After Years of Calling It a ‘Holiday Tree,’ Rhode Island Governor Reverses Course

Rhode Island’s Governor Lincoln Chafee just can’t win.

For the past two years, he called the blue spruce erected in the State House a “holiday tree” instead of a “Christmas tree.”

He had good reason for it:

… Chafee, an independent, said the term is in keeping with the state’s founding as a sanctuary of religious tolerance and pointed to the text of Rhode Island’s Royal Charter of 1663.

“The charter, which for the first time in the world gave ‘full liberty in religious concernments.’ Those are the words. First time in the world. It happened right here in Rhode Island,” Chafee said.

Chafee also said the State House is public building paid for by Rhode Islanders of all faiths.

Way to not exclude non-religious citizens!

But after years of taking a beating from conservative groups and Fox News Channel, I guess that whole “religious tolerance” bit is a thing of the past.

Chafee has surrendered to the populists and is now calling it a “Christmas tree”:

“Despite the myriad of pressing issues facing Rhode Island and the nation, this presumably happy event became a focal point for too much anger,” Chafee said. “Because I do not think how we address the State House tree affects our ‘lively experiment,’ this year’s invitation calls the tree a Christmas tree.”

It’s not like this is something I’m losing sleep over, and Chafee rightly says he has more important things to worry about right now, but to “fix” a problem that never really existed is just disappointing. (Couldn’t he at least have been a better politician and traded the symbolic gesture to conservatives for something actually worthwhile, like, you know, a higher minimum wage?)

Maybe it would be easier for everyone if they just removed the tree from the State House completely.

(Thanks to Kim for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Art_Vandelay

    Don’t ever think for a second that this was about anything more than conservatives trying to make someone they perceive as a liberal to be the devil. The bishop started this because he despises Chafee for his progressive views on social issues and all of his sheep followed suit because nobody loves a good persecution complex more than a Catholic majority. Remember, these are the same people that think the removal of a banner that 99.9% of them didn’t even know existed was trampling their religious freedom. If you need any more evidence, the Republican governor in office prior to Chafee also called it a holiday tree. But he at least hated the gays so the bishop didn’t care, O’Reilly didn’t care, Palin didn’t care, the Catholics didn’t care, Jesus didn’t care…nobody gave a shit.

  • Rationalist1

    Go ahead. Call it a Christmas tree. It doesn’t matter as it is becoming an anachronism. Look at all the church closings in RI ( http://www.christianpost.com/news/rhode-island-churches-in-decline-72676/ )

    Edit : Fixed the link

    • Castilliano

      Bad link?

    • Art_Vandelay

      “It might even reach 100 because we have a number of smaller churches
      that are on shaky grounds. It’s a huge problem. This is not a small
      problem,” said Anderson on WRNI in Providence.

      Problem? What problem?

  • L.Long

    I still don’t get the xtians going nuclear over Xmas trees????? Why???They want jebus put back into xmas right?? Well the xmas tree has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with jebus! It is blasphemy to even consider the tree as it is a pagan symbol. And jebus even comes from the wrong part of the world for this tree thing. Jebus is from a friggen sand box and the tree is from the northern forests and mountains.
    Xtians are so absorbed with their BS jebus and their BS made-up symbols they stole from pagans. And most of them are not educated enough to know just how silly the whole thing is.

    • Rationalist1

      Many of them really don’t know their history. If they think it’s terrible that someone says Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas, they must hate the Puritans that landed at Plymouth Rick. They banned all Christmas celebrations for everyone in the colony.( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_in_Puritan_New_England )

      • Brian Westley

        These are the kinds of Christians who think Christmas just isn’t commercial enough yet…

        • Rationalist1

          If I was still a Christian I’d be fighting the commercialization and whole sale buying frenzy that accompanies Christmas.

          • L.Long

            Why??? The axial tilt and let’s PARTY!!
            are the real reasons for the season.
            Always hasbeen.

