The Real Christmas Village Travesty

Last week, Philadelphia got a public, political fuss over a flea market

When someone does the inevitable recap of the year that was 2010 in Philadelphia, one of the trends should be name changes. SEPTA re-titled its rail lines and pimped out the Pattison Avenue station to AT&T. The arena near that subway stop is now the Wells Fargo Center. And this week brought the mother of all name changes, when Christmas Village became Holiday Village and then, miraculously, Christmas Village again.

As this heartwarming seasonal tale goes, city managing director Rich Negrin made the call to remove “Christmas” from the village’s sign high above Dilworth Plaza after hearing that “some city workers” were offended by the word (perhaps “DROP Village” would have been better?). Then there was the story Negrin heard of the little Jewish girl who, upon seeing the sign, said to her father, “Don’t we get a village?”[SIGNUP]

Down came Christmas — until Mayor Michael Nutter, after two days of “think[ing] about it in its larger context,” ordered the sign restored to its original politically-incorrect, polarizing and highly controversial state.

What’s funny to me is that the outrage — on both sides of the matter — is really just people squabbling over a flea market. I’m pretty sure that Jesus wasn’t born in an outdoor mall. As for the village itself, I’ve shopped there the past two years and never heard any complaints about the name. But a friend of mine passed by its music stage the other day, just in time to hear a band tear into Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab.” Nothing says “let’s celebrate the birth of our Lord” like a tune about embracing your alcoholism. I hope the father of that Jewish girl told her, “We can only pray that one day, Hanukkah is sullied by the same crass commercialism that’s reduced Christmas to an excuse to trample your neighbor at Wal-Mart on Black Friday.”

Then there was Mayor Nutter’s epiphany. Here’s what his “larger context” really means — there’s an election in the not-so-distant future, and as November proved, no Democrat’s job is safe. When it became clear that the P.C. types Negrin was listening to weren’t really steering public opinion, Nutter changed course. Was the mayor’s Immaculate Reconsideration just a coincidence? Guess it depends on the limits of your faith.

Ironically, though, Nutter’s rationale was that “Christmas means a lot of different things to different people.” He’s right about that. And if you’re really concerned about preserving Christmas as a religious event, not a shopping extravaganza, that’s what you should be upset about. At a Christmas Eve mass not too long ago, I listened as the priest raged on about how Madison Avenue has hijacked one of the holiest days of the year. He encouraged the congregants to wish folks a “blessed Christmas,” never a merry one.

I suspect that priest would be thrilled if the City Hall kept “Christmas” out of the name of its flea market. Meanwhile, the day after Nutter took his bold stand on the sign, he lit the “holiday tree,” as the official press release called it. Seems to me that the only winners in this controversy are those vendors, who got a ton of great publicity, and perhaps a politician. As for Christmas itself? It depends on what the word truly means to you.