Kendall Gilchrist, the owner of a store in Sheffield, Ala., called Hesperia Mystic Shoppe, thought it would be a great idea to bring an event called “Festival of Yule” to nearby Tuscumbia next month.
Gilchrist had previously sponsored the event in another city, Florence, but that community was booked up with other festivals, so Gilchrist approached officials in Tuscumbia, a city of about 9,000 residents in northwest Alabama. The officials agreed that the event would be a fun opportunity for people to visit the city’s downtown and enjoy food and entertainment as well as patronize craft vendors and shops. Local merchants were on board.
Then the trouble started. As blogger Hemant Mehta reported, some residents got it in their heads that the event was a celebration of Paganism. Many seemed especially bothered by photos of last year’s Festival of Yule in Florence that showed people posing in front of a large statue of Krampus, a folkloric beast from parts of Austria and Germany who reminds children to watch their behavior at Christmastime. (In recent years, Krampus in America has evolved into a pop-culture icon, smoothing some of his scarier edges.)
Tuscumbia residents jammed a Nov. 21 city council meeting, with many demanding that the festival be canceled. The Wild Hunt blog reported that most of the speakers anchored their opposition in religion.
A man who identified himself as a pastor remarked, “I don’t want an anti-Christmas celebration. I don’t want a Pagan holiday, and I know we have ’em. I know we have ’em, but I don’t want us to have any more Pagan holidays.” (Wait until this guy learns about the origin of some popular Christmas symbols.)
Another speaker, also a pastor, added, “You can call this thing whatever you want to call it. You can make up and live and ride unicorns and have rainbows in your world every day. But I am just here to tell you, anybody with any lick sense, anybody with any biblical knowledge, it is demonic, it is Satanic, and you are opening up this city for possession and oppression like you have never known, never ever known.”
A woman who attempted to defend the festival and explain how it would bring visitors to town was shouted down by the crowd until the council restored order.
The Festival Goes On
And so it went. But the council had earlier made it clear that while it would listen to public comment on the matter, it would not be voting on rescinding the permit it gave for the Festival of Yule. The event is scheduled for Dec. 3, starting at 1 p.m.
On a Facebook page promoting the festival, Gilchrist said nothing about Paganism but wrote, “Come out dressed up in your mystical cosplay and enjoy the norse, germanic, and other mystical cultural vibes. Shop last minute holiday gifts, enjoy a 7 foot Krampus photo op. as well as a 360 photo booth. Look for Odin and others walking around and street performers! Downtown restaurants are open and with some street food and hot chocolate!”
In other words, it’s a typical street fair with food, music, goods for sale and some wacky costumes. It sounds like light-hearted fun for all. But even if the festival were explicitly Pagan, it would still be allowed. Tuscumbia grants permits for other types of street festivals, including one celebrating a Victorian-themed Christmas, so to deny a permit to an event simply because some people say it offends their religion would raise serious constitutional issues.
Some city residents are vowing to boycott the Festival of Yule. That sounds like a great solution. If religious extremists don’t like this event, they should stay home and let others have fun. Krampus probably won’t miss them.