If groups celebrating American Indian holy people, German culture and the Chinese New Year can march in the city’s Parade of Lights, why can’t a Christian group march to celebrate Christmas?
That’s just one of the questions bothering prominent Denver-area Pastor George Morrison.
He said he was barred from participating in the parade because his multicultural church group wanted its Christian-themed float to feature traditional yuletide hymns and a “Merry Christmas” message.
“It’s a little confusing to me,” said Morrison, pastor of Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada, one of the region’s largest evangelical churches, with more than 4,000 worshippers.
“Here we have this holiday, Christmas, approaching, and Parade of Lights is suddenly changed into something where you can’t even sing a Christmas song?”
The one-hour parade, which is celebrating its 30th year this Friday and Saturday nights in downtown Denver, features elaborate floats with holiday symbols such as Santa Claus and gingerbread houses, plus an “international procession” of cultural groups.
But the parade does not allow “direct religious themes,” said spokesman Michael Krikorian. That includes “Merry Christmas” signs and the singing or playing of traditional Christmas hymns. He added that the rules were spelled out when Morrison’s intermediary called last spring to inquire about contributing a float.
“We want to avoid that specific religious message out of respect for other religions in the region,” Krikorian said. “It could be construed as disrespectful to other people who enjoy a parade each year.”
Morrison suggested that Parade of Lights wants it both ways – to capitalize on the festive Christmas holiday and its large crowds, but also to keep Christmas an unmentionable part of the season.
“Maybe they should hold Parade of Lights in January or February,” Morrison said. “By holding it in December, it’s assumed by a majority of people that the reasons the lights are up is the continuation of the celebration of the birth of Christ. In America, that’s our tradition, that’s what the holiday is about.”
Morrison doesn’t question any group’s presence in the parade, only wonders why Christian groups can’t be among them.
This year, the “international procession” includes the Two Spirit Society, which honors gay and lesbian American Indians as holy people; a German folk dance group; and performers of the Lion Dance, a Chinese New Year tradition “meant to chase away evil spirits and welcome good luck and good fortune for the year.”
Those groups are considered examples of ethnic diversity, not religious groups, Krikorian said.
Ironically, Morrison said he only asked about participating because he and his family are fans of the parade. He thought Christians weren’t being represented because the cost of entering, several thousand dollars, was prohibitive to most churches.
“I was thinking of a float, a little choir, some musicians and a cross-cultural band” that would include Hispanic and black Christians, he said. “A picture of the city.”
Instead of being in the parade, Morrison’s group now plans to walk the route an hour before, singing hymns and offering hot chocolate.