Rhode Island Governor: I’m Calling It a ‘Holiday Tree’!

Rhode Island’s Governor Lincoln Chafee is getting criticized for not excluding non-Christian citizens this holiday season:

… lawmakers [are] upset with his decision to call the blue spruce erected in the Statehouse a “holiday tree” instead of a “Christmas tree”

Chafee insists he’s just respecting the state’s history as a place respectful of all religions.

In a state home to the nation’s “oldest surviving Jewish synagogue,” you would think that state politicians could at least pay some lip service to minority groups by applauding the governor for trying to be inclusive.

Nope. They passed a resolution last January demanding that it be called a Christian tree:

The resolution’s sponsor, Rep. Doreen Costa, said she plans to erect and decorate a tree at her Statehouse office on Dec. 6, the same day Chafee plans to host a tree lighting event.

Costa said she’ll be taking up a collection of canned goods.

“Anybody that wants to go see a holiday tree can do so, but I will be decorating a Christmas tree,” Costa, R-North Kingstown, told The Associated Press. “It may only be a little Charlie Brown Christmas tree but at least it will be a Christmas tree.”

Costa then added, “Screw you, Muslims, atheists, and Jews.” (Or perhaps she was just thinking that in her head.)

Justin Vacula speaks for me when he writes in a comment:

… [the] amount of Christian privilege in this country is stunning. One/two months out of the year, persons attempt to make the holiday season a holiday season for everyone (which it is), but Christians want to unjustifiably claim some monopoly on the holiday… like we need to believe in [the virgin birth of the baby] Jesus to celebrate? Give me a break. Celebration needs no reason. Liberals don’t have trouble separating church and state, but rather, it is generally the religious right who has a problem and wants the government endorsing religion rather than playing a neutral role like we secularists want.

This shouldn’t be a big deal, but in America, when someone implies that we’re not just a Christian-only country, they get all sorts of backlash.

***Update***: FOX News Channel is all over this story:



About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/GammaGrace Lindsay Kreis

    Well,  the use of these trees are pagan in origin… No mention of that by the Christians, eh?

  • Anonymous

    I’m waiting for people to start calling them “giant green penis symbols.” The pagan origin for trees have more to do with fertility than anything else. Penis.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    Usually I try to look at things from both perspectives but I really don’t even see what the big freakin deal is here. What is wrong with Holiday tree? What is so offensive about that term that the whole state legislature had to organize a vote to replace it? Only in America where secular is a dirty word.

    • BrandonUB

      Put bluntly, these people are complete assholes. There’s no possible way anyone who’s not a complete asshole could here the words, “I call it a holiday tree” and become angry.

      • Semipermeable

        Yep. I wonder how many tax payers appreciate their lawmakers wasting time on this trite matter. 

        • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

          Many probably voted them into office specifically to vote on bills like this.

  • heisenberg

    Should we start e-mailing/letter writing to this guy to say we support his decision and it makes us happy? I think so.

    • Guest

      I’m considering it. It’s a small thing, but it makes me happy that there’s at least one guy who doesn’t mind being inclusive. I figure with all the negative backlash we should let him know that there are some people who appreciate it.

    • Coconut

      I did. I figure he’ll be getting plenty of crazies telling him off, so he should get some good mail too.

      People don’t seem to realise there are a lot of holidays around this time, and he’s just being all inclusive. THEY may celebrate Christmas (even if a secular one), but others don’t. The governor is just trying to include everyone, which is nice, and so he should hear that, especially with all the backlash he’s probably getting.

    • Drew M.

      Done!

    • http://www.facebook.com/billyup Jesse Jones

      Sent too.

  • Newavocation

    A beautiful 40 year old blue spruce. Does religion have to destroy everything?

    • Mike Steinert

      Unopposed, sadly I would say the answer to you question is “yes.”

    • gsw

      That is the difference between a christmas tree and a Solstice Evergreen – the christians kill the tree.
      (Thought for the day: Is this symbolic of sacrificing one’s god?)

