'Christmas Village' but without the sign

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Crews remove the word “Christmas” from the sign at Dilworth Plaza. (Vance Lehmkuhl / Staff)

It began when word got to Managing Director Rich Negrin that some city workers and residents were offended by the giant "Christmas Village" sign erected on Dilworth Plaza's northwest corner.

After all, there are a few Jewish and Muslim vendors among the nearly 50 wooden booths that make up Philadelphia's version of the traditional German Christmas village, which officially opened here Thursday.

There was also a story that reached Negrin about a little Jewish girl walking with her father who asked, according to Negrin: "Dad, don't we get a village?"

The upshot was the private organizer, Thomas Bauer, agreed with Negrin during the day on Tuesday to remove the word Christmas and replace it with Holiday.

But then Tuesday night, Bauer issued a statement that said the sign would be completely removed. The event will continue to be called "Christmas Village in Philadelphia."

"People have to go to public buildings. They shouldn't feel offended," Bauer, president of German American Marketing Inc., said in the statement Tuesday night. "We want to stress that the name was not intended to upset anyone."

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Negrin confirmed Tuesday night that he had been told the sign would be taken down rather than have the site named "Holiday Village."

But getting rid of the word Christmas left Negrin with more holiday woes Tuesday as new complaints reached the mayor's office and stories about the Christmas Village controversy appeared on the Drudge Report, a website that aggregates news items from around the country.

"This is not about taking Christmas out of the holiday. It's about being more inclusive," Negrin told reporters outside the mayor's office Tuesday afternoon, before the second change. "I expected some complaints. Sometimes you have to make tough choices."

He added that the sign's first change was not a move in the name of political correctness, but rather one of "common sense."

Some vendors were disheartened to hear about the original change to Holiday Village and argued that the name now fails to reflect the event's European origins and heritage.

"This is a Christmas village," linens vendor Jack Boyd said as he pointed to the word Christmas on a brochure from Augsburg, Germany, that was on the counter of an adjacent candle vendor. "That's what they call it over there. Last year, nobody had a problem here."

Other vendors and shoppers, however, argued that the first change to Holiday reflected the religious and ethnic diversity of the city. "They needed to tweak the name a little bit, something more generic and open nowadays," shopper Phyllis Grove said.

"This is an international assembly point," said Sheikha Maryam Kabeer Faye, a Sufi Muslim vendor. "It's like a little United Nations here. Let's truly make it a city of brotherly and sisterly love that transcends religious distinctions."

This is the third year for Christmas Village, which is presented by a company named German American Marketing. Partners include The Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, and Philly.com.

Open through Dec. 24, the village is modeled on German farmers markets, which date to the 15th century and, in the days leading up to the holiday, sell Christmas-specific toys, ornaments, and foods. The most famous is the Christkindlmarket in Nuremberg.

In another matter, Negrin confirmed that a decision had been made to move a manger to JFK Plaza from in front of the Municipal Services Building, where it was displayed last year. But he said that change stems from a public-safety concern, not a religious one, related to the erection of free-standing objects on the plaza of the building.

Negrin also said the lighting of the City Hall "holiday tree" - as it is called in a news release from the mayor's office - will still occur. The tree is on the west side of Dilworth Plaza in the middle of the village.

It will be lighted Thursday afternoon instead of Wednesday because of anticipated rain.

 


Contact staff writer Marcia Gelbart at 215-854-2338 or mgelbart@phillynews.com.