It sounds like something written for the old Seth Meyers-Amy Poehler “Really?” bit on Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update.” Not long after the ball was dropped on the New Year, Rhode Island politicians dropped the ball again when Republican Rep. Doreen M. Costa of Dist. 31 in North Kingstown and Exeter took her first crack at legislating by submitting a resolution to ban state officials and agencies from using any term but “Christmas trees” to describe the “customarily erected” evergreens decorated in many households during December.
So let’s see. Rhode Island has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation. Families and many entire communities are in debt. Job prospects are dim. The educational system is a mess. The state’s infrastructure is in disrepair. Health care costs are bankrupting people and businesses. What to do, what to do? Hmm. Oh, here’s a priority: From now on, all state employees and agencies must always say “Christmas tree” in their official statements and communications.
What happens to the poor sod who makes a mistake and publicly utters or e-mails an announcement about a “holiday tree” instead? Or makes some unfortunate reference to “yule,” “wintertide,” “Saturnalia,” “Norway spruce” or “evergreen”? Would he or she get fired? Banned from the office Christmas party? Burned at the stake? Sent to the stocks for a day to be pummeled with fruitcakes and eggnog? Permanently rubber-stamped onto Santa’s Naughty List?
Costa, as described in an Independent editorial last week, is “a vocal member of the R.I. Tea Party and one of 29 newcomers elected on a platform of change.” She has admitted that she submitted the legislation “on a whim,” with the backing of Rep. Joseph Trillo, a Republican from Warwick. Because they submitted it wrong, copies of the resolution were not given to lawmakers but instead were approved by the House on a voice vote within moments of its introduction, requiring – in what amounts to a monumental waste of time and energy – referral to a committee to consider and study the matter.
Whether you celebrate Christmas or not (and, for the record, I do; four beloved Christmas trees from my childhood are now towering evergreens in my backyard, serving as home for a mockingbird and a playground for squirrels), the legislative effort is misguided. To establish a law insisting that state workers use the expression “Christmas tree” is heavy-handed, and the inference or presumption by the legislators that a “Christmas tree” has always been a “Christmas tree” is just plain wrong. Not for nothin’, but Bethlehem wasn’t exactly known for its Scotch pine, Douglas fir and white spruce.
Sure, it’s always fun when we can correct political correctness and co-opt a pagan ritual in one fell swoop, but how about letting Rhode Island – the original “separation of church and state” state – do what it does best and encourage everyone to keep making ornaments, not laws, for the Christmas tree?
Speaking of which, there’s also some momentum for a bill to stipulate that Halloween would always be celebrated on the last Saturday of October – no matter its actual date – to make it easier for parents to plan trick-or-treating and for bars, restaurants and businesses to profit from the holiday. Again, let’s put a stake in this vampire right now.
Before you know it, some well-intentioned politician will decide that we should move Halloween to August – a month without a national holiday – so the kids won’t have to risk going out in the cold. And maybe we should pick a Sunday in March or April and just stick with it to celebrate Easter, because it’s too confusing the way that holiday bounces like a jellybean around the calendar every spring. On second thought, make it April, because some years Easter falls too closely next to St. Patrick’s Day. Then again, it would probably be better for bars and restaurants if the feast day of St. Patrick were held on a weekend, so let’s just consider March 17 to be more like a global happy hour if it falls on Monday through Friday and schedule the bodhrans and shamrocks for the third Saturday in March.
What would you change about any holiday, if you could?