Two Cheers for Rhode Island!

November 28, 2012

Two cheers for Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chaffee, who has stood tall against religious-Right posturing to insist that the 17-1/2 foot conifer in the state capitol will again be called the Holiday Tree, not the Christmas Tree. He stated that the more inclusive language was appropriate because the state house "is a public building...paid for by people with different religions." So far, so good ... but is even Governor Chaffee being inclusive enough?

Here's the problem. Even calling the big spruce a "holiday" tree puts the weight of government behind as assumption that everyone, no matter what their religion or abwsence thereof, ought to be celebrating *something* at this time of year. Not everyone is, of course. In some years Muslims celebrate their festival of Eid al-Adha around the time of the Christian birthday observance; this year Eid al-Adha fell late in October. Many strands of Buddhism include no recognition of the northern-hemisphere Winter Solstice as anything extraordinary. And then there are the atheists and humanists who recognize that neither Christianity's Christmas nor paganism's Winter Solstice holds special meaning for them. Even this is far from a complete list!

 The really inclusive strategy would be to do nothing -- to leave the Rhode Island state house in its natural state, without any special decoration or ceremony, during what is, let's remember, only some people's holiday season. My ears pricked up when the governor's office announced earlier this week that there would be no tree-lighting ceremony. Chaffee's office later backpedaled, chalking the announcement up to "miscommunication" and promising that there would be a lighting ceremony for the Holiday Tree.

So two cheers. No tree at all would have been better. But a Holiday Tree beats a Christmas Tree any day of the week.

So says the Anti-Claus.