A secular “Festival of Yule” in Tuscumbia, Alabama is on the verge of being canceled despite a Christian-friendly festival taking place a week later. Local officials have already announced that the public can make statements about their feelings about the Yule festival during a meeting on Monday, which could provide the pressure needed to put a stop to it.
For over a decade, Tuscumbia has hosted a Charles Dickens-themed celebration called “It’s A Dickens Christmas Y’all.” It involves horse-drawn carriages, pictures with Santa, and costumes that take you back to 19th Century England. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. It’s unique, local, and fun for the family. But make no mistake: It centers around a Christian holiday. This year’s event will take place on December 10.
Last year, Kendall Gilchrist, the owner of Hesperia Mystic Shoppe, decided to host a festival in nearby Florence, AL that celebrated something not based on Christianity. The first “Festival of Yule” showcased local businesses and let people take a picture with a 7.5-foot Krampus. It was enough of a hit that Gilchrist wanted to host it again this year.
This time around, though, because Florence had so many events taking place around the holidays, Gilchrist’s husband reached out to city officials in nearby Tuscumbia to see if the event could be hosted there, and there was enthusiastic approval. Gilchrist’s work partner even celebrated getting the permit with a picture alongside city leaders:
Encouraging the public to get your cosplay on! I want to see Celtic, Vikings, gods, goddesses, Wizards, and any other mystical beings or things! Let’s get weird and have fun every first Saturday of [December]!
Just like the Dickens festival, it’s supposed to be a pleasant way to promote local stores while giving people a chance to dress up and have some fun.
Recently, however, some citizens began complaining on Facebook that this was all very Satanic and they criticized the city council for approving a “pagan festival.” The city reacted by issuing a public statement letting people know that their next meeting—a work session—would take place on Monday, November 21, and anyone who wanted to voice their opinions would have the opportunity to do so. The Alabama city specifically cited “Kendall Gilchrist’s Festival of Yule” as something people would be able to complain about.
There’s some reason to be worried. In private posts sent to me by a reader, Alabama residents are calling the Festival of Yule a “grave concern.” They hope to flood Monday’s meeting with supporters, hoping that the city will revoke the permit issued Gilchrist.
That, of course, would be illegal. Section 5-205 of the Tuscumbia City Code even says, “No permit shall be denied based solely on the applicant or content of protected speech scheduled to occur at a special event.” Simply put, there’s no reason to rescind the permit other than sheer bigotry or ignorance.
Gilchrist isn’t expecting that to happen. After all, city officials have been nothing but professional with her, and a lot of the concern stems from ignorance. People are confusing her festival with some overt promotion of Satanism. They don’t understand who Krampus was in folklore. Most importantly, Gilchrist told me, this festival isn’t meant to counter the Dickens event.
This is not an anti-Christian festival. It’s not exclusively Pagan. It’s for everyone. It’s not anti-anything… It’s an homage to the origins of Christmas.
Gilchrist added that she really just wants to promote small businesses and this is a great way to do it. She only found out about the conflict after some friends reached out to her. But she doesn’t believe city officials will cave no matter how many people show up on Monday demanding her festival be shut down.
Interestingly enough, there’s a picture online of one of the people complaining about her event in which the woman is wearing a witch’s hat in October. Why is that woman complaining about the Yule festival when she had no problem celebrating Halloween? There’s no real difference! Both events involve dressing up for fun and no one should be worried about underlying religious conflicts.
I hope Gilchrist is right that the backlash won’t go anywhere after Monday’s meeting. City officials need to recognize that complaints from Christians aren’t a good enough reason to ignore their own laws.
For anyone in the area, though, it wouldn’t hurt to have supporters of the Yule festival in attendance Monday night. The city council’s work session begins at 5:30p local time.