San Diego Parade in Doubt

A wildly popular civic Christmas event in the San Diego, California area might not be held this year due to a ‘lack of time’. Even though Christmas comes every December 25th and even though the annual parade which draws tens of thousands is as popular as ever the community of Encinitas may not hold their parade this year.

Two years ago then-city Mayor Dan Dalager changed its name from Holiday Parade to Christmas Parade.

The parade was held but only after a series of complaints were showered upon city officials by Jewish community groups who claimed the city was favoring one religion over another on the taxpayer’s dime. In recent past years the parade was managed by the city. But that changed earlier this year when they were more than anxious to dump responsibility for the event off on the chamber of commerce.

The chamber had organized holiday parades – on a smaller scale – in the 1980s before the city took over the task in the 1990s. Chamber officials even thought about changing the event’s name to Poinsettia Parade to be inclusive. Now they are leaning towards not holding the event at all.

“One of the things we are considering is that maybe not doing it in ’07 but doing it in ’08,” chamber Executive Director Gary Tucker said. “We have not said we are not doing it. We want to make sure we are doing it right. We’re looking at all options.”

Yesterday, news that the parade might not be held upset some.

“It’s probably one of the coolest events the city puts on,” Deputy Mayor Jerome Stocks said. “There will be a lot of disappointed people if the chamber doesn’t hold a parade.

Councilwoman Maggie Houlihan said she was shocked.

“People are just blown away,” she said. “People love the parade. It’s community-building.”


Garden City Residents Fight Back

Last week we told you of a Long Island, New York school board who wanted to rename an annual Christmas concert to a “winter concert” and move it to February, citing the reference to Christmas as “offensive”.

Citizens are not taking this lying down. Here is a recent letter-to-the-editor:

First let me say, I am a homeowner in Garden City Park and my husband and I also grew up here. One of the reasons we chose to stay and raise our family here is because of the wonderful traditions our community has. Growing up in this town gave us memories we wanted to pass to our children. For Dr. Cohn to try to change our traditions is an outrage. The “Christmas Concerts” have been a staple in our schools for as long as I can remember.

Dr Cohn, when you chose to accept the position of superintendent, you knew what kind of community this was. I am sorry you had to work on Christmas Day, but the only businesses that stay open in this town are 7 Eleven and the gas stations. Unless these were your previous employments, I cannot image a business that forces people to work on Dec. 25. The Fire Departments hang wreathes and lights on Jericho Turnpike and Hillside Avenue and every block has families who take pride in hanging their lights and decorations. Our town hall has a tree lighting ceremony. This is who we are.

Dr. Cohn stated that using the words “Christmas Concert” is offensive. I find the fact that she has come into our community and is trying to change a way of life we are accustomed to offensive. There are many other districts out there that I’m sure would fit her ideals better.

Many residents of NHP/GCP have been here for generations. Yes, I know our community is changing, but like Dr. Cohn, they came here knowing what our town and schools were about and it was their choice to live here. Trying to change our Christmas Concert and move it to February will not be taken lightly. I, personally, will not allow my children to participate if this happens.

It is at this time that I ask my friends, my community to speak up, lend their voices and fight to keep our traditions, keep what has made this town our town for generations. Dr. Cohn is a guest here, this is her 9 – 5, this is not her home.

Michele Chambers

Picketing: A Merry Christmas Tradition

The Salt Lake City Council passed an ordinance last week intended to stop animal rights activists from harassing University of Utah researchers with regular picket lines in front of their homes. But a different group of activists is suing because they say the new law silences their Christmas tradition of free speech:

“In the past couple of years at Christmas time, they’ve gone to the Governor’s Mansion and sung parodies of Christmas carols to bring home the issue of poverty,” says Barnard.

Attorney Brian Barnard filed suit in federal court Wednesday against Salt Lake City on behalf of the Anti-Hunger Action Committee. The new ordinance prohibits picketing within 100 feet of a private residence, and Barnard says that applies to the Governor’s Mansion.

“The way I read the ordinance, it’s broad enough that it covers any kind of targeted demonstration in front of a residence,” says Barnard. “The Governor’s Mansion is a high profile building and it’s an appropriate place to go communicate with the Governor.”

Barnard believes the City Council drafted the ordinance hastily and under pressure from the University of Utah. A spokesman for the animal rights group Utah Primate Freedom says it, too, will file a lawsuit for the right to picket the homes of university researchers.

Florida City Won’t Light It Up this Christmas

Port St. Lucie, Florida has made Christmas headlines for years as the city that cannot grow a Christmas tree. Over the past decade the city has attempted several times to plant a tree they could hang lights and decorations on every Christmas season, as tradition has dictated. But they can’t keep a Christmas tree alive. They finally gave up on the tree. This year, they are giving up on the lights and decorations, too.

The holidays will be a tad darker in Port St. Lucie this year after reluctant city council members late Monday decided to save $70,000 and forsake an age-old tradition of adorning major intersections, city buildings and a parade route with colorful lighted wreaths and toy soldiers.

