."

Nearby hardware store owner Andy Scholbe, who donated lights for the COVID Christmas tree, said the oddball holiday exhibition started out as a joke, then morphed into a genuine effort to boost people's spirits.

"It turned a terrible year into a feel-good story," Scholbe said.

The evergreen tree came crashing down on the night of Nov. 10 during a violent thunderstorm that knocked out power in the Wind Lake area. When the sun came up the next day, residents saw that the towering pine tree had been uprooted in Dittman's front yard.

Dean Shallow, a friend who lives about a mile away, said the sight of the dead tree laying on its back seemed symbolic for a holiday season that is taking place under the shadow of COVID-19.

"I said, 'We've got to do something with this tree,' " Shallow recalled. "This is just the most perfect thing."

Dittman agreed to leave the tree where it fell over and to let it become a statement for the neighborhood.

The toilet paper represents the shortage of paper products and other store goods. The face masks represent the personal protective gear that has become commonplace. And empty beer cans and wine bottles represent the extra drinking some people have done while quarantined at home.

After several neighbors and others stepped forward to help, a group gathered to decorate the tree. An official tree-lighting took place the weekend after Thanksgiving.

"It brought a lot of friends together," Shallow said, "and we had a good chuckle."

Dittman said she plans to leave the display up until the end of the year.

The property owner said she is delighted that her fallen tree has brought a little extra holiday cheer to the neighborhood at a time of stress and anxiety.

"It's been a sad time for so many people," she said. "If I can bring a couple of smiles to people's faces, that's what it's all about."