Chafee calls State House spruce 'Christmas tree' - News, Weather and Classifieds for Southern New England

Chafee calls State House spruce 'Christmas tree'

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PROVIDENCE -

In a Yuletide turnaround, Gov. Lincoln Chafee is now calling this year's State House spruce a Christmas tree, saying the past practice of calling it a holiday tree generated too much anger.

The Democratic governor announced Monday that the invitation to this year's tree lighting will call the 17-foot conifer a Christmas tree.

"Despite the myriad of pressing issues facing Rhode Island and the nation, this presumably happy event became a focal point for too much anger," Chafee wrote in a statement released Monday.

Secretary of State Ralph Mollis will preside over the lighting ceremony on Thursday. Chafee will be in New Jersey, delivering an address to students at Princeton University.

Mollis said he and Chafee discussed the tree controversy and that he volunteered to light the tree and prevent another holiday hullabaloo.

"I thought it would be good for the state if we put this controversy behind us," Mollis said.

For the past two years, Chafee called the State House tree a holiday tree in a nod to Rhode Island's religious diversity and its founding by Roger Williams as a haven of tolerance.

While Chafee said that he called his own household evergreen a Christmas tree, he said he thought holiday tree was a more appropriate term for the conifer erected each year in the State House.

Previous governors had used the same term, and Chafee said he was following their lead.

"When I took office I said, 'Do what they did last year.'  And for some reason people took offense and previous governors didn't have an issue with it," Chafee told NBC 10 News.

But critics angrily denounced Chafee's word choice, even interrupting a children's choir during one year's tree lighting with their own rendition of the song "Oh Christmas Tree."

"Strangely lost in the brouhaha was any intellectual discussion of the liberties pioneered here in Rhode Island 350 years ago in our charter," Chafee said Monday.

Mollis and Chafee have led a yearlong celebration of the 350th anniversary of the charter, an influential document that was one of the first documents to set forth the idea of religious freedom.

Chafee is not seeking a second term.

NBC 10's Julie Tremmel contributed to this report.

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