Faced with a $1 million deficit in the road and bridge fund for the next budget year, council members said it is better to patch potholes and repair traffic signals than celebrate a holiday season that likely won’t be too joyful with state-mandated tax reform.

“There’s no way we can say ëyes’ to street decorations and ëno’ to vital services,” Councilwoman Michelle Berger said.

Councilman Christopher Cooper suggested residents step up their own home decorating to combat the darkness and “make the city glow.” “People want us to cut spending,” he said. “I don’t see anybody from the public saying they care one way or the other about lights.” Berger led the charge to cut decorations rented from a private vendor after City Manager Don Cooper advised officials to cut all displays or none to avoid claims of favoritism by certain neighborhoods.

Mayor Patricia Christensen said the decision could mean an end to the annual Festival of Lights and parade along Midport Road since there will be no lighted decorations there. She’s also wondering where money for a new Christmas tree will come from since the last eight planted in front of city hall have died, some for unexplainable reasons.

“How do you cancel display lights and still spend money on a tree or a festival of lights?” Christensen asked

Liberty Counsel Takes Up Sea-Tac Christmas Fight

For the second time, the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is considering a ban on religious symbols during the end-of-the-year holiday season.

According to the Port of Seattle’s Holiday Decorations Advisory Committee, the airport is expected to be decked out in festival attire during the holidays, but officials will not include religious symbols in the festivities.

A Christian legal group, Liberty Counsel, is worried about the reoccurring circumstance, however, and is threatening legal action if the airport holds its position.

“Obviously, Liberty Counsel will get involved as we did last year with this airport,” said Mat Staver, the founder of Liberty Counsel, according to One News Now. “We sent a letter [last year] demanding that they return the Christmas decorations to the airport – and with the public outcry, the airport did. This year, obviously, we’re back to the battleground again, and we’re certainly going to go to bat for protecting Christmas.”

The first incident occurred last December when a rabbi complained about nine Christmas trees that were decorated in the terminals. He said he would sue the airport for religious discrimination unless they added a menorah to the decorations.

The trees were pulled from display to avoid litigation, but were later put back into view after the rabbi explained that he had not wanted their removal and after pressure from Liberty Counsel lawyers.

The Seattle committee is now proposing a policy prohibiting any kind of religious symbols for the upcoming holiday and Christmas season to avoid future problems.

Christian attorneys from Liberty Counsel are threatening legal action if the international airport decides to keep the policy, however.

They argue that Christmas decorations are historical more than religious, and that they are not biased towards Christians. The public has no problem with the ornamentation, they urge.

Also, Christmas trees are not even a Christian symbol, they added. They are censoring things that are not even applicable.

“I think it’s ridiculous in a country where we have December 25 as a state and federal holiday to celebrate and honor Christmas,” added Staver, “something that’s rooted in the history of America – that governmental entities would come to censor it out.”

School Board Mulls Killing Christmas Concert

Another school board wants to cancel a traditional Christmas concert, move it to the end of January and call it a “Winter Concert” out of fear of offending non-Christian citizens.

The New Hyde Park School Board of Long Island, New York cast a split vote on the issue in a meeting on July 9th. Under the proposal, put forward by Board President Patricia Rudd, the current concert would have been moved to the end of January or early February, and renamed Winter Concert. The vote was 3-3, with one abstention. In the end, the Board passed a further proposal to study the issue with an advisory group of parents, and to revisit the topic at future meetings.

Superintendent Regina Cohn expressed her disappointment with the defeat, telling the board that “I feel sorry for the children. I have never said this to a board before. I am very disappointed that it has come to this.”

Referring to the fact that she could have made the decision to move the concert without bringing it before the board, Superintendent Cohn added: “Out of respect for the board I did allow this to happen, but I am sorry that it did. I will tell you that as someone who is not Christian, who in a previous job went to work on Dec. 25, that this is something that is offensive.”

In discussion prior to the vote, Vice-President Robert Nugent said the proposal was “a wonderful idea to deal with an issue that has been extremely controversial in the past.”

“This has not been discussed fully in our community for 10 years, and 10 years ago this community was a very different place,” he said, adding that “we have to honor the fact that we are changing as a community.”

Pointing to the rows of empty chairs for the public, board member Ernest Gentile cast doubt on the divisiveness of the issue in the community, saying, “The general public has not come here in enough numbers in the last 10 years to justify changing Christmas to something else.”

“I think the issue is about one word – Christmas. It’s nothing to do with religion,” he said. “I don’t think we should be moving anything. I don’t think that anyone goes to the concert expecting it to be Jesus Christ on the cross.”

He was supported by trustee David Del Santo, who said, “I am not in favor of moving anything, and I’m not religious.”

“When folks move into the neighborhood,” Del Santo continued, “they should adapt to our way of life. One of the freedoms you have here is the freedom to move if you don’t like it.”

