I would never even have known if my wife Sheila hadn't pointed out the article from the local paper reporting that groups were outraged and were boycotting this annual event because of the name change. So, I did what I usually do, sit down and write. But this one didn't flow. It's hard to be clever, witty and interesting, when what you feel like doing is smash someone in his face.
But I tried, and I came up with a letter that described how this lovely "Brigadoon" of a beach town was tainted and soon to descend into a spiral of religious hatred that would ultimately lead to Encinitas becoming "Belfast by the Sea." Luckily, Sheila gently indicated that this was not quite my best work, so I scratched it just before hitting the send button.
What I finally wrote was the following, which was printed in the local weekly Coast News, as well as the San Diego Union Tribune.
To the Editor:
It is unfortunate that Dan Dalager who was elected only to the city council, in his ceremonial capacity as Mayor, unilaterally chose to rename the Holiday Parade “Christmas Parade.” He was either oblivious to the ramifications of creating religious controversy where none existed, or else this was his intent, with motivation I hesitate to speculate on.
Either way, the lovely city of Encinitas now has its very own virtual Soledad Cross, an issue to divide Christian from Non-Christian, Religious from Secular, Conservative from Liberal.
Perhaps it was unwise to have secularized the name years ago, but changing it back has a different meaning. Our country is now more polarized. There are those for whom the war against secularism is truly a “Crusade” to be won at all costs. For this group, changing a parade name is only a way station towards achieving their political goals.
There are real issues such as abortion, gay rights, and education where “Christian values” have become a rallying cry for one side. But there are times and places, such as this parade, that have been a no-fire zone, where we have the luxury of just enjoying our common humanity.
Changing the name back to “Holiday Parade” would not negate the damage done by Dalager’s actions. It would only change which side feels aggrieved, who feels their values are being trampled upon. His gratuitous act risks turning what has been a celebration, into a battleground of the culture wars, and no one wins on a battleground. There are only casualties.
Rather than boycott a parade that has been a source of pleasure for all, I suggest ignoring this provocation and fully enjoying this community event. Whether called “Holiday” or “Christmas” it is the Encinitas parade, a celebration of a diverse, vital community that will not be torn apart by a single person’s ill conceived act.
I was proud of this letter. So much so that I walked over to Mayor Dalagers storefront and read it to him. It was an illuminating conversation, too much for this essay.
The next day was the Parade. I spent several hours at an open house at the campaign headquarters of Francine Busby, the Democrat who will contest the seat vacated by Duke Cunningham. I liked the people there, and had good talks with the candidate and her campaign manager.
It's going to be an open election that could become a mini-verson of the circus when Schwartzenegger won in the recall of the Governor. Anyone can be on the ballot, even an old guy with a sharp pen who is able to articulate his anger at the Republican administration. But, what a lonely, and ultimately frustrating endeavor that would be.
Before the parade started I walked the route along Main Street. This is a small town and a small parade, so a half hour does it. In the finest example of American entrepreneurial spirit, someone was selling sweat shirts reading, "Encinitas Christmas Parade 2005, Christmas is Back." Other than that, and the single sign thanking the Mayor for bringing back Chritmas there was nothing different in this parade from last years.
Nothing obvious that is. One Church had an elaborate float with dozens of people recreating the life and times of Jesus. There were Roman soldier, Mary in the manger, and pilgrims on their way to honor the virgin birth. Last year, I would have viewed this with admiration of the skill,effort, and conviction of the creators of this presentation. But on this day, as part of what was now an officially defined celebration of this particular event, it was chilling.
But mostly, it was just fun. Kids and parents, old and young, chihuahuas and labs, just enjoying themselves. The Roman soldiers were only pretending, and were not really killing people for their apostasy from the State Religion. The controversy was not going to get much traction in Encinitas, and maybe not anywhere.
We really have come a long way from that time when thousands marched right up Pennsylvania Avenue in the nations capital under the banner of Christian Rights, with their faces hooded by white sheets as the crowd cheered. It's been a painful wrenching few decades from then to now. And maybe it's a sign of just how far we have come that Mayor Dalager, and those who praise him, don't even make the connection; that that era is truly gone from our national consciousness, only to be recalled by now old Jewish men who remember the hatred of playmates that they could never understand.
(This led to my first appearance before the Encinitas City council making the argument that I had written in the letter to the editor cited here. It was two to two, Maggie Houlihan and newly elected Teresa Barth voting my position, and Daliger and Jerome Stocks against. Then James Bond, saying that it would be a better world without religious dissension cast the vote that returned the parade to its secular name)