Christmas Light Regulation Turning UK Humbug

In the name of health and safety many British towns may have to forego festive lighting this holiday season. According to a report in the Telegraph stringent new regulations and huge insurance premium increases could make Christmas lights scarce.

This year councils must use a pressure gauge to individually test every bolt holding a cable or light fitting to a wall.

Only fully insured professionals can hang the lights and workers must use expensive hydraulic platforms to do the job because ladders are not deemed safe.

Stephen Alambritis, from the Federation of Small Businesses, is warning that the country is heading for a “Christmas blackout”.

He said: “It is a very sad state of affairs. The festive period is looking darker and bleaker year on year.

For the past several years we have documented stories of rallies held in townships across the UK to save Christmas lights. But the noose seems to be tightening this year even more than ever before.

Mrs. Fields Attacked for Avoiding Christmas

The American Family Association took aim at Wal Mart last year — and won. After declaring “an open mind” when it came to the use of the word “Christmas” in their advertising, Wal Mart caved and splashed “Christmas” liberally. This year, the American Family Association is targeting a more upscale outfit: Mrs. Field’s Cookies.

Last Thursday, the American Family Association flew into action when alerted to the omission by a resident of Michigan who called Mrs. Fields’ customer service number to complain about the absence of any Christmas products or even mention of the holiday by name.

She was reportedly told by the customer service representative the company did not offer products mentioning Christmas because it did not want to offend anyone.

AFA sent out an “action alert” to hundreds of thousands of its members nationwide accusing Mrs. Fields of becoming the first company to ban Christmas from products and promotions this year.

“Mrs. Fields wants the business of Christians who celebrate Christmas, but they don’t mind if they offend Christians,” the AFA said over the signature of Don Wildmon, founder and chairman of the organization.

But, by the following day, Mrs. Fields website was offering at least three gift products mentioning “Christmas” by name.

Randy Sharp, director of special products for AFA, said the group is still not entirely pleased with the capitulation.

“Mrs. Fields is still being politically correct as a company,” he said.

He said in give-and-take conversations and e-mails with the company, officials suggested substituting “winter” in place of “holiday” in its promotions.

An official statement on the matter from Mrs. Fields says:

“This year, Mrs. Fields is celebrating our 30th anniversary and as always, looks forward to families celebrating the Christmas season with our delicious and fresh baked cookies and treats. Our plan is to kick off the 2007 holiday season beginning November 1, 2007 with seasonal gifts available both in-store, in-catalog and online. We have a complete line of holiday specific themed gifts including Christmas items that we have been perfecting for the past eight months, and are eager to share them with Mrs. Fields’ customers. From the Mrs. Fields’ kitchen to yours, we hope to help make your 2007 Christmas and holiday warmer, brighter and tastier.”

Last year, giant retailer Wal-Mart was the target of a boycott threat by AFA for dumping the word “Christmas” from all of its store promotions. Wal-Mart later avoided the clash by relenting to use the name of the holiday.

Researcher Claims Scientific Proof of Christmas Star

For centuries, historians, scientists and scholars have debated the existence of the Star of Bethlehem in the Biblical telling of Christ’s birth. Now the existence of this celebrated, yet debated, Star has been proven by Texas lawyer and professor, Rick Larson, in the documentary, “The Star of Bethlehem,” available on DVD Oct. 23 at national online retailers and local Christian bookstores, distributed by Mpower Pictures and Genius Products.

“Historically, people have taken two positions on the Star,” said Larson. “Either they believe the Star is true or they think it was made up by the early Church. I took a different approach in my research and treated the Star as a mystery or puzzle, looking at the Bible and comparing the facts of Scripture with facts from science and history.”

Larson’s quest for answers began from a simple effort to produce an accurate, visual portrayal of the Star in his yard for Christmas. This sent him into a whirl of questions that many people ask each time the Christmas story is told. What did this Star look like? Where did it come from? How did it lead the wise men directly to “this” Child?

His investigation took him on a journey through historical documents, scientific findings and numerous theories to discover a celestial event pointing to the vastness of God’s creativity.

“God began leading me on a journey and unveiling answers to me beyond my own understanding,” Larson said. “That God would ask someone not trained in astronomy to do this still amazes me.”

Using astronomer Johannes Kepler’s map of the solar system, Josephus’s calendaring system and Imaginova’s state-of-the-art Starry Night® software, Larson pinpointed the year of the Star’s appearance. While most astronomers researching the Star only look to the sky, Larson took his findings a step further by utilizing a critical piece in the puzzle – the Scriptures from the Book of Matthew.

Larson’s in-depth study of Matthew led him to nine distinguishing characteristics of the Star that helped explain its existence. These features of the Star included that it signified birth; signified kingship; had a connection with the Jewish nation; rose in the East; appeared at a precise time; was unbeknownst to Herod; endured over time; was ahead of the Magi as they went south from Jerusalem to Bethlehem; and stopped directly over the city of Bethlehem.

The Biblical characteristics pointed to the Star being a natural occurrence. Larson’s study of wandering stars, or planets, and slow retrograde motion, created a breaking point in his research. Larson discovered that in 3 and 2 B.C., Jupiter, known for ages as the “King Planet,” held the nine characteristics of the Star.

Having made this momentous discovery about Jupiter, Larson continued his study of the stars, only to find another significant link to the starry sky and April 3, 33 A.D., the day Larson believes Christ was crucified on the cross.

“After discovering all of this, I looked up at the sky and said, ‘My God, what did you do?’ Larson said. “This was poetry of terrible beauty. What the Creator revealed to me was something about His vast plan. He wrote poetry in the sky to record both the coming and passing of Christ.”

