Rhode Island governor defends holiday tree

Rhode Island’s governor said lawmakers upset with his decision to call the blue spruce erected in the statehouse a “holiday tree” instead of a “Christmas tree” should focus their energy on feeding the poor.

According to Gov. Lincoln Chafee, calling the tree a “holiday tree” is in keeping with Rhode Island’s founding in 1636 by religious dissident Roger Williams as a haven for tolerance, where government and religion were kept separate.

Rhode Island boasts both the nation’s first Baptist church and the oldest surviving synagogue.

“I would encourage all those engaged in this discussion … to use their energy and enthusiasm to make a positive difference in the lives of their fellow Rhode Islanders,” Chafee said, offering an initiative to feed the needy as a good place to start.

But critics said the independent governor is defying the will of the state Legislature. In January, representatives passed a symbolic resolution declaring that the tree customarily erected this time of year be referred to “as a ‘Christmas tree’ and not as a ‘holiday tree’ or other non-traditional terms.”

The resolution’s sponsor, Rep. Doreen Costa, said she plans to erect and decorate a Christmas tree at her office on Tuesday, Dec. 6, the same day Chafee plans to host his tree-lighting event. — ap