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Opinion, Santa Monica, Columnist, Religion

Our Holiday Tradition: Fighting Over Santa Monica Nativity Scenes

Steve Stajich, Columnist
Santa Monica Mirror Archives
Steve Stajich, Columnist

Posted Dec. 8, 2012, 1:06 am

Steve Stajich / Mirror Columnist

Radio stations fill the air with holiday music as something warm and magical begins to stir in our hearts. Shoppers are bustling, lights are twinkling, and the Promenade is aglow with holiday decorations. Suddenly, it’s that moment children of all ages have waited for all year: The latest court ruling on the Nativity scenes in Palisades Park. Ah, the comfort and joy of long-standing holiday traditions in Santa Monica.

Excuse any cynical tone in the opening paragraph, but this writer is a little stunned to discover that the struggle over Nativity representations in a public park in our city is still alive and doing well this holiday season. The “president” of Syria had so far killed 40,000 of his own people and is now reportedly considering the use of deadly gas to improve his harvest. Santa Monica residents of faith are standing up to a world roiling with injustice and inhumanity by carping about plaster mannequins in a public park.

Yes, sorry, but it is carping. Let’s cut to the single most annoying and sadly recurring dimension of the “issue” that has actually never been an issue: The idea that freedom of speech, censorship, and the 1st Amendment are somehow tied up in the non-issue of the Nativity scenes being displayed in Palisades Park.

There is no absolute “right” allowing art installations, erection of small buildings, small buildings wrapped in cyclone fencing and 24 hour unsupervised displays in a public space, which in this case is a park. Even the rudest participants in the Occupy Wall Street movement understood there was a process of permits and parameters of time involved. The Occupy people are a generally well-informed group that would never be so naïve as to think that something allowed for a period of time could somehow magically go on forever and that they could thrive as squatters.

So that gets us to the fact that the presence of the Nativity scenes in the park has a history that of late has been translated into being “a tradition.” I can’t speak to the record of anyone protesting the Palisades Park Nativity installation from 1953 up until the last few years of acrimony, but in one way or another all of us can speak to the general notion of “tradition.” Older African Americans can speak to the “traditions” of discrimination prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Women will recall “traditional roles for women” before the 1970’s and gays can speak to traditions of bullying and homophobia – let’s move on.

Of course I understand that what the supporters mean is that in some warm and cozy way the Nativity scenes should remain on display in a public space simply because they have been left alone for such a long time. And I think they further mean to imply that the ‘traditional’ presence of the Nativity scenes in a public park presents no threat or even offense. Okay, let’s have a look at that.

Is there a threat? If the public Palisades Park can be utilized for displays telling only the story of one religious faith during the holiday season of that faith, then there’s no reason that “right” wouldn’t be extended to any other organization representing a philosophy or collection of thought. How would the supporters of the Nativity scenes feel regarding Pro Choice groups declaring a Celebrate Pro Choice Day and insisting that they can install in the public park three-dimensional depictions of historical elements relevant to their beliefs? Never mind the bad beards and wigs on the dated Nativity scenes; we’d be into new “representation” territory with that one. In this way, I’m saying there is a threat; a threat to simple good taste and restraint on the part of a city and its residents.

Is a Nativity representation of any kind “offensive” displayed in a public area? Baby boomers grew up watching dozens of holiday Christmas specials and in that time those specials would generally treat various representations of Christmas as equals. The Little Drummer Boy might have drummed at the cradle-side of Christ, but he wasn’t viewed as any more powerful an image than Santa or Rudolph the Red-Nosed reindeer. However, right-wing Christians have made enough of an impact on American politics that symbols of their faith can no longer be treated in such a cavalier manner by media or in this case city government. Sorry, Christians, but your extremist brethren brought this sociological change on themselves.

