Friday, November 30, 2001

Kensington, Md., officials better not pout and better not cry: Santa Claus is coming to town.
What’s more, the jolly old elf’s visage may be seen in multiples as Kensington braces for a “million Santa march” in protest of the Town Council banishing him from the official tree-lighting ceremony.
Residents of the small Maryland township continued to buzz yesterday about the Town Council’s action and said they expect “a number of renegade Santas” to put in an appearance Sunday.
“He’s a toy maker,” said Kensington volunteer firefighter Ken Forte, referring to Santa Claus, whom he has played for two decades. “He should be here. I bet there will be a couple hundred Santas here on Sunday. We are just livid.”
Others said they had received e-mails 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.
“These are trying times for St. Nick,” said Rep. Bob Ehrlich, Maryland Republican.
“I hardly think that slamming the door on this right jolly old elf is in the spirit of the season,” he added.
Area businesses weren’t following the Town Council’s lead, either. Outside Aunt Betty’s General Store on Antique Row, Roger Lund hung up a vintage lighted Santa.
“The town was confronted with a difficult choice and did the best they could,” he said. “But we love Santa here.”
Santa will put in an official appearance as guest of honor for the 15th year in a row at the Holiday Open House of the Old Town Kensington Merchants Association on Friday, Dec. 7, at 5 p.m., said Mr. Lund, who is a member of the association.
Around the corner, Caya Cagri and Debbie Lawless, owners of the Cottage Monet and an adjoining cafe, said the council was shortsighted in its decision.
“They should have put the menorah out and included everyone,” said Ms. Cagri who is half Muslim, half Jewish and married to a Catholic. “Now instead of a facade of unity, they are pulling out everything.”
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 offends 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. The patriotic ceremony will include a 50-foot fir tree outside city hall decorated with red, white and blue lights, absent crosses, stars and angels. A local band will play patriotic songs, and children can contribute to a “peace banner.”
Mayor Lynn Raufaste, who opposes the decision, said this week that 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.”
Town Council members contacted for comment on the issue referred to an official statement released yesterday. It read: “Not even Dr. Seuss could have attracted this much attention to our annual Tree Lighting but we feel 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. We now suspect that Santa Claus(es) will show up one way or another. Santa is always welcome and we sure won’t send him to the hills above ‘Whoville’ even if he doesn’t have a formal invitation from the Town of Kensington.”
Privately, town officials decried the fuss as “out of control” and “blown out of proportion” and said the town is clearly not banning Santa.
Still, Chief Jim Stanton of the Kensington Volunteer Fire Department said his volunteers are disappointed because they traditionally carry Santa to the ceremony in a fire engine. The department will continue a tradition of carrying Santa in Alexandria’s Christmas parade Saturday, holding a breakfast with Santa and roaming the town to distribute candy five days before Christmas.
“We would like to see Santa there and expect to see Santa there,” he said of Sunday’s ceremony. “And if Santa stops by the fire station, he will get a ride.”
Mr. Ehrlich invited Santa to spend some of his unexpected down time visiting throughout the rest of the state “where politics take a back seat during the season of giving.”
Thinking ahead, he also extended an invitation to the Easter Bunny, “should any other town find a bunny rabbit offensive.”

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