A pine tree dressed in lights will be lit Thursday in the Rhode Island State House rotunda, and for the first time in two years it will be called a “Christmas tree.”
Governor Lincoln D. Chafee (D) altered the term to assuage his constituents. According to the statement released Monday:
“In 2011, my first year celebrating December in the State House I gave a simple six word instruction to the planners of the annual tree lighting: “Do what they did last year.” Despite the myriad of pressing issues facing Rhode Island and the nation, this presumably happy event became a focal point for too much anger. Strangely lost in the brouhaha was any intellectual discussion of the liberties pioneered here in Rhode Island 350 years ago in our Charter. Because I do not think how we address the State House tree affects our “lively experiment,” this year’s invitation calls the tree a Christmas tree.”
Last year, Diocese of Providence Bishop Thomas J. Tobin was one of the many to lament the jilted “heartfelt sentiments of the vast majority of Rhode Islanders” who sought to “simply call the tree what it is – a Christmas tree.”
Bishop Tobin praised Chafee’s “common sense” decision:
“Hopefully the presence of a 'Christmas Tree' at the State House will speak the true meaning of this special season, and will allow us all to enjoy the blessings of peace, joy and fellowship with one another.”
This seemingly small correction should not be overlooked. Terminology is fundamental to society because language frames thought. As C.S. Lewis lucidly said:
"The most dangerous ideas in a society are not the ones being argued, but the ones that are assumed."
Gov. Chafee not only listened, but also responded to his constituents. Rhode Islanders and their governor should be praised for a job well done.