Published December 17, 2007
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The putting up of a nativity scene at Green Bay's City Hall has prompted a tongue-in-cheek request from a suburban man for permission to display a Festivus pole on the overhang of the building's northwest entrance.
The Festivus holiday created by author Daniel O'Keefe during the 1970s and popularized by comedian Jerry Seinfeld two decades later is celebrated by some both in earnest and jest on Dec. 23.
The request by Sean Ryan of Allouez was made during the weekend after Green Bay City Council president Chad Fradette received the go-ahead last week from the city's advisory committee to install a nativity display at City Hall.
Fradette said he proposed the display in response to criticism of a nativity display at a city park in nearby Peshtigo.
A practicing Catholic who would prefer to see no religious displays at a government office, Ryan said his request to put up an undecorated six foot aluminum pole was intended to showcase how deciding what religions to include in the display can turn to the absurd.
"I was turning over how extreme things could get and how loosely things could get interpreted," Ryan said.
"The real feat of strength would be for the mayor to stand up and say this is absurd," Ryan added. "Let us keep nativity scenes where they belong in the churches, in our homes and in our hearts."
On Friday, a Wiccan pentacle was put up at the Green Bay City Hall consisting of an evergreen wreath encircling a gold five-pointed star.
Wicca is a nature-based religion based on respect for the earth, nature and the cycle of the seasons. But variations of the pentacle not accepted by Wiccans have been used in horror movies as a sign of the devil.
Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt said items besides the nativity scene to be displayed need to associated with a religion, and the Festivus pole is just pop culture.
"This is kind of making a laughing matter of something that's rather serious," he said.
The mayor said "silly antics" would not help resolve the questions facing the City Council on Tuesday, when it is scheduled to take up the matter.
The mayor said he plans to forward some preliminary guidelines to the council Monday, including a limit on the time period for the displays and how to determine if a display is representative of a religion.
"This isn't an area that we have a lot of expertise," Schmitt said.