Protesters Gather At Rhode Island Statehouse For “Holiday Tree” Lighting

By Jim Armstrong, WBZ-TV

PROVIDENCE, R.I.  (CBS) – After his decision to call the official, 17-foot spruce in the Statehouse rotunda a “holiday” tree, Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee was flooded with complaints. So he knew, going into this evening’s tree lighting, that he was in for it. So, as a children’s choir sang Christmas carols, he quietly approached the podium, flipped the switch, and just walked away, smiling.

It was not the moment that hundreds of protesters had anticipated. They had gathered at the Statehouse, hoping to sing “O Christmas Tree” over the Governor’s speech. They were left only able to shout down that same kids’ chorus. Which they did.

One of the protest carolers was Elena Tassoni of Johnston. She is outraged over the tree’s name. “It is a Christmas tree and is not a holiday tree,” she explains. “Since I’ve been born I’ve always known it as a Christmas tree. It’s part of Christmas… It’s tradition and it kind of hurts to just refer to it as a holiday. What holiday is it?”

WBZ-TV’s Jim Armstrong reports

This year is certainly the biggest fight over what to call the tree, but this isn’t new territory. Previous governors, Republican and Democrat alike, have alternated between calling it a Christmas or holiday tree, going back at least to the mid-1990s.

“Call it what it is: It’s a Christmas tree,” says State Representative Doreen Costa. “You know, we can’t be afraid to keep Christ in Christmas.”

The first-term Republican held her own protest by decorating a Christmas tree – and calling it that – in the hallway outside her first-floor office. The ceremony she held to light her tree after the official one attracted dozens of supporters who clogged the hallway.

“I did the right thing and this is what the people want,” Costa explained.

Plenty of people are also upset since they see the Governor’s choice of words as a direct contradiction to a House resolution passed last year that specifically calls the evergreen in the Statehouse rotunda a Christmas tree. That resolution was non-binding, meaning the Governor did not have to abide by it but could have taken the House’s suggestion.

Still, not everyone in attendance objected to the term ‘holiday’ tree.

Steven Ahlquist, a founding member of Humanists of Rhode Island, calls the whole thing, “a completely manufactured controversy”.

“We have a right to refer to this tree any way we want,” he continued. “Keeping that secular is important if we’re going to do it in the Statehouse.”

More from Jim Armstrong
  • timma

    good thing it wasn’t the jewish candelalbra, or the black panther holiday……..whew!

    • Ken John

      Governor Chafee plays Ebenezer Scrooge in this hilarious video of the Rhode Island tree lighting ceremony. John Depetro and his singing Army saves Christmas with a single song. Also featuring Bill O’Reilly’s Jesse Waters of Fox News

  • joe

    Christ has nothing to do with tree period…

  • barry

    the title of the story should be christmas tree outrage. not holiday tree. the tree is part of celebrating christams.

  • pdearruda

    frazier fur that is what the tree is. the decorations dictate the religion. blue and white hannaka. silver gold red white christmas. people get a grip. if you don’t like christmas move somewhere where it’s extinct. why are people afraid of christmas. this country is mostly made up of jewish protestant and catholics. they do displays of both holidays. Taunton Mass has a sign that says christmas city.

    • Jacob06

      pdearruda, see the problem is religion feeds insane people’s violent psychotic apatite’s. Millions have died under the laws of silly religious beliefs. Eventually we will evolve past boogie man beliefs, but get used to this trend. I love X-mas, I just fear religion. I’ve seen it’s absolute worst, but don’t worry as further evolution will eventually make it extinct. God Bless America!

      Dear forum moderators, before you think about deleting this thread, I am back from my 2nd tour in Al Anbar. I believe I fought for the right to at least be heard on here. Plz take the consideration.

      • massman

        Thank you for your service, and please continue to post Jacob.

      • tsal

        Thank you Jacob for your service and for giving us ALL the right to post here.

    • Greg

      I’d say it’s the alleged “adults” and “good Christians” who went out of their way to ruin what a group of children was hoping would be a special event in their young lives. How selfish. How hypocritical. How un-Christian. They certaiinly provided a vivid illustration of just how un-Christ-like a bunch of Christians can be. Do you really think Jesus would get all bent out of shape over what to call a tree (which, by the way, is really a pagan symbol used to celebrate the winter solstice…in has nothing to do with Christianity)? Still, in the spirit of the season, may you have a Merry Christmas.

  • Greg

    No surprise at all that all the “good Christians” who were so upset at the tree being called a Holiday Tree instead of Christmas Tree (even though other religions celebrate holidays this month) would show how incredibly low class they were by shouting or singing down a children’s choir. The so-called adults just had to ruin what should have been a warm and joyous memory for these kids, turning instead into a stressful nightmare. Shame on them. But, as Christopher Hitchens has written so well: Religion ruins absolutely everything. Certainly no Christian forgiveness in the hearts of the zipper-heads at this event! Religion…all religion…just breeds hypocrites.