  • Bluebury

    And people think that Atheists are angry?  
    My friend summed it up well: “I guess I think it’s kind of dumb, but who gives a shit?”
    I, personally,  think it was a nice gesture.  What was that nonsense about Dec 25th being “Holiday” and they guy saying “I think there’s a lot of people in this country who would like that.”  WHAT?????? 
    Morons.

  • Reuben Kellen

    This is weird. I kind of agree with the religionists on this one. It would be one thing if there were a good handful of winter holiday traditions that had evergreen trees as a major symbol. But the whole thing with the lights and stars and tinsel is a symbol of Christmas specifically. Calling it a “holiday tree” seems like a cheap attempt to pay lip-service to other winter holiday traditions while homogenizing the imagery associated with the season.

    • http://yetanotheratheist.com/ TerranRich

      Yep, Christians deserve even more of a privileged status than they already have. Yes, let’s feed into their frenzied hunger for more attention and for a special status in society. Let’s humor them and give them validation when they bitch and whine and complain about the War on Christmas.

      • Reuben Kellen

        No, that’s not right at all. All I’m saying is that we should call things what they are, rather than what we’d like them to be. There are other religious traditions with holidays that fall in the (northern hemisphere’s) winter months. Jews have Hannukah, with symbols including the hannukiah (menorah) and dreidl. For the time being, Muslims have their new year, as well as Ashura and Mawlid al-Nabi. I’m not sure what sort of symbolism, if any, is customary for those holidays, but I’m sure an evergreen with lights on it does not fit the bill. Hindus celebrate Pancha Ganapati at right about the same time as Christmas, and I would imagine Ganesha features prominently in symbolism for that holiday. So you see, a tree with lights on it is not a universal symbol for the holiday season, it’s a symbol of Christmas.

        If you’re worried about privileging Christianity, the best response isn’t to erect a well-known symbol of a Christian holiday and pretend that it’s somehow inclusive. As I see it, there you have three options that would better serve that purpose. One is to have no displays at all. This can be dreary and cheerless, and in the cold dark winter months, it’s nice to have sparkly, lit-up things. Another option would be to have a multitude of symbols for the various festivals I mentioned above. This can quickly become tacky, however. Finally, there’s the option of a more truly generic display, though in truth I don’t know what that would look like. Snowflakes? A snow man? 

        • http://yetanotheratheist.com/ TerranRich

          The thing is, Christmas became a secular celebration when Christians demanded it be made into a federal holiday. Now it belongs to all of us, not just Christians. Yes, it’s associated in many people’s minds with Christianity; so what? Why are people so offended and up in arms about what one man calls a tree?

          Nobody can take away one’s beliefs or traditions other than oneself. Governor Chafee isn’t threatening anybody’s religion or beliefs or lifestyle, and people need to stop acting like that’s the case.

          What does a tree have to do with Christianity or the birth of their savior anyway? Even Jeremiah 10:1-4 shows that God is against such traditions. Christians stole it from Romans and/or Pagans, and now we have to respect their “ownership” of the symbol of a damned tree?

          Basically, Christmas is a holiday. This is a holiday tree. People need to get over it all.

        • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

          Re: “All I’m saying is that we should call things what they are, rather than what we’d like them to be.”

          But it IS a “holiday tree.” Since Christmas is a holiday, this means that — by definition — ALL “Christmas trees” are always also “holiday trees.” It’s the same thing. Less specific, to be sure, but semantically it’s utterly correct to call a “Christmas tree” a “holiday tree.”

  • Nankay

    Hmmm…I don’t see the fuss either way.   I am an atheist, but a tree I pick out, cut down and decorate at Christmas time is a “Christmas tree”, isn’t it?  A “holiday tree”? Well, what holiday did I decorate it for?  Memorial Day? Hannukah?  Eid?  Oh wait, Christmas.  I celebrate a secular, Xmas. A tree has no ‘meaning’ to me–pagan, Xian or otherwise. It’s pretty,  smells wonderful  and gives the cat and dogs  something to freak out over every year.

    • http://yetanotheratheist.com/ TerranRich

      And you missed the point. Just by a hair.

