- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 2, 2001

Facing criticism from all sides, the exclusion of Santa Claus from Kensington, Maryland's annual tree-lighting ceremony has been tempered by town officials.
The Kensington Volunteer Fire Department said it will bring Santa to today's ceremony, as it has for years. Whether Santa is involved in the actual tree-lighting ceremony has not been decided, said Mayor Lynn Raufaste.
"I know he's coming. I know the fire department is bringing him. What happens after that, I don't know," the mayor said.
Officials from the town and fire department met Thursday to discuss what has become a public relations debacle for Kensington. They decided bringing Santa back on a fire truck was the best solution.
"We're not a part of town government, so we can sort of do what we want," said Mike Kelly, the fire department's administrative officer. "We're doing this with the blessing of the mayor."
Santa is usually played by one of the town's 1,800 residents. This year it will be a fire department member who dons the red suit, white beard and extra padding, Mr. Kelley said.
The controversy over Santa's role in the ceremony stemmed from an October decision by the town council to exclude him from the ceremony this year because of a new focus on patriotism instead of Christmas. Instead of red and green lights and Christmas carols, there will be red, white and blue lights and patriotic music.
Some Kensington residents argued that Santa had no role in a secular event, and the council agreed in a unanimous vote.
But that vote never precluded the fire department from bringing him along, fire and town officials said. Customarily, he helps the mayor light the tree.
The controversy exploded this week when reports of Kensington's "Santa ban" hit the Internet and talk radio stations around the country.
In the last week alone, the town has received more than 2,000 e-mail messages decrying the decision to exclude St. Nick. One angry person even said he would dress up like Santa and ride into town today on a motorcycle.

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