CHRISTMAS is back at City Hall. (But don't tell the tree.)

After two days of controversy that grew to national proportions, Mayor Nutter announced last night that the word "Christmas" will be restored to the 15-foot-tall arch that welcomed visitors to a German-style Christmas market outside City Hall.

The word, spelled out in tiny white lights, had been removed Monday afternoon after city Managing Director Richard Negrin said he had responded to complaints from an unspecified number of city employees and visitors.

But the Daily News' story on the removal went viral and prompted a wave of negative reaction, including a protest from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and a pending resolution from City Councilwoman Joan Krajewski accusing the administration of "disrespecting Christians" in favor of political correctness.

Nutter called reporters into his office last night to say that he'd just talked with the promoter of the Christmas Village, who had agreed to reconnect the lights dismantled two days earlier.

"We'll have the full 'Christmas Village' sign back in place [today]," Nutter said. "I'm totally respectful of any of our public employees or citizens who have a complaint, whether about this or anything else. At the same time, we have any number of employees and citizens . . . who enjoy this particular kind of commercial enterprise. The Christmas Village is not a religious service."

Earlier yesterday, the Archdiocese issued a statement calling the removal "very disappointing."

"If we are to be a truly diverse and inclusive community, we must certainly be respectful of all of the various celebrations that occur during this time of year," the statement said. "Christmas deserves its rightful place among those."

Nutter said he hadn't discussed the situation with Cardinal Justin Rigali or any other religious leaders.

The tempest in a holiday teapot kicked off Monday when workers were spotted taking the word Christmas off the sign. In a statement Tuesday, Thomas Bauer of German American Marketing Inc., which runs the village, said the move was in "response to what the managing director . . . asked for."

Negrin said he never specifically asked for the word to be removed but had talked with Bauer about the complaints. "He's a great guy who saw a problem, who was trying to help me," Negrin said.

Nutter said that he had nothing to do with the original conversations with the organizer but that he decided to call Bauer yesterday to ask him to put the word "Christmas" back up.

"I reached out to him and asked him directly if he would reconsider the action he took removing the word 'Christmas' from the Christmas Village sign," Nutter said. "He very graciously agreed."

Nutter, who played down how much impact the national news coverage had on the decision, said his phone call was more the result of his own reflection than a reaction to the controversy.

"As mayor, part of my job is to look at things in their totality and try to make a decision that best represents who we are and what we're about and some of the fundamental principles of this city," Nutter said.

Next on the mayor's to-do list: a tree-lighting ceremony at 5 p.m. today, featuring a tall evergreen about 15 steps from the Christmas Village sign.

What to call it? Watch your words.

"I think we're calling the tree this year the same thing we've called it every year since even before I was mayor, which is, the City Hall tree," Nutter said.