Church leaders 'disappointed' with 'premature removal' of Edinburgh nativity sculpture for Johnnie Walker advertising

The giant Christmas tree at The Mound has also been felled.

Tuesday, 31st December 2019, 6:00 am

The removal of a nativity sculpture to make way for Johnnie Walker whisky advertising figurines just two days after Christmas has been criticised by church leaders.

Tradition dictates that decorations can be left up for the 12 days of Christmas and are only taken down or removed on the Epiphany on January 6.

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Edinburgh's Nativity scene replaced by a Johnnie Walker whisky advert for Hogman...

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The nativity scene has been replaced by Johnnie Walker figurines.

But organisers of the Capital’s official festivities have felled the giant Christmas tree on the Mound and replaced its neighbouring Nativity sculpture scene with a series of ‘Johnnie Walker’ figures, which feature on bottles of the blended whisky.

The Nativity sculpture was at one stage left lying on the grass, prompting an angry response on social media.

And the Catholic Archdiocese of St Andrews & Edinburgh said it was “disappointed” at the move.

A spokesman said: “The Nativity scene brought home the true meaning of Christmas in a brilliant location and we’re disappointed at its premature removal along with the Christmas tree from their position on The Mound.”

Hogmanay event organisers Underbelly insist the tree - a traditional gift from Norway - had been removed before January 6 in previous years to make way for a giant television screen and had to be taken down for safety reasons.

Underbelly added that the Nativity - previously in St Andrew Square - was removed on January 5 this year.

'Not the spirit of Christmas'

However, Councillor Iain Whyte, leader of the Tory group on Edinburgh City Council, said: “I have every sympathy for those who are upset by the removal of these traditional Christmas items - the Nativity scene, in particular, given it represents the point from Jesus’ birth for Christians through to the 12 days of Nativity.”

Cllr Whyte said he recalled years gone by when the tree was kept in place into January.

He added: “Having it put up later and removed earlier almost as an afterthought doesn’t seem to be in the spirit of Christmas.”

The row was sparked after a number of photographs emerged on social media of the spruce reduced to a sawn-off stump.

Hospital chaplain Mark Evans tweeted “What has happened to our Christmas Tree?

“The tree on the mound is a GIFT to the people of Edinburgh. Where is it and is this really an appropriate way to treat the Nativity scene. Shame on you.”

A towering tree is donated to the Capital by the people of Norway every year as a thank you for efforts to help liberate the country during the Second World War.

The Nativity scene by artist Tim Chalk was donated by Sir Tom and Lady Farmer after being commissioned in 2003 to challenge people’s conceptions of Christmas.

The 12 days of Christmas is the period celebrated in Christianity between the birth of Christ on December 25 and the coming of the three wise men, or Epiphany.

Lord Provost Frank Ross and festival organisers sought to reassure residents there was nothing new in the swift clearance.

Cllr Ross tweeted: “The Hordaland tree was removed on the same date as last year (2018) and only after discussion and agreement of the Norwegians.”

'Utmost care and respect'

The latest Hogmanay controversy emerged amid calls for Underbelly to be stripped of its contract to organise Edinburgh’s Winter festivals.

Underbelly came under fire last month after it was revealed the Christmas market in Princes Street Gardens does not have planning permission to operate – while the company didn’t apply for permission for last year’s event, without Edinburgh City Council realising.

Underbelly has also been criticised for telling residents who live on streets closed for the Hogmanay street party, that they will need to wear wristbands to enter and leave their own homes and passes will be restricted to six per property without applying for special permission for more.

A spokeswoman for Underbelly said: “The Christmas tree has been removed at the same time as in previous years in preparation for tomorrow’s Hogmanay event in the city centre.”

“The Nativity scene has previously been placed in St Andrew Square, but we decided to move it this year and the response to its move and the relocation of the Nativity Concert were very well received.”

She added: “We have been putting up and taking down the Nativity for 6 years now and always do so with the utmost care and respect.

“The figures are lifted carefully from the platform and put on the grass, set apart so they don’t damage each other, and soon after wrapped, packed in a storage box and taken into safe storage until the following year.”