    • massman

      I could not have said it better Greg.

  • Debbie McGonagle

    I don’t understand the confusion. It’s a Christmas Tree. If you have to call it a Holiday Tree then I guess we will have to start calling a Menorah…. Holiday Candles?

    • Enough

      Great point Debbie! When we start calling ALL religous/holiday things by generic, non-offensive names, then that will be fair. Of course, there will be no more “melting pot” of traditions either, because we will have done away with anything that might be deemed potentially “offensive”, Heaven-forbid.

    • bp

      I was just going to post the same thing Debbie! This PC garbage has gone way beyond too far.

    • Sarah

      Actually, the word menorah means “lamp” in Hebrew, and the special ones lit for Hanukkah are actually called “Chanukkiyah” in Hebrew or “Hanukkah Menora” in English. So, if one is lit at the statehouse, they will just be calling it “lamp.”

      • Debbue

        Okay then …. Holiday LAMP it is.

  • Kathleen

    It’s not “PC” garbage”, it’s separation of church and state. Period. The use of the word holiday makes it secular. BTW-Where’s the Menorah at the R.I. statehouse?

    • Common Sense

      Hey Kathleen, what secular holiday takes place this December?????

      • Sarah

        Actually, the Humanist celebration of Human Light takes place on December 23rd. In addition, many celebrations of the Solstice are secular.
        Thanks for asking. :)

      • Tangie

        Kwanzaa, Buddhist Day of Enlightenment, Winter Solstice, Festivus, Boxing Day, and New Years Eve.

    • Santa Claus

      For the 1,987,347th time. The separation of church and state means there is no “state religion’. You have freedom to worship any religion of your choosing without persecution.

      No matter how hard you “people” try to pervert ‘separation of church and state’ in order to eliminate religion entirely, you will fail.

      • FireGuyFrank

        Right on, Santa! I give you credit for keeping up the count. I stopped counting the number of times I’ve had to correct folks at 500,000.

      • FireGuyFrank

        Tangie, read the US Constitution. Did Congress (or the RI Legislature) pass a law establishing Christianity as the official religion of the United States? No. it is public space. Put up a chanukiah. Put up a festivus Pole, too. Just don’t call it a “Holiday” tree because it is relevant to Christmas.

      • Tangie

        If there is no “state religion,” why should there be a *Christmas* tree in the State House?

    • massman

      Good point Kathleen.

    • The Voice of Reason

      Instead of making a religious holiday secular in order to keep from offending ‘certain people’, why don’t these ‘certain people’, a.k.a. Liberals, practice the tolerance they preach??? Just wondering…

      • Enough

        because Liberals are hypocrites!

      • Tangie

        Why does your personal holiday need a government endorsement? You folks would be the first ones screaming if they dared to put an Islamic or Wiccan religious icon in the State House. “Tolerance”…

  • More Common Sense

    The “State” could endorse all religions and still adhere to the “Separation of Church and State” clause of the Constitution. When the “State” mandates you worship one particular religion, then it has crossed the line. The “Separation of Church and State” does not mean “ALL RELIGIOUS SOUNDING WORDS ARE ABOLISHED FROM STATE USE!!!”. Calling a Christmas Tree what it is is not ordering you to be Christian.Calling a Menorah what it is is not ordering you to be Jewish.

    Isn’t it funny that liberals tout diversity, except when it comes to Christianity???

    • Kathleen

      Thank you for your reply. I agree with your point about the abolition of “all religious sounding words”. However, If a decorated tree is given a name that is associated with one particular religion and then put up at a municipal building and paid for by the state then it could be taken as an indication of a “state religion”. As Santa pointed out, that’s a no-no.

      • More Common Sense

        Sorry, not buying it. The state isn’t ordering ANYONE to be Christian. You can ignore the tree just as you ignore the intent of the US Constitution. Practice some that famed ‘tolerance’ you leftists preach and let Christians have their Christmas tree.

      • More Common Sense

        You must be college educated, Kathleen, because you are the most closed minded person I have ever come across. What do you have against the US Constitution??? Why do people like you pervert it to try and rid society of religion??? Do you realize one Mr. Adolf Hitler tried the same thing in 1930’s Germany??? Is that the kind of vermin you are proud of and want to continue their work???

      • tsal

        Kathleen – nice comments and well said. It’s sad on these blogs that people are not allowed to have opinions without being insulted.

        Religious tolerance has never existed in this country – because the majority truly feels Christians dominate. It isn’t the left or the right – it is across the board. Where in our history have we accepted other religions without a fight for their voices to be heard? It wasn’t the left that protested when a Jewish temple was built in Belmont decades ago. Belmont was at that point a very conservative, right leaning town. It wasn’t the left that campaigned against JFK because he was Catholic.