      • Ashley N.

        Even the ones who know their history often deny it. I encountered this every year in my history classroom. It’s a ridiculous head-in-the-sand thing that only the religious can pull off effectively.

        • Rationalist1

          Alas history is one subject that is sorely being neglected in schools and universities but is essential to understanding how we got here and where we might go.

          When we were choosing our son’s High School we looked at the strengths of their science departments (his main interest) but choose the school based upon its strong language and history departments. High school is probably the only time he will be taught history if he pursues a STEM education, so we wanted it to be first rate.

          Thank you for being a teacher.

  • cryofly

    Oh how much I luv it! A cozy little holiday celebration, just among the small community of christians, around a fine and dandy tree, with chestnuts roasting in the fireplace, in a small and beautiful humble abode called the State House. And all the men and and women of the kingdom pay the tax whether they care for the little itty bitty christmas or not.

  • Bob Becker

    Among the issues this atheist really doesn’t much give a tinker’s dam about: Christmas tree vs. holiday tree. Jesus H. Christ, chill out, people. Call it whatever the hell makes you happy. And Merry Christnas/ Happy Holidays/ Season’s Greetings (choose one or more) to us all.

  • Gordon Duffy

    I don’t cede the word “Christmas” to Christians. It belongs to me just as much as them.

  • Rain

    Great billboard.

  • SeekerLancer

    This holiday tree debacle has been the stupidest piece of self-manufactured controversy I have ever endured.

    The damn tree isn’t even a Christian symbol. It would be funny if it wasn’t so annoying.

  • http://youtu.be/fCNvZqpa-7Q Kevin_Of_Bangor

    Our holiday tree in Bangor, Maine went up today and while there is an article in the paper about it, not many people will really care. A few people will bitch in the comments but that is about it.

  • The Captain

    All right, I’ll be that guy.

    Calling it a “Holiday Tree” is what was stupid. It’s a fucking christmas tree, changing the alphabetical arrangement used to describe it does nothing to change what it is. You don;t put these up for thaksgiveing, they are not put up for new years eve. Jews do not put them up for hanukkah, muslims don’t use them either.

    Now does that make this a “religious” issue? No, because “Christmas” is not specifically religous. Me and most of the other athiest I know in real life all celebrate christmas. Now it’s the drunken party infused rowdy kind of christmas that was celebrated in the U.S before the christians tried to take it over, but it’s still “christmas”.

    Now had they put in a manger and a little baby jesus, then we would defiantly have a problem. But just changing the name back to what it really is, no not a problem, the problem is assuming that “christmas” only has religious connotations. That’s what need to change.

    Calling it a “Holiday Tree” and thinking that that somehow makes it O.k. (even though it’s o.k. to begin with) is about as ridiculous as a jewish run state putting up a giant menorah and calling it a “holiday candelabra”, it would still just be a fucking menorah.

    • Monaka der Hund

      “muslims don’t use them either”

      I hear they are used in Iran (I don’t know what they are called there) at this time of the year. And in the essentially atheist country that I live in, they call them “kurisumasu tsurii”, and they are ubiquitous.

    • Roy Gamsgrø

      “It’s a fucking christmas tree”

      I disagree. It’s a Yule tree. :P

      • MariaO

        No, too generic, it’s a Yule spruce (at least that is the direct translation of what we call it).

        • Roy Gamsgrø

          In Norway we mostly use spruce or silver fir, but some also use pine, so… Yule tree. :P

          • busterggi

            But do you pine for the fjords?

            • Roy Gamsgrø

              No, I can see a fjord from my kitchen window. I have been known to be exhausted following a prolonged squawk, but I haven’t been too caged up to pine yet.

    • RowanVT

      My Jewish boyfriend and Jewish step-mother, step-grandmother, and step-sisters use a tree. They call it their Hannukah bush. When I was pagan I put them up and called them my Yule shrubbery.

