Rhode Island governor uses term 'holiday tree'; outrage ensues

Christmas lights

Christmas tree? Or holiday tree? It's looking more and more like "getting into the holiday spirit" this year will require you to choose your category -- and then defend your position.

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee is the latest to wade into this thorny debate. A news release posted online this week by the governor's office made absolutely no mention of "Christmas" as it invited "all Rhode Islanders" to come see the 17-foot Colorado blue spruce donated for the annual "holiday tree lighting" ceremony being held in the State House next week.

Critics immediately pounced, leading Chafee to issue a follow-up statement: "Recently, some controversy has arisen regarding the holiday tree in the State House Rotunda -- a tree that stands mere feet from the Royal Charter that, more than three centuries ago, granted 'a full liberty in religious concernments' and 'the free exercise and enjoyment of all their civil and religious rights' to the inhabitants of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations."

The statement, quoted by the Providence Journal, continues: "Use of the term 'holiday tree' is a continuation of past practice, and does not represent a change of course on my part."

Chafee, an Independent, urged critics to volunteer to help Rhode Island's needy.

Those critics include state Rep. Joseph Trillo, a Republican, who said Chafee shouldn't bother putting up a tree if he's not going to call it a "Christmas tree," reported the Providence Journal.

"If you are going to put it in the middle of the rotunda in the Capitol and you are going to decorate that tree with lights and ornaments and everything else, call it what it is and don’t be afraid of it," he said Tuesday. "Stop trying to be so politically correct."

The newspaper noted that Trillo co-sponsored a nonbinding resolution -- approved by the House  this year -- saying that the state's policy is to call the tree a Christmas tree, not a holiday tree.

The White House, meanwhile, continues to slap away at an annoying email -- on the same topic -- that continues to make the rounds. The missive claims that the Obamas are in the politically correct "holiday tree" camp. Only the email is false.

The White House has repeatedly stated that all the trees being erected and decorated there will be called Christmas trees, including the 9-foot balsam fir delivered Friday morning for First Lady Michelle Obama's inspection.

This is one debate that not's going away any time soon, as evidenced by this sampling of comments left on the Providence Journal's website:

-- "No! He's wrong. The secularization of our culture forced upon the public is an abridgement of the 1st Amendment. It was created as a Christmas tree on the national holiday of Christmas."

-- "This is the most ridiculous argument ever. All you Christians who are offended, show me where in the Bible it talks about a pine tree having anything to do with Christ's birth?"

-- "Here's an idea, everyone call it whatever you want to call it....You want it to be a Christmas tree? Call it a Christmas tree then. Nobody is going to stop you. Why are you so concerned if someone else wants to call it a holiday tree? Get a life people."

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-- Rene Lynch

Photo: This kid probably doesn't care whether it's a Christmas tree or a holiday tree. He just wants to know what Santa is bringing him. Credit: Los Angeles Times

 
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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal


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