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Have a merry & happy you-know-what

| Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012, 9:00 p.m.

Sometimes you want to scream, “What were you thinking?” Such was the case last year when Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee, an independent, decided at a lighting ceremony to call the state's Christmas tree in Providence a “holiday tree.”

“In my own house, I'm free to have a Christmas tree,” Chafee said, pointing to the state's 1663 Colonial charter and suggesting state father Roger Williams would not approve.

After receiving an earful from a good many people in the Ocean State, as well as those from the rest of the United States, Chafee attempted this year to avoid problems by not holding a tree-lighting ceremony at all, even though his predecessors have had one every year for about two decades.

Chafee spokeswoman Christine Hunsinger made the announcement that there would be no tree lighting, only to recant less than 24 hours later, presumably after objections poured into the governor's mansion. There would be a ceremony after all.

One can surmise that Chafee was trying not to offend those who do not celebrate Christmas. In the process, he did two things: He upset many people who do celebrate the birth of Christ and he provided ammunition for those who have been claiming for the last few years or so that some in the United States have been waging a war on Christmas.

That argument started a few years ago when some retailers advised their employees not to wish their customers a merry Christmas. The thinking behind the edict went something like this: A clerk doesn't know if a customer is a Christian, Muslim, Jew or a nonbeliever. Those who don't celebrate the birth of Christ might be offended if someone wishes them a merry Christmas, so avoid the problem by wishing everyone “Happy holidays.”

But as H.L. Mencken once said, “There is always an easy solution for every human problem — neat, plausible and wrong.”

Not surprising, some Christians felt slighted, although it's not entirely clear why anyone should be slighted simply because a store clerk said, “Happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”

The ironic part of all this is that a good many Muslims, Jews and nonbelievers don't object when someone unfamiliar with their religious beliefs wishes them a merry Christmas. The same is true of Christians who are members of sects that do not observe the holiday. Yes, there are such Christians, Seventh Day Adventists among them.

Most people, regardless of their religious beliefs, accept the phrase as little more than a pleasant seasonal greeting, the December equivalent of “Good morning,” “How do you do?” or “Have a nice day.”

Likewise, most Christians don't, or at the very least shouldn't, get upset if someone wishes them, “Happy Hanukkah.” They accept it as a sincere wish for an enjoyable day.

Lincoln Chafee demonstrated that clumsy attempts to please everyone end up pleasing few — and they detract from a joyful time of year.

— from the Reading Eagle

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