Wednesday, December 07, 2011

There's No Such Thing as a Holiday Tree

A week ago, the governor of Rhode Island declared the 17-foot spruce in the State House rotunda to be a "holiday tree," not a Christmas tree. Governor Chafee is not Jewish, Jehovah's Witness, or any other religion that doesn't celebrate Christmas. He's Episcopalian. But for some reason, he seems to think that it is more inclusive to call it a holiday tree than to call it what it clearly is: a Christmas tree. Governor Chafee, I know you want to include us, but next time, include someone else.

The result of this declaration was as predictable as it was depressing: antisemitic backlash. Of course, nobody has the bad taste to explicitly blame it on the Jews, but that's clearly what they're thinking. Radio personality Michael Smerconish (who I respect greatly though I don't always agree with him) didn't leave much doubt when he said, "I won't mess with your religion, and don't you mess with mine." The clear implication was that a religion other than his own was responsible for this nonsense. But the person who called it a holiday tree was a Christian. There is no outsider here messing with your religion, Michael. There is no Jewish conspiracy demanding that these trees be called holiday trees. In fact, most Jews don't even want these things to be called holiday trees.

Renaming a Christmas tree doesn't include non-Christians. There is only one holiday at this time of year that is celebrated with a tree, and that is Christmas. There is no Thanksgiving tree, no Chinese New Year tree, no Pancha Ganapati tree, and definitely no Chanukkah tree (the idea of a "Chanukkah bush" is more of a joke than a Jewish observance). The term "holiday tree" doesn't include anyone; it merely whitewashes the obvious fact that the state of Rhode Island observes Christmas. It also kicks off the annual "War on Christmas" nonsense that motivates Christmas-lovers to harass anyone who dares to be insufficiently merry.

It's particularly depressing to see this nonsense coming out of Rhode Island, a state with a proud history for the Jews, home of the Touro Synagogue, visited by George Washington in 1790, who wrote to them:
It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens.
So now the Christmas lovers come to the state house, singing "O Christmas Tree" and waving signs that say "Put the Christ Back in Christmas" while trying to convince me that Christmas is a secular holiday, and is my holiday too. Thanks a lot Governor Chafee. I know you want to include us, but next time, include someone else.