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.