      To say that Jewish people don’t put up trees is sheer ignorance on your part. The menorah has a very specific religious symbolism for judaism. Please tell me how a tree is specifically symbolic of the birth of Jesus.

      • The Captain

        Didn’t read it did you? or at least didn’t understand my post huh?

        “Please tell me how a tree is specifically symbolic of the birth of Jesus.” It isn’t…… THATS WAS THE ENTIRE POINT OF MY POST!

        “To say that Jewish people don’t put up trees is sheer ignorance on your part”, hold on… let me IM a bunch of my jewish friends…. Yep, the xmas tree in NOT a part of any hanukkah celebration, and none of them have ever put up a tree, because they also do not celebrate a secular version of xmas either.

        Oh but wait… YOU do. Well not you but your “boyfriend” and somehow your “step-mother, step-grandmother, and step-sisters”, so I guess that means the man you are cheating on your husband with the “boyfriend” and your husbands family (the “step” people) do this, since that’s the only scenario that makes sense from that sentence you wrote. I suppose you could be in a “poly” relationship, where you have a husband (thus “step” relatives) and a “boyfriend. So good on you.

        Anyway, so these people you are somehow connected too are jewish and apparently also celebrate secular version of xmas. Well yea, my point was that xmas can be secular. So, thanks for confirming what I wrote while telling me how wrong I was. Or perhaps they just like to decorate their homes with symbols from holidays they do not celebrate? Odd by all right. Either way, you missed my point entirely, then used a personal experience to prove something that happens so little that it’s statistically insignificant (jews celebrating xmas) and then arrogantly called me the ignorant one for not taking your strange family into account in my generalization. Good job on making yourself look like an ass on the internet.

        • RowanVT

          Uhm… you seriously don’t know how step-relatives work? You must be confusing them with in-laws.

          See, long ago my mommy and my daddy got this thing called “a divorce”. After a decade or so, daddy did this thing called “getting re-married” and he “re-married” a Jewish woman. This woman became my step-mother. Her mother became my step-grandmother, and her two daughters became my step-sisters.

          My boyfriend was as surprised as I was to learn that, per you, I am apparently married. He doesn’t remember such a ceremony and neither do I.

          Because my brother got married, I also have a sister-in-law, who is pagan.

          My point is that the tree has shit all to do with Christmas, and people of many faiths put up a tree, and it was a pagan thing for a long long time. So calling it a holiday tree, because of its secular nature, is the most appropriate.

        • Gehennah

          Wow, before you say someone is making themselves look like an ass you should reread and then think hard about what Rowan said.

          In case you somehow missed it in her reply to you.
          Step – meaning your parents remarried. New wife’/husband is the step mother/father and step husband/mother’s children are step brothers/sisters.

          In laws – are the family gained through your marriage, or your child’s marriage. IE, you marry a woman, her father is now your father in law. Your daughter gets married, you now have a new daughter or son in law.

          Oh, and in the Internet, the I is capitalized.

  • Dave

    Just yesterday some guy suggested on this very blog that Christmas had become a secular holiday.

    Perhaps this Hemant Mehta should chat with that Hemant Mehta to see if they come to an agreement on the nature of Christmas?

    • wabney

      Or you know, to the actual point of the article instead of nitpicking what you see as some kind of “gotcha” item, the politician and government can stop pandering to the religious?

  • Agrajag

    I’m glad the christians didn’t get our winter-solstice-celebration relabeled when Norway was “christened” about a millenium ago.

    We call it “jul” — and this name for the celebration pre-dates christianity.

    I guess, if there where significant groups of believers in the old-norse gods left, they could complain that the rest of us have taken Odin and Thor and Loki and Frøy and the rest of the old-norse Gods out of jul.

    • Little_Magpie

      Too bad I only have one upvote to give you, Agrajag!

  • busterggi

    What is this obsession Christians have for sacrificing trees to their god every solstice? Its certainly not biblical.


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