It has been a Christmas tradition for decades, but this year, the nativity display at Santa Monica’s Palisades Park has been scaled way back, thanks to a group of atheists.
In the past, there were 14 life-size displays depicting traditional religious scenes. All together, the nativity took up two blocks along Ocean Avenue.
But this year, the display has been reduced to a miniature version of what it has been like for some 57 years.
The city received a record number of requests for space, so it was forced to use a lottery system.
The traditionalists won two spots, which is enough for three scenes out of the usual 14.
At least 18 spots went to so-called “out-of-towners.”
Atheist Raymond McNealy, of Burbank, won nine spots. He said he’s outraged that a church organization is demanding exclusive rights on public property, and others echoed his sentiments.
“It’s a movement to have equal representation, and to have our voices heard on an equal scale to the nativity scenes that have been in this property for so many years, violating the separation of church and state,” atheist Damon Vix told KTLA.
But some are upset that the holiday tradition has been derailed.
“They stole Christmas,” one man said.
“We were confined to three booths because, really, a group of out-of-town atheists from out of town manipulated the rules and tried to force us out of the park, and stop this nearly 60-year-old Santa Monica celebration of Christmas,” Hunter Jameson, of the Nativity Scene Committee countered.
“Christmas is still in our hearts. Christmas is still here,” Jameson added. “We’re just praying and working that next year there will be the full 14 booths here as there have been in the past.”
The traditionalists are collecting signatures, which they will take to the city, to try to get the 14 booths restored for next year.
For their part, the atheists say they will be challenging that attempt.
They say they may be from out of town, but they do come to Santa Monica to enjoy the park, and they do not believe religious symbols belong on public property.