Sydney Struggles Keeping Christmas Christian

Sydney Struggles Keeping Christmas Christian

The tug of war between the sacred and secular of Christmas knows no boundaries. The City of Sydney, Australia is debating the theme of that city’s holiday celebration in decorations. At issue is whether this year’s proposed theme of Christmas trees is really just a politically correct dodge of that city’s traditionally Christian Christmas and if it truly reflects Sydney’s unique Christmas flavor.

“Evergreen Sydney, City of Christmas trees,” has been chosen as the theme for this year’s festivities, with “forests” of festive pines dotted around the CBD, including a hi-tech whopper at Martin Place. Councillors will be asked to rubber stamp the idea next Monday, with one slamming it and calling for something more unique to Sydney.

However, local shopping center executives fear another more Christian theme will offend their non-Christian shoppers. Australian Retailers Association chief Russell Zimmerman sits on a council retail advisory committee that helped devise the trees theme.

He revealed several shopping center executives had raised private concerns about Christmas decorations causing offense.

“One of them was a shopping center in the Sydney metropolitan area and it was discussed that ‘We’re a multicultural society and we can’t have people having Christmas decorations up, we might ­offend’,” Mr Zimmerman said.

Another, however, said: “I’m going to say that we are a Christian society and if you go to another society you do as that society does.”

The Council, however, believes they are on the right track.

“Anyone who celebrates Christmas knows the symbolism of the Christmas tree. There is no move to make Christmas more secular in Sydney,” the council spokeswoman Clover Moore said. Santa and Jesus will still feature in the council’s Christmas celebrations. Moore, it should be noted, gained notoriety more than a decade ago for slashing Christmas decorating budgets.

The council has published tracts promoting the idea: “Historically secular and recognised by many cultures, the Christmas tree reaches out across communities with a message of inclusion, generosity and celebration — green, global and connected.”

A council spokesman defended the plans and revealed this year’s Christmas budget has more than doubled from the miserly $879,000 spent last year to a far more festive $1.925 million in 2014.

Reports from Sydney indicate that local Christian activists are mobilizing to fight the “watered-down” Christmas theme, as some are describing it.

Massachusetts Town Braces for Christmas Controversy

Massachusetts Town Braces for Christmas Controversy

Since the 1950s and maybe before the town of Walpole, Massachusetts has allowed a privately owned nativity scene to be displayed each Christmas season. It appears that tradition will continue — just so long as there is a permit applied for it and that a “winter solstice” banner has equal opportunity for display.

The new policy is the result of a complaint from the Freedom from Religion Foundation, the Wisconsin-based group that wrote to Walpole officials in January questioning whether the town’s holiday tradition is an illegal endorsement of Christianity.

Rebecca Markert, an attorney for the foundation, said earlier this week that she is satisfied with the new Walpole policy that allows any group to apply for permission to put up holiday displays on town property. She added that her group may ask to install a “winter solstice” banner — as a counterpoint to the privately owned nativity scene, which has gone up on the town common since at least the 1950s.

She said the banner — similar to one on Boston Common last year — would read: “At this Season of the Winter Solstice, let reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

Selectmen unanimously passed the new policy in June for holiday displays on town-owned property, noting that the board “recognizes and celebrates the diversity” of the Walpole community.

The stated purpose of the new policy is “to ensure that each town-owned facility and property has a welcoming atmosphere and does not result in the town acting to advance or inhibit any particular religion, culture, or ethnicity.”

The policy explicitly says that displays cannot be erected using town staff or town equipment. The “winter holiday display season” extends from 14 days before Thanksgiving until Jan. 15.

Town Administrator Michael Boynton told selectmen the new policy was crafted in response to the complaint from the Freedom from Religion Foundation. He said the town was within its rights to allow the crèche scene, since it was privately owned, as long as other groups also were allowed to put up displays that met safety and other guidelines.

The crèche scene is owned, installed, and maintained by the Walpole Chamber of Commerce, which inherited it from the Downtown Businessmen’s Association, according to former chamber president Tom Rockwood.

“We will absolutely abide by the policy the selectmen established,” he said.

Rockwood said the chamber had been aware of possible issues with the manger scene since Norwood was engulfed in controversy over its public crèche displays about 14 years ago. Quincy also ran into problems with a crèche at City Hall in 2001.

In Walpole, Rockwood said that over the years there had been “an occasional inquiry — I wouldn’t call it a complaint” about why the chamber put up a crèche display, and why it did not also put up something else for other religions.

“It was an open policy,” Rockwood said. “If somebody was willing to fund it, [the chamber] was more than open to other displays,” but no one stepped forward.

“It’s not like we’re trying to violate anyone’s sensibility,” said Dick Power, the chamber’s former secretary. “But there [have been] almost no complaints — one phone call in four years maybe.”

He said the chamber also owns, installs, and maintains the Santa sleigh and reindeer that are displayed in front of the old Walpole Town Hall in the center of town. They date to the 1950s, when they were hung “flying” over the street. The chamber also pays for a live Santa to greet children in a hut on the Common, he said.

Court Says Black Pete is Racist

Court Says Black Pete is Racist

A Dutch court has ruled that the traditional Christmas character of Black Pete, or Zwarte Piet is racist and that Dutch cities planning holiday celebrations should avoid involving him.

In the Dutch tradition, Santa arrives by boat in November, with several other boats carrying a small army of Black Petes. Most are white people wearing blackface, red lipstick and curly Afro-esque wigs, along with Renaissance attire. The Black Petes hand out cookies or candy to children. Overwhelming public polls show the controversy is considered overblown.

The issue came to the forefront during the Christmas season of 2013 when a UN observer protested the tradition.

The Black Pete character is normally portrayed by a white person wearing blackface makeup with bright red lipstick and a frizzy afro, who accompanies St. Nicholas or “Sinterklaas” at festivals or events. He is often also portrayed as dumb and subservient, supporting the court’s opinion that Black Pete is a negative stereotype.

However, for much of the Dutch population, 80 percent of whom are white, as reported by the Associated Press, this reaction seems overzealous, as the character is not meant to be insulting.

The Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte seems to support this perspective, saying that, “Black Pete is black. There’s not much I can do to change that.”

Media Ignores Christmas in July

Media Ignores Christmas in July

Christmas in July is in full swing in stores and on television — and the media gives it a pass. But just wait: come August and September the media will be complaining about “Christmas creep” the minute someone launches any Christmas related in advertising.

The Hallmark Channel has aggressively marketed their “Christmas in July” campaign replaying movies usually reserved for November and December. The event is popular with Christmas enthusiasts who post schedules and spread word of showing times on social media.

QVC is hosting their annual Christmas in July sales events, another enthusiastically received event that is followed closely in Christmas communities.

Many communities across the country sponsor Christmas in July events with craft fairs and makers of Christmas decor customarily use July markets, conventions and gatherings to showcase new designs for consumers for the first time each season.

But while Christmas in July gets a pass all bets are off come August 1st. Between August 1st and Thanksgiving the media rigorously campaigns against “Christmas creep”, religiously making note of who is guilty and worthy of shame for being so greedy.

Last year the media jumped all over Kmart for their pre-Labor Day launch of marketing their Christmas layaway program.

As back to school sales events wind down major retailers as Hobby Lobby and Michael’s begin stocking Christmas craft items. Most seasons they do not even advertising those items — yet the media makes notes and criticizes them, claiming that Christmas creep comes earlier and earlier every year (and how is that possible?).