      • Nankay

        Well then tell me what the point is?  Are there other winter holidays that (currently)involve cutting down an evergreen and decorating it?  If there were others out there that had the same tradition I could see why you’d call it a ‘holiday tree’ to include them as well, but this is a specific holiday’s tradition, isn’t it?  Is a menorah now to be referred to a  “holiday candleabra”

    • Tim

      Nankay,  I don’t think you missed the point.  Complaining about a “Chistmas tree” just sells a pass to the Xians by conceeding that it is a religious holiday on the 25th, rather than the secular event is is rapidly becoming.

      I am an anti-theist and write “Happy Christmas” in my seasonal greeting cards.  That no more means I am an Christian than a Christian writting “happy easter” means that they worship the pagan god of chocolate and shagging (or something like that) – Eostre 

  • Garren openID

    It’s a bad idea for atheists to support replacing ‘Christmas’ with ‘holiday.’ Why? Because (1) it directly feeds into Christian oppression fantasies and (2) it marks Christmas as a specifically RELIGIOUS holiday rather than as a holiday with multiple meanings.

    Let’s not help Christians make “Jesus the reason for the season,” for Thor’s sake!

    …and if you’re so damn worried about the etymology of ‘Christmas,’ I have bad news about ‘holiday.’

    • Alantas

      I’d rather they have oppression fantasy than privilege reality.

    • gsw

      re: Holy-day:
      The Germans call it a Ferien – comes from the French meaning “To do nothing” .
      So, Solstice Somnolence anyone?  

      • http://twitter.com/oisteing Øistein Gjøvik

        Same thing in Norway. We have both “ferie” and “helligdag”, the latter being “holy day”. Of course it’s nice of the christians to let us have “ferie” when they have their “helligdag” :)

      • Church of the Poison Mind

        I personally call it either a hollow-day or Nulliday. ;-) And I propose a day of recognition for recovering believers: “Ex-mas.” :-D

        OT: The Catholic Church lost any shred of credibility it had left when the priests’ wacko sex habits were (pun intended) “exposed.” Sorry if I see something a little perverse in the “miracle gospel” of a teenage virgin getting taken advantage of by “divine intervention” and then giving birth to a precious infant in need of fondling and foot-kissing by the men of the loincloth. Sick, just sick.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_55HCGTRPQF6BHC2QWJJ6NLP33M Eleanor

      I decided not to worry about the word “holiday” since we use it for the 4th of July and any other time people generally are given a day off of work.

    • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

      Those Christian oppression fantasies are delusions. As such, they need to be cured, not indulged. Giving into the delusion cannot cure it, but only entrench it.

  • Jimrees

    Here’s the address to write:  governor@governor.ri.gov. I believe it’s important to send him words of support, so he knows there are some people who are with him. He’s going to get a lot of nasty email and our positive emails will help counteract that.

  • Dan W

    This moronic “War on Christmas” bullshit makes me dread this time of year. Is it so hard for these morons to realize that Christmas isn’t the only holiday that happens in this season?

    One thing I noticed in the article is that what was passed by the RI legislature is a symbolic resolution… so there’s really no point in Chafee following it. Glad to see one state governor who’s not an idiot.

    Also, I’m not even remotely surprised that Faux News is having a field day with this story.

  • http://yetanotheratheist.com/ TerranRich

    Christmas is a holiday. This is a holiday tree. If Christians can steal the tradition from the Romans, Pagans, Germanic tribes, or whoever they stole it from, why shouldn’t others bring it a more secular feel?

  • Tim

    Why is a Christmas (“Christ-mas”) tree any more of a problem than a Holiday (“Holy-day”) tree?

    Why is a Christmas tree a problem anyway?  It is a pagan symbol and from its pronouciation you’d think we were celebrating the birth of a bloke called “Chris”

  • Silver_fox-trot

    This reminds of an incident my mother said happened a few years before I was born. It’s very similar to what happened here, though limited to government officials (I can’t remember if it was at the local, provincial or federal levels, sorry). Some wanted to call the tree a ‘Holiday Tree’ and others a ‘Christmas Tree’. It got to such a point that it was disrupting meetings.

    Finally, the head of whatever level had had enough and wrote a decree that said for this year, the tree would be a ‘Christmas Tree’ and to shut up about it and get to work! The Best part? The guy who drafted that decree was Jewish!

