Holiday Debate: Event Brings Protesters
A protest during the Southern Pines tree-lighting ceremony Sunday was intended to shed light on a bigger problem, objectors say.
A small group of protesters carrying signs and handing out Christmas literature made a surprise appearance at the Holiday Open House and Tree-Lighting event in downtown Southern Pines.
"There are a number of citizens in Southern Pines who are concerned about the eroding of our national heritage, which is rooted in Christianity," said Dwight Creech, a protest participant.
The omission of Christmas from the title of the ceremony, Creech said, is "something rooted in a national effort by a minority who are offended and intolerant of Christianity." He said by truncating the title of the ceremony organizers were "neutering the whole celebration."
"Tree lighting misses everything," he said. "You don't even know what the celebration is for."
Creech and many of the protesters are members of the Calvary Memor-ial Church. He said some people read the information about the event that circulated to local businesses and decided to make signs and attend the event.
The tree lighting was sponsored by the Southern Pines Business Association (SPBA). Organizers said they did not receive any negative feedback from those who attended Sunday's events.
"People just wanted to know why they (protesters) were there," said Kit McKinley, 2010 president-elect of the business association and general manager of The Pilot's Moore County Telephone Directory.
Greg Zywocinski, current SPBA president and event organizer, said the tree lighting and Saturday's Christmas parade, regardless of their titles, are events for the enjoyment of the entire family.
"We welcome everyone," Zywocinski said.
Zywocinski said he is aware of the concerns of the protesters.
"There are concerns in some corners about the secularization of Christmas," Zywocinski said. "As director, I just believe they are Christmas events and I am not pushing my, or any other, religious beliefs. If someone sees Santa Claus in that, or sees the birth of Christ in that, then that is their business. The word Christmas is not controversial to me."
The annual Southern Pines Christmas parade will be held at 11:30 a.m. Saturday in downtown. It is co-sponsored by the town and the SPBA. It is referred to as a "holiday" parade on the town's Web site and as a "Christmas" parade on advertisements for the event.
When asked if there would be protesters at the parade, Creech was noncommittal.
"That would depend on whether or not people push it (secularism) and want to change the culture away from Christianity," he said. "If they do, then we would absolutely be down there to protest."
Last year, the name of the parade drew criticism because the town referred to it as a "holiday" parade, while organizers called it a "Christmas" parade.
Years ago, many retailers, in an effort to keep from alienating non-Christian shoppers, began using "Happy Holidays" in advertisements and promotional items. Some governmental bodies followed suit as a way to welcome celebrants of other late-December holidays, such as Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, to municipal festivities.
However, Christmas is a nationally recognized holiday.
Zywocinski said as long as he was organizing the parade it could be called a "Christmas" parade. He also urged everyone to be aware that their actions could have consequences.
"We'll just have to see what is going to happen," Zywocinski said. "For every action, there is a reaction."
Contact Tom Embrey at (910) 693-2484 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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