Holiday tree debate unnecessarily divisive


With the waves of tolerance that have been sweeping this nation off its feet, it’s no stretch to say that times are indeed changing. Ironically, even though tolerance is associated with the crumbling of walls, it also creates conflicts that pit groups against each other, such as the debate over the annual Rhode Island Statehouse tree-lighting ceremony.

An obsession over a technicality has shifted people’s focus from the holiday itself to something as simple as the name of an evergreen—“Christmas tree” or “holiday tree”?

It is almost unbelievable how this heated controversy boils down to a preference of names. Rhode Island’s governor, Lincoln Chafee, gave only 30 minutes’ notice before lighting the tree this year in the Statehouse rotunda, a strategy to prevent protesters from crashing the party. The year before, protesters furious over Chafee’s dubbing the tree a “holiday tree,” crowded the rotunda holding pictures of Christmas trees and interrupting choral performances with bellowed renditions of “O Christmas Tree.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, Chafee insists on “holiday tree” because he says it reflects the state’s religious tolerance and avoids “making non-Christians feel excluded from the holiday celebration.” At the helm of the opposition, Rep. Doreen Costa called Chafee a “Grinch” for using the name and sponsored a non-binding resolution mandating the tree be called a “Christmas tree” last year.

Though they both have valid arguments, the bickering proves that tolerance does not always mean peace. In fact, the spread of tolerance, and the efforts to adhere so strictly to this tolerance—as Chafee has—can divide a state, and fuel the wrath of many. The intention of inclusiveness behind the holiday tree has instead become a divisive disaster. And in the process, the main event of the season—giving, sharing, joining together—has been overshadowed. The most important thing about a tree that has, for so long, represented the joy of the holidays regardless of an individual’s religion is, apparently, just its name.

Times are changing, but if that means a new divisive breed of tolerance, they’re not necessarily changing for the better.

  • Victoria

    I disagree with this article entirely, except that yes, it has created some divisiveness for the time being. In all instances where we push for tolerance there is divisiveness. Are we supposed to sit down and shut up just to create peace? How do we ever progress and move forward, create tolerance and stand for equality, if we’re resting on our laurels? There may be some ridiculous behavior in opposition to the term “Holiday Tree” but that will change with time, and I believe Chafee has given a voice to people who might otherwise be afraid to speak up.

    • Manny

      Aww, that’s sweet, Victoria. Well, don’t mind me as I light my holiday Menorah, just so everyone feels included. Given that Christmas, a Christian holiday, has been adopted by the masses as a simple, secular, materialist exchange of presents, effectively making the Christmas tree into some PC BS name just to avoid hurting feelings, you’ll just have to excuse me while I don’t care about those who feel this need for this degree of inclusion. The spirit of Christmas is fine to be shared by all, but just to feel so entitled as to change the name of a tradition just to hurt feelings is just ridiculous.

      Also, since you didn’t even know which point I was addressing below, you had zero basis to respond to it. Now, if you actually want to debate me, fine, but actually be sure you know what point I’m hitting on, mkay?

  • Annette

    Benjamin Roberts,

    No one could have said it better than your post above….you touched all very valid points …truthful, factual points….thank you.

    Annette

    • Annette

      Oops, your post below….

  • Margaret

    The battle for souls doesn’t start or end with a Christmas tree. Let them have their holiday tree and Christians can have their undying faith, love and eternal life. Even trade.

    • Benjamin Roberts

      Why inject religion into the discussion of a Christmas tree? As discussed, a Christmas tree is a decidedly secular icon of the Christmas holiday. “Battle for souls” ?? What a bizarre and irrelevant sidebar. Another example of the misguided and disingenuous debate over this topic. What a bland and boring world we would live in if we choose to strip icons and traditions of their historical, cultural, and yes, sometimes “religious”, significance.

      • Margaret

        Don’t know why you’re angry. I said you can have the tree.

  • Benjamin Roberts

    Ridiculous article, and a ridiculous debate. To begin with, the debate over the renaming of Christmas trees as “holiday” trees has nothing to do with the subject of “tolerance”. If, in a stretch, one wishes to apply the issue of tolerance, it should indeed be applied in favour of those who wish to call it a “Christmas tree”. Those who attempt, in modern times, to rename Christmas trees with the generic term “holiday” are the ones who are not demonstrating tolerance in their attempt to genericize and change the name of a holiday-specific icon. It represents an increasingly common and horribly misguided overcorrection by those who are overly preocupied with “sensitivity”. It’s ridiculous and disingenuous.

