ST. ALBANS, W.Va. – Christ is missing from Christmas in this small town. The community's holiday display has a manger with shepherds, a guiding star, camels and a palm tree, but no baby Jesus, Mary or Joseph.
The parks superintendent said Jesus was left out because of concerns about the separation of church and state. But Mayor Dick Callaway said it was done for purely technical reasons: "It's not easy to put a light-up representation of a baby in a small manger scene, you know."
In recent years, some communities around the country have dropped nativity scenes after the displays were challenged as unconstitutional. Some communities have tried to head off legal problems by incorporating nonreligious symbols, or symbols of more than one faith, to avoid the appearance of endorsing one religion over another.
David Cunningham, parks superintendent in this town of 11,000, initially insisted St. Albans' display was not even technically a manger scene. But the mayor disputed that and said Cunningham was unnecessarily worried about lawsuits.
"We have a manger scene," the mayor said.
Around the country, only a few skirmishes in what some conservatives have called the "War on Christmas" have been reported this year so far.
Some retailers, including Wal-Mart, have returned to greeting customers with "Merry Christmas" after coming under attack last year for saying, "Happy Holidays."
Two weeks ago, the Marine Reserves Toys for Tots program in Los Angeles overcame concerns about accepting a donation of 4,000 talking Jesus dolls that quote Bible verses by promising to make sure the dolls reach Christian children.
Some people are still scratching their heads over what happened in Chicago, where the movie studio behind "The Nativity Story" was dropped as a sponsor of a Christmas festival for fear of offending non-Christians.
In Wheeling, baby Jesus is represented in a manger scene at Olgebay Park's Winter Festival of Lights, which draws visitors from across the country.
"If anything, we get criticized for not having more examples of that type of thing," said J.C. Douglas Dalby, president of the Wheeling Park Commission.