TUSCUMBIA, Ala. – Yesterday, TWH reported on the opposition being voiced online by some of the residents of the northwestern city of Alabama to the Yule-theme festival, depicting it as being “Satanic,” and encouraging people to voice their concerns at the local council meeting.
TWH spoke yesterday with Kendall Gilchrist, organizer of Festival of Yule, and owner of Hesperia Mystic Shoppe, about the event and how she found out about the mounting opposition to the event.
As we reported yesterday, Gilchrist was shocked by many of the comments made online and had no idea that certain segments of the community intended to voice their concerns over the event at the regularly scheduled City Council meeting. She had already intended to be present at the meeting, but likely would’ve been blindsided by the hostility had someone not alerted her to rhetoric circulating online.
The Tuscumbia City Council meeting went the way many Pagans might likely expect. The City Council first addressed the kind of normal business that is handled in most city council meetings–review of previous meeting agendas, financial reports, and the presentation of a Young Citizenship Award–all of the kinds of business city councils everywhere handle.
Then the council moved on to a discussion on the upcoming Festival of Yule. They first allowed Gilchrist to offer some details on the origin of Yule and Krampus, and the purpose of the event. Gilchrist said, “The energy in the room when I first walked in was just permeated with hate. Most of those in support were out in the hall, and 90% of those actually in the room were people in the opposition to the festival.”
From there they opened up the floor for comments on all the business they had brought before the council. They also made it clear that there would be no vote taking place on the Festival of Yule event, but rather they were seeking to provide the community members with the space to express their thoughts and concerns.
All of those who spoke identified as Christians, and nearly all voiced opposition to the event, citing how un-Christian it was, did not reflect the values of their community, and the dangers of allowing any kind of practice or ideology to be expressed that did not reflect their own Christian faiths.
The first person to speak identified himself as a pastor, and as part of his comment after incorrectly stating that Krampus’ origin was Australia, and as being an “evil counterpart to Satan” said, “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.” He concluded, saying that “…This is not a family-friendly festival. It is atheism. It is paganism.” He repeatedly stressed his belief that Christmas is about Jesus and this event, “It is atheism. It is Paganism… I stand here today to say Christmas is about Jesus, it is about his birth and it is not about anything else.” Shane Sweeney, the pastor of Launchpoint Church in Tuscumbia, identified the speaker as Pastor Greg. Sweeney echoed the previous pastor Greg’s remarks, and quoted Christian scripture on “Satan disguising himself as an angel and a being of light.” He went on, “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.”
The attendents clapped during both speakers.
Perhaps some of the most concerning comments were made by Drew Tennell, who identified himself as being on staff at the Presbyterian Church. He agreed with the two previous speakers, claiming that regardless of the origins of Yule and Krampus, that it was demonic and Satanic “due to it being against Christ.” He then stated, “There is only one true and living god, who is Christ..” and, “Therefore, any worship or glorification of any false deities that are contrary to Christ ought to be opposed by all peoples, especially Christians.” Tennell cited the biblical story of Moses returning from the mountain with the Ten Commandments to see the Golden Calf and said that “[Moses] doesn’t turn up to God and say, ‘Well, God, sorry. It’s religious freedom. They ought to be able to do it.’ He can’t, you can’t speak to the one true living god in that way. So, the problem is, is that not all beliefs are equal, not all ideologies are equal. There are some who are false and there is only one that is true, and that’s Christ.” The fact that the City Council’s job is to handle the business of the City and not to dictate religious practices seemed to be lost on the majority of those who felt the need to speak out against the event.
