The Governor has banned Christmas from the State House! Except, of course, he hasn’t.
There is hardly a building in Rhode Island more decorated for the coming Christmas season than the RI State House.
Sure, the tree at the center of the State House rotunda (and also at the center of the fake controversy being promulgated by the likes of John DePetro, Doreen Costa, Bishop Tobin and Fox News) has been designated a “Holiday Tree” in deference to the wide range of religious and non-religious beliefs held by the citizens of our state, but there are almost two dozen other trees scattered around the State House, all but one of which are clearly intended to be, if not outright identified as, Christmas Trees.
But for those who might feel that Christmas Trees just aren’t Christmas-y enough, that they don’t really get into the anti-Grinch-like meaning of the holiday, which is after all about the baby Jesus, well you are in luck. There are plenty of manger scenes scattered about as well.
For years now the second floor of the State House has been the location of Guatemalan, Puerto Rican, German, Irish and Chilean Christmas trees positioned next to tables that display the cultural heritage of these groups. These Christmas trees are often loaded with religious symbols, and the tables more likely than not contain nativity scenes centered around the birth of Jesus.
Perhaps DePetro forgoes mentioning these displays because they celebrate Rhode Island’s proud immigrant cultures, and we all know that DePetro has little patience for immigrants and immigrant rights.
There is one other decorated evergreen in the State House, located in the formal State Room, next to a delicious smelling gingerbread house in front of which a Santa Claus figure has landed his sleigh. You won’t hear a peep from the Governor’s critics on this tree, even though it is “clearly a Christmas tree” to borrow their common phrasing, “and should be called a Christmas Tree.”
This is the Heroes Tree, erected and decorated to honor military families. And it is a Heroes Tree, not a Christmas tree, because Christians are not the only American heroes. This tree is not placed in such a special spot because we are interested in only honoring those military families that happen to be Christian and celebrate Christmas. This tree is meant to honor the military families that might identify as Christian but don’t celebrate Christmas, as well as non-Christian military families including, but not limited to Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Humanists, Pagans, Atheists, and any other belief system you can imagine.
As a symbol to honor military families, the Heroes Tree is imperfect. Decorated evergreens are far too commingled with the Christian celebration of Christmas to ever be considered truly inclusive symbols. The brouhaha over the Governor’s decision is ample proof of this. Non-Christians may rightly feel that the symbol does not truly represent their beliefs. Founding father John Adams said, “The United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion” and we would do well to remember that when we cavalierly assert Christian privilege at this time of the year.