So yes, there is offense in any implication that one well-defined faith somehow guides the United States of America more than another. Such an implication would be the use of public areas for the display of representations from one particular faith. Since I can’t imagine how you’d administrate some system of equal representation in the park for every faith on the planet, we’re not able to yield to Christians only; not at Christmas or any other time of the year.

It appears at the time of this writing that the Nativity tableaus will live at a location in the 2700 block of Ocean Park Boulevard, on private property. We salute the determination of all involved, which now may include residents in that new location who are less than delighted to have the installation in their neighborhood. Don’t feel bad if you become Grinch-y and decide to somehow resist having the Nativity scenes right in your face. After all, fighting them is a Santa Monica Christmas Tradition.

Post a comment


Dec. 8, 2012, 1:50:46 am

GordonSantaMonica said...

This discussion has been going on for three years or more regarding multiple displays by more than one group. This item has been settled. Settled in newsprint and the courts and on the O’Reilly show. Enough is Enough. Let’s just celebrate that which is in each of our own minds and enjoy the time left in this year's season. Just find someone on the street and say that which you feel in your heart to them. Maybe that is the new spirit to Celebrate at this time!!!! Merry _____________ Happy _____________________ and Happy New Year!!!!

Dec. 8, 2012, 3:11:11 am

Edina Somlai said...

Well said GordonSantaMonica! Thank you and Happy Holidays!;)

Dec. 8, 2012, 3:49:42 am

Martin marteen said...

People stop begrudging others from enjoying themselves. What is wrong with tradition? Let them put up their displays. Relax, don't visit it. S.M. is not a hot bed of evangelism. There is no coercion. As an Atheist, you are always being represented on the public airwaves, public places, with every sunset and sunrise.

Dec. 9, 2012, 9:54:53 am

Joe N. said...

Do you ever pop kids balloons on the way to work? I can't stand these types of cynical arguments that conclude with the assumption that everyone agrees with the point being made, and that anyone who is in disagreement with your own personal beliefs, in reality, only make up only a tiny portion of stubborn crazies; hell bent on shoving things down your throat. So, far be I from a religious "Ron Jeremy" ,I agree that the last thing the city of Santa Monica wants to do is show a biased leaning toward any one religious or cultural group, but I don't think that the practice of that translates into the public suppression of all religious and cultural displays. On the contrary, I would think that in the spirit of tolerance, the city would promote them all. Now before you get into ranting about the separation of church and state, take a moment to reflect on the context of that statement. "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church and State." It's talking about keeping religious influence out of the works of government, while promoting religious freedom (and even the freedom not to be) Hopefully, if justice and tolerance prevail, granting us all our adorable holiday displays, I look forward to seeing this columnists cynical little booth. Signed, A Stubborn Crazie

Dec. 8, 2012, 4:32:35 pm

Xander Qualls said...

I pretty much disagree with everything in this opinion piece, and think the logic is pretty flawed throughout. By Stajich's logic, we wouldn't be dealing with, for instance, gay rights issues right now either, because there are lots more pressing matters. Come on! What's the benchmark? And Stajich's look at the scenes being tradition? He points to examples of "traditions" that have been discredited, thereby conveniently trying to cast all "traditions" as bad. A really weak piece to support the bullies who drove this issue. You're a real bah, humbugger, Stajich.

Dec. 10, 2012, 2:50:42 am

Bridget said...