    Whether this is a true story or not I don’t know, but it would seem to be a very Canadian  thing to do. Might want to look that up…..

    Silver

    • Joe

      Why are atheists so threatened by a Christmas tree?

  • Johannsone

    Rhode Island Christians, don’t like that your citizens may have to gaze on a holiday tree? Make sure everyone who can’t afford a tree, who may visit the holiday tree as a family activity, has access to their very own CHrist loving tree…..Door to door freely donated Christmas trees, with stands, and a mouthful of bible love. And while you are there, make sure the elderly and the young have food, clothing and warm homes. With all the things our states need to take care of, renaming the holiday tree a christmas tree, is pretty much the bottom of the list. Spend more time emulating your Jesus and less time emulating the back side of a donkey. No offense donkeys.

  • Bo Tait

    Its funny. First the crosses need to come down cause they’re Christian symbols. Christians say they’re not actually Christian symbols and Atheists call BS. 

    Now a tree, no less indicative of Christianity has its name changed to not represent Christianity and its the Atheists that are happy and Christians pissed off? 

    Am I missing something? Not rhetorical. I’d be happy if someone untangled this for me.

    • Nankay

      I think a cross is THE defininitive symbol of Christianity while a decorated tree is more a symbol of Christmas–a holiday that is celebrated secularly by non Christians as well.  I have a Christmas tree in my living room every year , but I do not have a cross hanging on the wall.

      • Nankay

        oops…”definitive”

        • Bo Tait

          fair enough. The wordplay issues just seem so petty when its between private citizens, but it has to be addressed when the State makes a display. 

  • Anonymous

    Boy, you can always count on Fox “News” to take the most insignificant, pointless events of the day; blow them the hell out of proportion; implicate the democrats, the President, the liberals and the atheists; blame the liberal media bias; play the Christian persecution card, and all in all fly in the face of good, unbiased and balanced reporting.

  • Annaigaw

    The tree is not a christian symbol, it is a pagan symbol. Lots of people, christian and non-christian, put up trees this time of year. Lots of kids write letters to Santa Clause, do they all have to be christian to do that? Of course not. Christmas is a very secular holiday for a large portion of the populous. My guess is that even the twice-a-year-attendance at churches (Christmas and Easter) is in decline. People are free to celebrate this season (or not) any way they want. The governor is being appropriate to call it a holiday tree so as to stay neutral rather than pick any particular religious (or non-religious) affiliation for the holiday.  

    • Reuben Kellen

      The tree is a Christmas symbol, though. If, as you say, Christmas is not necessarily a Christian holiday, then using “Christmas tree” rather than “holiday tree” is accurate (because it is a symbol of Christmas specifically, not other winter holidays) and does nothing to pick a religious affiliation for the holiday (because Christmas is or can be secular).

  • Anonymous

    It doesn’t bother me one bit if someone calls it a “Christmas tree.” It doesn’t bother me one bit if someone calls it a “holiday tree.” I really don’t get why anybody anywhere gets so damn upset over this, or “merry christmas” vs “happy holidays” or anything else. Most of the offense here comes of course from the side that wants perpetual endorsement of their beliefs as supreme above all others. Fuckin ridiculous.

  • Xxx91384

    I’m not sure but the national anthem states one nation under God, does it not!?! But I guess even that offended people. Last time I checked our founding fathers believed in God, so why should all that change. Not saying everyone has to believe in the only true religion, just saying everyone who doesn’t believe needs to respect the fact that God is part of this country and to start renaming things is against what our four fathers believed so heavily in. It seems to me that the ones who want this are the ones who are UN-American! you come to this country you are not persecuted for your religion, so don’t persecute the ones that let you in with open arms.

    • Katie

      Perhaps you mean the Pledge of Allegiance states “one nation under God”? Which by the way, our founding fathers did NOT have in the original.  “Originally composed by Christian Socialist Francis Bellamy in 1892 and formally adopted by Congress as the pledge in 1942. The Pledge has been modified four times since its composition, with the most recent change adding the words “under God” in 1954.”


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