    What is commonly known as a Christmas tree (and has been for centuries) has nothing to do with Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, or any other holiday celbration. It is decidedly specific to Christmas. Though its origins may have originally been pagan, and later adopted as part of a more religious holiday, it can be reasonably argued that a Christmas tree itself is a secular icon, and not religious at all. For these many reasons, it is completely unreasonable, dishonest and indeed “intolerant” to refer to a Christmas tree as a “holiday” tree. It’s a completely misguided overcorrection. I would even suggest that in many cases it has less to do with any sensitivity toward those who do not celebrate Christmas, and more to do with an ignorant attempt to suppress the impact and prevalence of the Christmas holiday in our nation, and around the world.

    Consider this: The United States does not celebrate Hanukka (nor Kwanzaa, and I shudder to include the latter in this conversation). The only Federally recognized holiday is Christmas, and this is founded in the historical reality that our nation’s founders were largely and specifically, Christians… not Jews and not Muslims. However, it is to their great credit as Christians, that they founded this nation on the principle that ALL people of ALL faiths.. including those of no faith… can choose to celebrate as they wish. It is this freedom of religion and expression that has been commonly misinterpreted as a freedom “from” religion, and is the very spirit behind many of these increasingly common attempts to rename the Christmas tree, a “holiday” tree.

    And consider this: When is the last time you’ve ever known a Hanukka celebration to include the lighting of a “holiday candle”, rather than a menorah? I’ve only ever known a menorah to referred to as a “menorah”. Can you imagine the insult if a civic or community leader were to rename a menorah as a holiday candle? The menorah is a holiday-specific, culturally relevant, and religiously meaningful icon, just as a Christmas tree is a holiday specific icon of “Christmas”. As a protestant who has celebrated Christmas all my life, I have never personally displayed or used any of the Hanukka icons or rituals, but I take absolutely no offense at seeing them pop up all over town, often beside public Christmas trees. Why should I demand that Jews start calling their menorahs, “holiday” candles, any more than anyone else should demand I refer to a Christmas tree as a holiday tree?

    This article is reaching in its attempt to frame the debate of the renaming of Christmas trees into a discussion on tolerance, yet it does highlight the misguided and intellectually dishonest practice. It’s tragically ironic that many in our society have become so preocupied with ensuring that we are accepting of everything and everyone, that we have become increasingly accepting of nothing. Meaningful traditions have been stripped of their cultural or historical relevance.

    Americans can participate in any celebration they wish, but America officially celebrates Christmas. Period. It should come as no surprise that cities and communities around the country proudly display Christmas trees in a secular yet meaningful celebration of Christmas. Anyone who is offended by this needs a personal reality check.

    • TFL

      Very sad, a lifetime of Frankfurt School indoctrination seems to have had no effect on this Trojan. Possibly home-schooled.

    • Annette

      Benjamin Roberts,

      No one could have said it better than your post above….you touched all very valid points …truthful, factual points….thank you.

      Annette

  • William Buttrey

    I think inclusiveness is a virtue, not something to be outraged over.

  • skeptical

    The irony is that the holiday tree was actually pagan, and the christians stole – er, appropriated – it in order to help convert people. And now they complain about “their” tradition being ruined. Sorry, but renaming it a holiday tree is not only better as it is more respectful of the realities of difference in our country (as opposed to trying to snuff out your competition by stealing their cultural practices, as the earlier christians did), in the end, it is a kind of justice.

    • Manny

      Dear skeptical,

      No one cares.

      • Victoria

        I do actually, and so do MANY other people. You aren’t everybody so quit trying to speak for everyone.

    • TFL

      Now this, on the other hand, is exactly what the Frankfurt School was going for: this young Trojan has been utterly conditioned to see the world in terms of a diverse vanguard fighting righteously against (white) Christianity. This is Gramsci’s long march as applied to Christmas. The actual fact that the pagans converted to Christianity and kept a few of their symbols doesn’t matter to the narrative.