“It’s an emotional issue for a lot of people,” said Joseph Bongiorno. “I don’t think it’s a question of giving in. I think it’s a question of doing what’s right. I think we should look at moving the concert and celebrating the children.”

City Hopes Summer Debate Will Dim Christmas Controversy

Fort Collins, Colorado is going to try this again.

Forced into the frenzied annual debate of the “War on Christmas” by a policy allowing only Christmas trees as part of the city’s annual “holiday display”, Fort Collins is looking for a way to placate Christmas traditionalists without offending community religious leaders.

Why the controversy?

Because Fort Collins cannot decide just was is and is not religious about Christmas.

Mistakenly calling Christmas trees a religious symbol, the City Council last year was forced to endure criticism for not allowing a Menorah on display as equal time. Taking a cue from Seattle — which voted to ban Christmas trees from the Sea-Tac airport — Fort Collins will issue a final decision on Halloween.

We’re suggesting the committee is Fort Collins do a little research before they start. Christmas trees are a purely secular symbol of Christmas. Menorahs are clearly religious. Perhaps somewhere out there a city council will stand up and sort this out correctly. We’re betting the over all “holiday” display will feature nondescript, non-offending, designed by committee decorations that will not offend anyone — and will be as far from Christmas as can possibly be, thus pleasing no one.

And a Halloween decision? That is “War on Christmas” headline season. Fort Collins is practically begging to make the news with this issue.

City Works to Embrace Christmas Light Enthusiasts

Finally! A good-news story of a city working to keep a tradition of Christmas lights alive. The Grand Haven Tribune reported over the weekend on a move of a popular Christmas light destination from a residential area to a better situated public area for a light display that drew more than 60,000 people last year from Thanksgiving through Christmas.

Brad Boyink, the technical adviser to the Musical Fountain Committee, created the light display and operated it at his home on Heather Court in Spring Lake Township for the first time last year. He estimated around 60,000 people visited the display between Thanksgiving and when he cut it off in late December. He said donations during the show’s five-week run resulted in $20,038 that Boyink gave to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Michigan.

While the donations made the show a success, Boyink said, the high traffic it brought to his neighborhood created a safety problem and he decided it needed a more public location.

“It really needed to be under a city’s control because of the liability issue, having a better location to expand, and it made the most logical choice being under the Musical Fountain Committee because they already deal with (a similar) production,” Boyink said, referring to the summerlong fountain show run from Dewey Hill.

Boyink is donating $5,000 worth of computer equipment and lights from his display for the city show. But the 20,600 LED (light emitting diode) lights used in Boyink’s home show is just a start — a total of 140,000 lights on six 40-foot towers are planned for the 2007 show on Harbor Island, Jonas said, with potential increases in the future. A new light show program will be done each year.

“It still requires council approval because it’s on city property,” he said. “We anticipate we’ll get that approval Monday night.”

We applaud the city of Grand Haven and the many individuals and organizations in that community who are working together in the Spirit of Christmas.

Since Christmas 2006 we have reported on incidents of everything from violence in neighborhoods to City governments being mean spirited and grinch-like in their denial of Christmas light displays. It is refreshing to hear media reports of a community cooperating together to bring about a Christmas light display that is safe, respectful of the surroundings and fun for those who enjoy lights during the season.  

Seattle Airport to Deny Christmas Trees Again

They will allow lights, garland and associated decorations of Christmas but not Christmas trees at the Seattle Airport. Late last year controversy ensued when a Rabbi cried foul that Christmas trees at the Seattle Airport violated separation of church and state and demanded that an 8-foot tall Menorah be placed next to the highest tree on display. The airport quickly took down the trees causing a media furor and fanning the flames of debate about the public display of Christmas.

This year they appear to be taking no chances by deciding during the heat of summer to bypass the controversy altogether. Forget the fact that Seattle is well known for it’s fir trees. Forget the fact that Christmas trees are not a religious symbol in any way.  

The decision for this year’s Christmas display at Sea-Tac was made by a 12-person committee who will now employ a designer to craft this year’s display. The committee included the Rabbi at the center of last year’s controversy though reports note that he has attended just one meeting of the commision this year.

Macy’s Refuses Sick Kid Ride With Santa

News reports from Rhode Island tell the sad tale:

Ian Zuchowski had a wish to ride in a parade.

But not just any parade — the Macy’s parade to ride with Santa Claus.

“Santa is like one of his favorite people in the whole wide world,” said Ian’s mother, Patty Zuchowski. “He wants to be an elf when he grows up.”

Ian has microcephaly — a small brain. He is 9 years old.

Ian’s family was working with Make-A-Wish Foundation but the two very connected entities just couldn’t make it happen for Ian. (Macy’s donates $6 million a year to Make-A-Wish).

Macy’s has a policy that no outsiders participate in their parades. Macy’s claims that it’s a parade for entertainment and that it would be a safety issue.

We’re encouraging Make-A-Wish to inform Macy’s about a modern invention called the child safety seat and to insist that they let Ian work as an elf, for just one day, with Santa in the parade.