In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.Luke 2:1-7
After Governor Lincoln Chafee issued an invitation to the annual tree lighting ceremony at the State House, his office received about 3,500 calls in protest. Seven hundred were from Rhode Islanders, and the rest were from out of state. The callers were upset that the Governor called it a “Holiday Tree” rather than a “Christmas Tree.”
As far as we know, when Governor Don Carcieri issued the same announcement in 2009, and called it a “Holiday Tree” no one said anything. The same for Lincoln Almond many years earlier.
But this year our Holiday Tree was in the news from coast to coast.
Yesterday, protestors crashed the Holiday Tree lighting ceremony in the State House Rotunda. One man carried a large sign that announced, “Saving Christmas, One Tree at a Time.” And a few dozen “Christmas Carolers” interrupted a Children’s Chorus to sing “O Christmas Tree.” I’m sure the children will remember that as a wonderful witness to the true meaning of Christmas.
As Tiny Tim said, “God bless us, everyone!”
(And just for the record, “O Christmas Tree” is not really about the birth of Jesus, it’s about the evergreen tree.)
Further down Smith Street, Bishop Thomas Tobin led a Christmas tree lighting at a Roman Catholic Church. He compared Governor Chafee to the innkeeper in Bethlehem who turned away Mary and Joseph.
That seems a little harsh. At the least, it’s unfair to the innkeeper, who didn’t turn them away at all. He did the best he could. Because there was no more room in the house, he invited them to stay in the stable beneath the house.
A Cranston man, who came to the State House to protest calling it a Holiday Tree, said of the Governor, "He's trying to put our religion down. It's a Christmas tree. It always has been and it always will be, no matter what that buffoon says it is."
For his part, the governor stood by his decision. "If it's in my house it's a Christmas tree, but when I'm representing all of Rhode Island I have to be respectful of everyone," he explained after the tree lighting. "Now we can get back to next year's budget ... with pleasure."
The ironies in the story are wonderfully amusing. And it’s all mostly harmless fun. But I do wonder about the children, whose performance was interrupted. What did they learn about Christians and about Christmas?