Merry Holidays? What Do We Call It This Year?

‘Tis the season for political correctness. This year the debate once again rages over the evergreen. Do we call it a Christmas tree or a Holiday tree?

Rhode Island’s tree lighting ceremony Tuesday evening will be rivaled by two other ceremonies, one of which is being hosted by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence. The diocese scheduled its own event in protest of the state governor’s refusal to call the tree a “Christmas” tree.

“Call it what it is,” Bishop Thomas Tobin told WPRI News. “Sometimes the governor tries to be so inclusive he becomes exclusive of the majority of people who understand what a Christmas tree is and what it means.”

A Christian business owner informed Gov. Lincoln Chafee that he may take back the Christmas tree he donated to the Statehouse for the annual Christmas tree lighting celebration.

For the past five years, John Leyden, the owner of Big John Leyden Christmas Trees, has donated a Christmas tree to the Statehouse Rotunda for the annual event. But this year, Chafee says it cannot be called a “Christmas tree.” He claims this counters Rhode Island's founding as a haven for religious tolerance, where government and religion were kept separate.

Chafee, however, is reportedly ignoring a resolution recently passed by the state legislature that says trees during this season would be called “Christmas trees.”

State Representative Doreen Costa, a cosponsor of this resolution, said she is “sick of being politically correct” and will light her own Christmas tree at Rhode Island’s Statehouse Tuesday, the same day the governor plans to hold his own official “Holiday tree” lighting ceremony. Costa said her ceremony is creating lots of buzz and a 17-foot blue spruce from a local Christmas tree farm has been donated for the event.

The ongoing debate is irking some believers. Jim Baron, a self-identified Christian, wrote in a column for the Rhode Island newspaper The Call, “The Rev. Donald Anderson, head of the RI Council of Churches, has it absolutely right. All this fighting over the word ‘Christmas’ is nonsense. Unless you are a Druid, or you belong to some kind of cult that worships Santa Claus, a Christmas tree is not a religious symbol. It just isn’t. A cross, yes; a crèche, absolutely. But a tree? No. That gets us to the crux of the problem.”

“[F]or people to get this worked up about it is just as dumb as the political correctness they rail against.”

Colin Hanna, president of the Pennsylvania Pastors’ Network, said in a statement Monday that the debate really comes down to fear of offending. “Some get so wrapped up and wound so tightly about the political correctness of Christmas. We change everything to ‘holiday,’ and are afraid of mentioning anything with ‘Christmas’ in it for fear of offending someone.”

In Florida, residents are also trying to figure out what to call their trees. The city of Tampa has billed their official tree a “Christmas tree.” But in nearby Hillsborough Country, they are calling it a “Holiday tree.”

That moved the annual debate to a county vs. city level, at least in relation to trees. The county tried to choose an all-inclusive name when they advertised for their "Holiday Tree Lighting Festival.”

The county has called it a "holiday" tree for 10 years, and in a statement Friday, they explained that the title for the event was done "so as not to give the impression that the event was specific to any one faith.”

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