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December 12, 2011 | Volume 87, Number 3

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THE CATHOLIC  DIOCESE OF  RICHMOND

– Necrology

COMMENTARY

Call it a Christmas tree

Governor Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island predictably started a firestorm when he called the evergreen tree erected in the Statehouse in Providence a “holiday” tree rather than a “Christmas” tree.

Gov. Patrick Quinn of Illinois used the traditional name of “Christmas tree” for the tree which was lit in the State office Building in Chicago and another tree in the State Capitol in Springfield. He pointed out that most people know the difference between Christmas and other holidays such as Hanukkah which come during the Christmas season celebrated by Christians.

There was no controversy even though some would say the Illinois governor was not “politically correct.”

Gov. Chafee defended his position saying the term “holiday” tree is in keeping with Rhode Island’s founding as a haven for religious liberty and diversity. What’s more, he said it’s a continuation of past practice, “and does not represent a change of course on my part.”

Apparently he ignored a resolution passed by Rhode Island lawmakers last January which declared the annual Statehouse tree to be a “Christmas tree” and not called a ‘holiday tree’ or other non-traditional terms.”

With a large Catholic population in Rhode Island, it’s not surprising that Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin commented. He called Gov. Chafee’s decision to avoid the word Christmas at the Statehouse ceremony “most disheartening and divisive.”

“For the sake of peace and harmony in our state at this special time of year, I respectfully encourage the Governor to reconsider his decision to use the word Christmas in the state observance,” Bishop Tobin said.

Rep. Doreen Costa, who sponsored the January resolution which passed overwhelmingly, says Gov. Chafee showed disrespect to the legislation.

She announced plans to erect her own Christmas tree at her Statehouse office. She said she would encourage those who come to the ceremony to bring canned goods to be given to needy families.

One wonders why the use of the word “holiday tree” is an acceptable compromise. There are various holidays throughout the year, including Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day. None are associated with trees.

Those who wish to celebrate non-Christian holidays should be able to do so, but why take the name Christmas tree away?

For many of us, it is seen as an invitation to help the poor by providing a Christmas meal (on Christmas day) and distributing gifts of toys and clothing for children who would not otherwise have them.

The inspiration behind these acts of kindness is something which comes from the heart inspired by faith, not an edict from the government.

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