Philadelphia's Christmas Village has become nothing but a holiday hassle.
A day after discussions of religious diversity led officials to remove the word “Christmas” from signs at the Christmas Village merchant fair outside City Hall, the event's organizers decided Tuesday to take down the signs -- only to have the mayor reverse that decision.
Mayor Michael Nutter jumped into the fray by announcing Wednesday that the “Christmas Village” signs would be back up the next morning.
“The Christmas Village is not a religious service. It's an outdoor fair. It's a very commercial enterprise,” Nutter told the Philadelphia Daily News.
For the last two years, German American Marketing Inc. has erected stalls hosting vendors hawking food and gifts on Dilworth Plaza, next to City Hall. It's based on Christmas markets set up each year in German town centers.
But complaints from residents and city workers led to the removal of “Christmas” from the lighted signs arching over two entrances Monday. The city had planned to replace it with “Holiday,” but the marketing group decided to scrap the signs altogether.
“People have to go to public buildings. They shouldn't feel offended,” German American Marketing Inc. President Thomas Bauer said Tuesday night. “We want to stress that the name was not intended to upset anyone.”
City managing director Richard Negrin also defended the move. “This is not about taking Christmas out of the holiday; this is about being more inclusive, in keeping with what this holiday is all about,” he said.
The tradition of setting up markets in the weeks ahead of Christmas in Germany dates back to the 14th century. Municipal authorities let local craftsmen, toy makers and bakers set up stands in town and city squares to sell products made specifically for the holiday.
About 50 booths are set up at Philadelphia's market -- offering food, crafts, clothing and jewelry -- including Jewish and Muslim vendors. Reaction to the criticism was mixed, with some vendors leaning toward the idea's roots and others toward openness.
“It's ridiculous,” crafts vendor Susan Cole told the Inquirer. “This is a German Christmas tradition. It's about the principle of the matter.”
“This is an international assembly point,” Sheikha Maryam Kabeer Faye, a Sufi Muslim vendor, told the newspaper. “It's like a little United Nations here. Let's truly make it a city of brotherly and sisterly love that transcends religious distinctions.”