Thursday, November 29, 2001

Scrooges and Grinches on the Kensington, Md. Town Council have kicked Santa Claus out of the Christmas tree-lighting ceremony this Sunday.
The four-member council Leanne Pfautz, Chris Bruch, Glenn Cowan and Barbara Scharman voted unanimously Oct. 29 not to have Kris Kringle appear at its annual ceremony because images of the jolly old elf offend some people.
Mayor Lynn Raufaste said council members in the 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.”
For decades, hundreds of Kensington residents each year have turned out to see the mayor and Santa signal the start of the holiday season by lighting the 50-foot fir outside City Hall together. Sunday, the mayor will go solo.
“This is a part of the American life, and I just think it’s a shame that we can’t have one in our town this year,” she said.
So Santa will be replaced with patriotism. Firefighters, police officers, military personnel and postal workers will be honored at the tree-lighting ceremony.
And the Christmas tree? The council says it’s not a Christmas tree at all. “It’s an entirely secular tree,” said Mr. Cowan.
There will be no crosses or creches, no angels or stars. Festive red, white and blue lights will provide the holiday glow. And a local band will play patriotic tunes, lest anyone be offended by “Jingle Bells.”
Just to be on the safe side, the council replaced its “peace tree” display with a “peace banner,” to which children will affix homemade ornaments.
“It’s as secular a ceremony as you’re going to find,” Mr. Cowan said of the tree lighting. “I’m actually gratified that people have enough mental energy to worry about something as inconsequential as this.”
The council is examining how it can include diverse religious images after debates in recent years over whether a menorah should be added to the display. But for now, the easiest solution was to cleanse the tree lighting of any religious symbolism.
So Santa had to go.
Not all residents are sold on the council’s yuletide patriotic theme.
“It’s just a really wonderful tradition, and I think it’s sad they have to stop that,” said one Kensington resident who has taken her children to the event for years. “I’m curious to how many people object to it.”
Mrs. Scharman defended the decision. “We were trying to come up with something that is agreeable and not hurtful to anybody,” she said. “The town is not banning Santa Claus.”
At the Kensington Volunteer Fire Department, Chief Jim Stanton said he understood both sides of the argument, but admitted he’s disappointed by the decision. Each year, the fire department carries Santa to the tree-lighting ceremony on a fire engine.
“They made a decision they thought was right, and we have to go with that,” Chief Stanton said. “It’s fun for the people and we like to do it.”
The department will continue a tradition of carrying Santa in Alexandria’s Christmas parade Saturday.
“It’s just a shame we couldn’t come back and do it for our town,” Chief Stanton said.

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