When Governor Lincoln Chaffee incited the wrath of political conservatives and Christmas purists alike last year by calling the lighting of the State tree a “holiday tree” instead of a “Christmas tree” nobody expected Rhode Island to change this year. And they haven’t. But perhaps a little gamesmanship is being played to downplay the controversy this year.
The announcement on Tuesday that the state would hold a tree-lighting ceremony in Providence came just 24 hours after the governor’s spokeswoman said the annual event had been scrubbed. Last year, protesters interrupted the ceremony with demands the conifer be officially referred to as a “Christmas tree.” Could the state be trying to avoid the controversy by putting out conflicting information?
Spokeswoman Christine Hunsinger blamed the confusion on a staff communication error and said there would in fact be a “holiday tree” lighting at an unspecified date.
“The governor has stated his position very clearly: He believes “holiday” is more inclusive,” she said. “It’s in a building paid for by all Rhode Islanders.”
Chafee’s decision not to use the word Christmas in reference to the tree drew criticism from conservatives last year, including one state lawmaker who dubbed him “Governor Grinch.” Some Christians see the trend towards “holiday” parties, cookies and trees as part of a secular drive to scrub the lexicon of references to Christmas.
The governor has argued that the term is consistent with the state’s history of religious tolerance, and Hunsinger noted that Chafee’s predecessor also used “holiday tree” on official invitations to the ceremonial lighting.
Take heart, Rhode Islanders. We understand they have Christmas trees in nearby Massachusetts.