Mr. Gordon, I found your article to be somewhat negative and very "Anti". I work in the building that has been blessed to host the " Nativity Scene" that has been displayed in Santa Monica fo over 60 years. It's sad to think that a hand full of people can just deside that they don't like it and then it;s gone. Well the Watt Building located at 2716 Ocean Park Blvd. is thrilled to be the recipients who will be displaying this 60 year old Tradition of Santa Monica. Our office will be hosting a holiday gathering on Thursday the 13th from 4:30 to 6:00 pm in celebration of having thes displays, all are invited for refreshments. People, I am reaching out to each and every one of you, theres a bigger picture here. It's not about the "Nativity Scenes", its about our rights, freedoms and liberties being ripped right out from under us and lwe're letting it happen. Many people I have spoken with,, of all nationalities and religions, nor would they have a problem with idols of other faiths and religions being displayed along side them. I don't remember the people taking a vote about it, do you? We are becoming a socialistic country, allowing a hand full of people dictate to the masses of us. We are letting them rip away our foundation, make our decisions for us religions, being displayed along side the Nativity Scene. Why is it that we allow a few people to dictate what the majority want. It's the same with out government, that fact that the President is going to raise taxes just to cover his over spending is sick. Wake up people, there are a record number of people starving and on the streets in this country and the victims of "Sandy" put their faith in a President that is spending their monty to take his family to Hawaii for the Holidays when they don't even have a have a home to live in. The Government feels they are entitled to rob us blind and live off of our hard earned money, they will turn us into tin soldiers if we let them . We are allowing or freedom and liiberty to be stripped from our lives and we are letting it happen. Today it's about the "Nativity Scene" tomorrow iit will be about what grocery store that will be owned by the government)", you will have to shop at., don't laught because its comiing.

Dec. 10, 2012, 12:32:21 pm

Rodney said...

There is hardly an offense. I disagree with your point. Whatever decision is made, invariably someone, many, will disagree with that decision. I am quite certain that if you polled the average Santa Monica resident that most would say that they were not in any way offended by a nativity scene. It IS tradition, and as a Christian, a tradition I enjoyed. It is ridiculous that a few people, atheists, have now dictated what the rest of us can enjoy and have essentially ended this tradition. I am certainly not an advocate of creating new, faux holiday celebrations such as you mentioned could crop up. However, there are many established religions that have a special time set aside during this time or other times through the year. I have no issues with allowing this public space to show displays for the Hindu Diwali, the Muslim Ramadan, or other recognized world religions during their special times of the year. Most religions teach tolerance, but apparently Atheists don't observe "tolerance."

Dec. 14, 2012, 12:35:57 am

Lennie Morgan said...

Nothing this person is saying makes any sense. His rationalizations are anything but that. He has stated his opinion on the Nativity and Christianity. Now let me state my opinion on him. I can do so because his thinking offends me. And if something offends you, then you have the right to offend those that offend you. I believe this person tried to find peace through religion. And he did not find it. So he was not appeased through religion, so therefor religion is bad in his mind. But he was probably trying to pray the world will praise his name when he came out of the closet. But when he wanted to be treated special because he is gay, and instead no one cared, he blames religion saying thier imaginary view on homosexuals is the reason no one threw him a parade for what he thought he was "Entitled" to. He probably blames religion for preventing homosexuality from being declared a disability and has no special benefits. Religion is offensive because it perpetuates myths! Grow up, How do you classify Santa Clause? Does he not offend you? This idiot needs worry about his own well being, he might try prozac. Stop blaming religion for your own personal demons. Religion and God helps those who first helps himself. You didn't find peace and hope in God, because of your lack of faith. Faith can only be found in your own heart. The only entitlement you have is called compassion. Which you traded in for selfishness and greed. These dillusions of grandure you filled your head with. Thinking you know what's best for me. You don't know me, you have no proof religion and God are not real. I can not say he isn't but my faith tells me his, And a belief in God is a belief in hope. So let inform you of something, Each generation has thier quirks. Your pathetic and sad thinking that if I can't have what you have, then I will fight to have it taken away from everyone quirk, is coming to an end. All self serving movements end. such as Hitler's idiology of a perfect society and the 1967 Flower Power, just to name a couple. When it does you will be marred in the society you harmed while trying to censor it. And you can only hope the people still have the compassion, you tried to stop, to forgive your pig-headed thinking. One more thing. On your deathbed, you will pray to God. Everyone does. When we face mortality, we all ask God for a place in Heaven. Men with darker souls than yours have seen the light in the end. sadly your soul isn't dark, you are just blinded by your own ignorance.

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