- The Washington Times - Monday, December 3, 2001

Yes, Kensington, there is a Santa Claus.
There are many.
And they came to town yesterday despite being disinvited to the official tree-lighting ceremony by the Town Council last month.
"They know I'm here," said Ken Forte, a Kensington, Md. volunteer firefighter who has portrayed Santa for 20 years, "and I'm happy to be here."
Standing on a firetruck in front of the Kensington town hall, he was greeted with cheers by children, grinches, elves and a sea of Santas.
About 1,000 people from far and wide attended the lighting of the red, white and blue Christmas tree and the accompanying tribute to fire, police, military and postal personnel in the wake of September 11.
Hundreds of Santas some with patriotic hats and flags came by motorcycle, pickup truck and fire department vehicle. Some came with signs. One held by Steve Berggren of Alexandria, Va. read, "How the Council Stole Christmas."
"I opposed the tyranny of political correctness," he said, explaining his Grinch costume.
A local Santa, Don Wade of Montgomery County, said there "is a need to show tolerance for the thousand families" who want Santa.
Two scuffles broke out at the tree lighting. One involved a teen-ager who tried to rip a sign with a hateful message from the man carrying it, police said. The other, said a witness, involved a man with a bullhorn making anti-Semitic statements who was booed and had his bullhorn smashed. No one was hurt or arrested.
The Santa controversy began a year ago after a town resident asked that a menorah be included in the ceremony. Since then, the town has debated about how to make its annual tree-lighting ceremony as secular as possible. Then, in October, the town's four-member council Leanne Pfautz, Chris Bruch, Glenn Cowan and Barbara Scharman voted unanimously to exclude Kriss Kringle from its decades-old ceremony because he offended some residents. Instead, they decided in favor of a tree-lighting committee's recommendation that this season's festivities honor firefighters, police officers, military personnel and postal workers in a patriotic flavor.
Mayor Lynn Raufaste, who opposed the decision, said last week that council members in the Montgomery County town of 1,700 voted against Santa "because two families in our town felt that they would be uncomfortable with Santa Claus being a part of our event." Yesterday, she said it was wonderful that the Santas showed up. "The more the merrier," she said.
The Town Council said in a statement issued last week that "All the attention is missing a key point: This year is different from most years. The events of September 11 require a different kind of ceremony."
Town officials privately decried the fuss as "out of control" and "blown out of proportion" and said the town clearly was not banning Santa.
Other residents said they had received e-mail messages and calls from around the country protesting the Town Council's decision. One local businesswoman said she received calls about a "million Santa march" after a local radio station made a joke about the controversy on the air.
Area businesses weren't following the Town Council's lead, either. Outside Aunt Betty's General Store on Antique Row, owner Roger Lund hung up a vintage lighted Santa. Around the corner, the Cottage Monet featured a small pillow embroidered with "We Believe."

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