        Until we accept all religious symbols and holidays, then there should be none. I not only have no problem with a tree or menorah or any other symbol on public land. In fact I welcome them as a symbol that all are equal – as long as all are recognized.

    • FireGuyFrank

      There are many folks who identify as Christian, and it appears it is a majority of Americans. Should CBS no longer run “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown”? Should no network broadcast anything about Christmas?

      Most Christians, myself included, feel as though Christianity is under attack. We are being told to tolerate everyone else, but they don’t have “to tolerate” us?

      That’s wrong.

      • Tsal

        Frank it’s because every other religion has been under attack by Christians as long as I can remember. Welcome to how others feel

  • The Truth

    Kathleen is one of those ‘tolerance hating liberals’

  • massman

    Kathleen – It’s always nice to read thoughtful educated posts.

    “As Mankind becomes more liberal, they will be more apt to allow that all those who conduct themselves as worthy members of the community are equally entitled to the protections of civil government. I hope ever to see America among the foremost nations of justice and liberality.”

    George Washington

    • Common Sense

      More perversion and twisting of words.

    • tsal

      Hi massman. The founding fathers as I am sure you know were in many cases diests and in some cases athiests. Many were free masons. In the free mason society, you do not mention or discussion religion. It is believed that this practice of free masons helped in great part to develop separation of church and state.

      I found this link very interesting for those interested in learning about Americas “religious tolerance.”

  • Common Sense

    @ Sarah. Go find the nearest Funk and Wagnalls and look up the word ‘context’. You obviously don’t know what the word means or you would not have responded to that post in that manner. Thank you.

  • emom

    It’s a Christmas Tree, with Christmas lights, Christmas ornaments and Christmas presents under it, SANTA CALLS IT THAT..
    so with that ,, MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL AND A HAPPEY NEW YEAR. to the rest BAH HUMBUG, Christmas does not need any SCROOGES and GRINCHES. Even though they had a change of heart later.

  • emom

    Once again I AKS, What about the word CHRISTMAS is so darn offensive to people.; Why is call that large Douglas fir a Christmas tree become so offensive. Or just the mere thought of hearing someone say to you , MERRY CHRISTMAS is so offensive.
    I still can not understand the reasoning’s behind this being so OFFENSIVE.
    Do these same humans find other items OFFENSIVE. Is the menorah offensive after all it has a meaning as well, What about Kwanzaa, I believe there is a meaning with that as well., How many other HOLIDAYS are out there that are OFFENSIVE TO SOME. If CHRISTMAS in any way is OFFENSIVE to these HUMANS, then I want to hear more about the other HOLOIDAYS being just as OFFENSIVE..
    IF NOT MIGHT YOU GET OFF YOUR PEDESTAL AND LEAVE WHAT HAS ALWAYS BEEN ALONE , go create your own special HOLIDAY that suits you and let us enjoy the HOLIDAYS OUR WAY.

    • Santa Claus

      emom – what I have said before bears repeating

      Just a reminder that the label doesn’t matter I have many names myself given to me by children and adults around the world. What is most important of all is when you wish others a Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays or Seasons Greetings you do so from the heart and not to prove a point and it should never be wished with strings attached.  The true meaning of Christmas is in your heart.

      Merry Christmas from

      Father Christmas
      Kris Kringle
      Pere Noel
      Saint Nicholas
      Baba Chaghaloo

      • FireGuyFrank

        Again you’re spot on, Santa Claus. In fact, the most popular Christmas song, “White Christmas”, was written by a Jew! :-)

      • FireGuyFrank

        Yes, Santa Claus. And let’s not forget that the favorite Christmas song, “White Christmas”, was written by a Jew. :-)

      • emom

        Kris Kringle Is my favorite name for you , And I so agree with you , I do not mind if there are some that choose to call it by a different name, I am more hurt by the facts that they want many others to do the same. I remember from last year how people were offended by people saying a simple thing. MERRY CHRISTMAS, how they said we don’t celebrate Christmas and made a huge issue over it., Well if you don’t that’s fine but please do not punish those that do and or say it NOT knowing you don’t.
        I think that is the bigger problem. How are we to know what others prefer, simple just say back happy holidays if you prefer, But having government request in there own way to us that this is how it should be is far to much .
        I will and always will celebrate My CHRISTMAS my way that will never change, I think that it should be up to all on how they can say it as well or how they refer to it and that it should be allowed, Not changed , Like some have said include it all or not. Maybe I am old fashion Which is not all that bad. But I believe if so many like it the way it is Why do we have to change how We refer or say it for their benefit, That is what most of this is truly about.
        thank you Kris Kringle and once again have a very HAPPY, SAFE AND JOYOUS CHRISTMAS

  • Mikey Cyrus

    Wouldn’t it be funny if all this controversy causes RI to just cancel the whole tree thing next year? No tree, no arguments over what to call it.

    • Tangie

      Ideally, that’s what should happen. E Pluribus Unum (from many, one).

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