Seeking to avoid an emotionally charged battle, Mayor John Hickenlooper has reversed a decision to remove the lighted phrase "Merry Christmas" from the holiday display on the roof of the City and County Building.
Hickenlooper said his office was flooded with complaints after saying he would remove the message next year and replace it with the inclusive "Happy Holidays."
"I didn't even think twice about it, and it's perhaps my inexperience as an elected official," said Hickenlooper, who took office in summer 2003. "To have it veer off in this other direction, where so many people felt being deprived of this tradition, was certainly not what we intended. It was so far from any of my intentions that it's easy for me to apologize."
He said the city might add "Happy Holidays" to the display next year.
Separately, the Downtown Denver Partnership, a private nonprofit that organizes the city's 30-year-old Parade of Lights, is sticking with its longstanding policy that prohibits religious or political messages in the parade.
The group was inundated with complaints over its decision months ago to reject a Christmas-themed float proposed by Faith Bible Chapel for the parade, scheduled Friday and Saturday. Pastor George Morrison of the 4,000-member church told Denver newspapers about the rejection earlier this week.
Business group president Jim Basey on Thursday apologized to anyone who was offended, and pledged to review the no-religion policy after this year's parade.
"We are committed to being inclusive and making sure downtown is everyone's downtown," said parade director Susan Rogers Kark.
Morrison dismissed Basey's apology as "sidestepping the issue," but agreed to meet with him after the parade.
Members of Faith Bible Chapel and several other large churches are expected to line the parade route, singing Christmas carols and handing out cocoa, as a protest.