January 2023 Church & State Magazine - January 2023

‘Festival Of Yule’ Upsets Some Residents Of Alabama Community


Angry residents of Tuscumbia, Ala., packed a city council meeting in late November to demand that the community shut down a street fair called “Festival of Yule” that some people deemed anti-Christian.

The idea for the festival came from Kendall Gilchrist, the owner of a store in Sheffield, Ala., called Hesperia Mystic Shoppe. Gilchrist had previously sponsored the event in a nearby city, Florence, but that community was booked up with other festivals. Gilchrist then approached officials in Tuscumbia, a city of about 9,000 residents in northwest Alabama. They agreed to issue a permit for the event.

On a Facebook page promoting the festival, Gilchrist said nothing about Paganism but urged attendees to come “dressed up in your mystical cosplay” and added that they could shop for holiday gifts, noting that local restaurants and vendors would offer food and drinks.

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.

But trouble started after some residents became convinced that the event was anti-Christian in nature. Many seemed especially bothered by photos of last year’s Festival of Yule in Florence that showed people taking selfies 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.)

Mythical creature "Krampus" figurine with large horns leers at camera.

Krampus: Not welcome in Tuscumbia? (Getty Images)

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.”

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 of 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.”

The town often grants permits for other types of street fairs, including an annual event that has a Victorian Christmas theme. The yule festival took place on Dec. 3. Gilchrist reported that thousands attended, and there were no protests.

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