Many of those who spoke cited information that was incorrect or completely false and even went so far as to include references to popular fiction that contain depictions of Odin. Mr. Johnny Watson agreed with the others stating that Yule is portrayed as the Santa Claus of the Germanic faith referring to the dangers of the “Marvin [sic] cinematic universe.” He underscored that these films are to draw the children away, presumably away from the Christian faith. Mary Margaret Holmes, a pharmacist and local business owner, who identified as a Christian attempted to point out how judgmental those who had spoken were being, how that went against Christian values, and how they should instead view the event as being an opportunity to understand the views of others, and of course use it as an opportunity to proselytize and bring non-Christians the teachings of Christ. She also tried to highlight the financial benefit to the City. At various points, Holmes’ comments were drowned out by the crowd. Ultimately, the Council Chair had to restore order and remind those who shouted her down that there would be no vote, and that the purpose of the meeting was to allow people to express their views.
After the disruption, the Council allowed only one more comment, this one by a middle-aged blond woman who expressed how offensive she felt this event was and admonished the Council for not doing “research” on what the event really was, and how they should basically be ashamed for allowing it to be issued a permit.While nearly all of the comments made in person were against the event, and all cited their Christian beliefs as a reason, online comments were a different story. Support for the event, freedom of religion, and separation of church and state dominated the comments during the live videocast. Quite a few of the online commenters cited the Pagan roots of various Christian holidays and were quick to correct posters who got it wrong. One commentator wrote, “Why is this attached to the Christmas season? This could be at anytime [sic] of the year but attached to the Christmas [sic] is the exact reason it should not be approved!” Another commentator responded, “Yule is in December.” Another wrote, “It is literally celebrating the WINTER solstice. When else would it take place?” Some online commenters stated that they were Pagan, lived in the community, and supported the right of Gilchrist to hold the event. Some of the comments also offered comic relief, such as when the last speaker misidentified Krampus as Grampus, and hilarity ensued. A vendor for the Festival of Yule now intends to sell “Grampus” signs.While none of the comments will prevent the event from being held, or demonstrate any cause for the permit to be rescinded, they do highlight the level of intolerance and ignorance that is apparently rampant in certain parts of the Tuscumbia community. Gilchrist stressed, “I really, really want people to know that it is not the City and that there is solid support from Tuscumbia officials for the event. And the churches who spoke out, they have been bullies for a long time. Calling it their city when it is everyone’s city.”
Perhaps most telling as to the general lack of knowledge of how Council meetings are conducted came after the end of the discussion. Before the Council begins its Work Session to vote on motions, it offers an invocation and the Pledge of Allegiance. Apparently, the majority of those present either had no knowledge of this or simply ignored the Council Chair as he announced it. They began to file out of the room, talking to each other as the invocation and Pledge began until someone loudly said, “That y’all are walking out and talking. How’s that Christian?” The majority of those filing out halted and bowed their heads until the invocation was completed. Immediately after, one of the pastors who had spoken in opposition to the festival stepped up to the microphone and asked to be recognized for a quick comment. He was told no, no, he could not speak, but he forged on saying, “We did not mean to be disrespectful. People were leaving and we did not know you were praying. So I apologize and you and I have been friends a long time. So, take the apology. We did not know you were praying. So, someone said something about it back there, but believe me, we did not know you were praying. Okay? Well taken, okay?” Gilchrist feels that while this seemingly started as just a disagreement over an event, it has expanded to become much more, and she never dreamed she would find herself at the epicenter of such a situation. Those who oppose the festival have stated they intend to protest the event and have threatened to boycott any of the small businesses that support the event.
Since last night, she has been inundated with calls, and texts, all of them in support of her. Gilchrist has been blown away by the support she has received both within and outside of the community she lives in. She said to those who have offered, “Thank you for all the outpouring of support, which is what I have drawn on to give me strength. I hear you, I see you, and I am with you. I don’t condemn what I represent.”One woman who was connected to the group that is opposed to the festival reached out in kindness to Gilchrist and expressed that while she might not know exactly what the event was, she intended to bring her kids and find out.When it comes to those who want to offer support additional, Gilchrist said, “If you want to support me, stand with me now. This has become a wave across the country and we need to uplift all of those who have been oppressed by the right, and those who call themselves Christians but are not true Christians. But by standing up, I do not mean to fight, but do so in love. Only we can write our own stories. And they are writing theirs.”