Everything, for some in La Jolla when it comes to Christmas.
A simmering controversy that first erupted in 2005 over a request to strike Christmas from the name of the community’s annual December parade has resurfaced.
Then — and now — pressure is being exerted to have the La Jolla Town Council Christmas Parade and Holiday Festival changed to something more generic and less overtly religious to make it more inclusive of non-Christians.
Eight years ago, a handful of La Jollans, including the late Murray Galinson, a philanthropist and political power broker, and Jack McGrory, former San Diego city manager, petitioned the nonprofit La Jolla Town Council, sponsors of the parade now in its 56th year, to consider changing the parade name.
In the end, that attempt fell just short as La Jolla Town Council trustees voted 11-10 by secret ballot against the proposal.
Now, current La Jolla Town Councilman Howard Singer has revived the debate over changing the parade’s name.
On Oct. 16, Singer successfully petitioned the San Diego Human Relations Commission (HRC), which agreed to act as a liaison in re-establishing a dialogue between opposing sides on the parade name issue.
The mission of the HRC is to promote activities that foster mutual respect and understanding, protect basic human and civil rights and create an atmosphere that promotes peaceful and harmonious relations among all members of the San Diego community.
“We wouldn’t care if it was the Santa Claus parade or the community parade or the holiday parade,” Singer told commissioners Oct. 16. “The fact is, people won’t discuss this with us, and they feel they’re above discussing this with other people. Therein lies the problem. And that’s why we’re here.”
Singer noted numerous other parade names throughout the county, including Balboa Park’s holiday event (December Nights, formerly Christmas on the Prado) have been changed without incident. Singer also said he felt resistance in changing the La Jolla parade name to something more inclusive might be the result of lingering anti-Semitism from La Jolla’s past when Jewish residents were discriminated against in housing and other areas.
Singer’s sentiment was echoed at the commission hearing by Debbie Allen, San Diego chapter president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
“Christmas is not universally celebrated by everyone,” said Allen, noting many Christmas traditions were borrowed from Romans, pagans and other non-Christian cultures.
“To include all of our neighbors is not an easy task,” admitted Allen. “But we all aspire to represent cultural diversity celebrating the uniqueness of all people.”
Noting our nation is “no more segregated than when we worship,” Allen said, “I’m here to ask that the parade name be changed to make it more inclusive of the entire community, and better representative of the true diversity of La Jolla.”
HRC chair Mark Dillon said the group is “not a judge, not a jury,” but that its role is one of facilitator.
“How can we respond to this in a public way to increase the likelihood that it gets resolved?” Dillon asked, suggesting something be done that “moves this forward.”
Commissioner Joyce Abrams suggested the group offer to serve as mediators in further discussion of the issue.
Commissioner Bruce Abrams then moved that the commission write a letter to the mayor supporting consideration of changing the La Jolla parade name, while offering to mediate the dispute by appealing first to District 1 City Councilwoman Sherri Lightner, asking her to bring the two sides together to attempt to resolve their differences over the issue. Lightner, meanwhile, deferred to the event’s organizers, as well as the formal process for changing an event’s name, in a statement to the press.
“This has been a contentious issue for years,” Lightner wrote. “The annual event, which is very popular and well-attended, is organized and funded by a group of local residents. It is the group that makes the decision on the parade name/theme and it must go through the same special-event permitting process as all others held in the city of San Diego, i.e. Gay Pride Parade, Filipino-American Festival, Praise Fest, Pacific Islander Celebration, St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Pro-Life Rally, etc.”
Commissioners conceded it’s too late to have any impact on this year’s parade, which is scheduled for Dec. 8.
No one at the commission hearing spoke in favor of keeping Christmas in La Jolla’s parade name.
Members of the La Jolla Town Council could not be reached for comment.