Larson has personally presented these findings to tens of thousands in the U.S. and Europe. “The Star of Bethlehem” DVD will be available Oct. 23 at Family Christian, Lifeway, Berean, and Mardel Stores nationwide or your favorite national online retailer.

Did the City Really Steal Christmas?

It all began in the heat of summer — and by asking for permission.

Ankeny, Iowa sounds like a reasonable place. Located in the heart of the Midwest, this little town of of roughly 35,000 is reportedly as American as apple pie. But these days it defends itself from anti-Christmas charges.  

Dave Sanderson, a local resident who for years has decorated his home with Christmas lights, decided he wanted to take it to a new level for Christmas 2006 by adding Christmas music streamed through a low-powered FM transmitter so that he could synchronize his light display to popular Christmas music.  

The Sanderson Family Christmas light display has become a tradition in Ankeny. With more than 40,000 lights in a display that has grown steadily over the years, Sanderson is one of those passionate Christmas light hobbyists who frequent a popular Christmas website dedicated to building more and more spectacular displays in the spirit of the season.

As he has added more elements to the display of his home he has faithfully recorded his methods, upgrades and experiences on his website. Coupled with the technical jargon of switches and transmitters are splashes of past attempts to remain a good neighbor through the dedication of his display to a local hero, signs asking folks to be mindful of neighbor driveways and even reminders of the spiritual message of Christmas.

So when he went to the police department in the summer of 2006 to inquire about increased traffic in the neighborhood that could be the result from expanding his display offering yet again Sanderson was stunned with the cold response he received. The police chief threatened to shut off his display if traffic got out of hand, a responsibility he claimed as stipulated in a local ordinance prohibiting any kind of “nuisance” that would block traffic and access to public sidewalks.

According to a certified letter Sanderson received before his display was even built the City of Ankeny threatened to declare the display a public nuisance if the crowds got too big or the traffic too intense. The City claims they were only being as proactive as Sanderson himself. “He came to us,” the City admitted,”and we told him what the rules have always been. It’s as simple as that.”

What happened next is quite predictable: Sanderson responded to the letter indignantly, which resulted in a half-hearted apology from an assistant City manager who promised to work with Sanderson in keeping the situation under control during the upcoming season. This resulted in a sign saying “local traffic only” being installed nearby. The city claims this was an act of faith on their part and was something they were not obligated to do.

Anticipating the worst, the City of Ankeny prepared to wage battle. Police officers were instructed to keep an eye on the Sanderson display, to document the visiting crowds and to shut off the lights at the first complaint they received.

Sanderson is quick to point out that the police orders were customized to his display specifically, although there are other large Christmas displays in Ankeny which were allowed to continue. The City says the rules are the rules as they see them.

Sure enough, the City claims they received one anonymous complaint about a blocked driveway. That was enough to end Sanderson’s 2006 Christmas display.

Sanderson and the City of Ankeny continue to do battle. Sanderson has followed through on his threats to take his plight to the media through his website and many interviews. As an advertising executive the city claims that Sanderson knows how to gain publicity and that his promotion of the dispute has painted the city in a poor light and shown only one side of the issue.

Trading charges in the media, the City of Ankeny defends itself through claims that they have offered a public space with better access for Sanderson to set up his display, a claim that Sanderson denies. Yet the city is on record in that assertion.  

Is this a case of a homeowner being denied his right to celebrate Christmas as he wants on his own property? Or is it a case of a city being bullied by a local resident unhappy with a standing ordinance?

How far this case goes depends upon the willingness of both parties to communicate and compromise. Score one for Sanderson in proactively seeking to deal with the issue. Score another to the city for outlining in advance what it would do and why.

Clearly, the Sanderson display had been tolerated for some time without incident. In looking forward the city claims Sanderson knew the consequences of expanding his display or else he would not have contacted the city about it in the first place. 

Neighbors are understanding and see both sides of the issue. According to a Des Moines Register story archived on the Sanderson site neighbors confirm that the family has made great efforts to control their display during reasonable hours and to post reminders of maintaining good behavior. But they do point out to the inconveniences of increased traffic and the fact that some people in the large crowds who come just “aren’t nice”.

Michigan Court Battle, Vote Heating Up

Last winter, cowed by threats from the ACLU, the Berkley City Council in Michigan voted to remove a decades-old nativity display from city property. The council’s controversial action ignored the plea from many of this small town’s citizens to keep the display.

As a result, a grassroots effort “Berkley Citizens Vote YES to Christmas Holiday Display,” led by resident Georgia Halloran mounted a successful petition drive to overrule the City Council’s vote. Enough signatures were gathered to place a proposed Charter Amendment on the November 6, 2007 general election ballot.

A ‘yes’ vote on the ballot question will require the city to display a nativity scene from the Monday following Thanksgiving through January 6.

Halloran, as spokesperson for the group commented, “Christmas is a national holiday. And we’re not going to let ACLU threats dictate how we publicly celebrate it.”

The Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, offered to represent the city without charge should it be sued by the ACLU, and provided legal assistance to Halloran’s group.

Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Law Center, commented: “Despite all of their public rationalizations of why the Nativity should be removed from city property, it is clear the city council acted out of fear of an ACLU lawsuit. The council made the wrong decision, and Berkley citizens are working within the political system to correct that wrong.”

The Charter Amendment requires that the Christmas holiday display comply with governing law and allows the display to be modeled after the display appearing in nearby Clawson, Michigan, a holiday display that includes a nativity scene and that was ruled constitutional by the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, the federal court that governs Michigan.