Though many controversies seem to erupt annually during the holiday season over religious displays and observances – particularly with regard to Christmas – Revere’s displays have never sparked any complaints and seem to be in line with a national poll released last week showing 72 percent of those surveyed aren’t offended by such displays on public property.
In Revere, the traditional Nativity scene has been displayed on the front steps of City Hall for generations. And though it is getting some repairs this year and is missing some figures, the Nativity remains one of the few still in place in the area, maybe even statewide.
A short distance away from the Nativity, on the City Hall Lawn, is an honorary Menorah where a December lighting ceremony occurs annually.
Beyond that, there have been programs over the years to recognize and learn about the Muslim faith in City Hall, not to mention programs that include the Buddhist Temple on Thornton Street.
All along, no one locally has complained and the City has never given in to outside pressures to remove traditional acknowledgements of faith in the community.
“The proof is in the pudding,” said Rev. Nick Granitsas of First Congregational Church. “Revere has put up that manger scene forever. We’re probably the only community in Massachusetts that has a manger scene on the steps of our City Hall. One person goes to court and that manger scene gets pulled. That’s all it takes, one person, but despite that ruling by the Supreme Court all those years ago, that manger scene is still there. The reason why is because not a single person in Revere has gone to court to do that in all these years. That tells you all you need to know.
“People in Revere – all people – don’t see it as an offensive thing or an infringement on their rights,” he continued. “They are willing to acknowledge it. That’s one thing about Revere is that we’re very tolerant of others. That’s how it’s rolled in Revere since I’ve gotten here many years ago.”
A nationwide poll done by the Pew Research Center and released last week showed that 72 percent of people don’t mind religious symbols on public property. Of that, 44 percent surveyed said they supported having Christian symbols, like a Nativity, on public property even without other religious symbols accompanying it. Another 28 percent said that such symbols should be permitted on public property, but only if other religious symbols are also allowed – such as in Revere.
Those two opinions, combined, made up the 72 percent who had no problem with religious symbols on public property.
Some 20 percent surveyed said they didn’t think anything associated with any religion should be allowed on public property.
Mayor Dan Rizzo said the City’s Christmas lights and Hanukkah Menorah display will continue as tradition has dictated. He added that the additional figures in the City’s Nativity display are being repaired and would be returning next year.
“We seem to be in sync with the majority of voters by having both Christmas lights and the Hanukkah Menorah on display,” he said. “These are long standing traditions that the City will continue to take part in.”
Father George Szal of Immaculate Conception Church said public Nativity scenes go back to St. Francis of Assisi – who gave a Nativity scene to the people of Assisi to be displayed publicly.
“Shortly before his death, St. Francis wanted to give a gift to the people of Assisi,” he said. “He wanted to help them focus less on gift giving and more on the real meaning of Christmas, so he arranged to have a ‘live’ display of the Nativity scene. That first Nativity scene was filled with the joy of lights, song and fervent prayer. From then on Nativity scenes of terra cotta, wood, stone and other materials became popular in churches and homes. In the end, I think that it is a good thing for Nativity scenes to be placed in every place possible, and for the government to promote it – if only to lift the spirits of a world desperately in need of some signs of hope.”
He added that the Federal, state and local governments have instituted paid holidays for Christmas Day. That acknowledgement of the religious day, he said, has to count for something.
“If that is so, why not display the ‘signs’ of the man whose birthday we celebrate?” he asked. “We celebrate Washington’s birthday, Lincoln’s birthday, Martin Luther King’s birthday. They were all devout Christians whose values, lives and works were motivated by the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth…Every society has its religious symbols that sum up its most treasured values. I think that most Americans would prefer to celebrate the birthday of Jesus than Karl Marx, Lenin or Kim un-Jong.”
Granitsas said the simple fact, in his opinion, is that there is a difference in acknowledging something that’s happening in the community and promoting a religion.
“December 25 was the recognized birthday of Jesus and millions and millions of people – many of them in Revere – acknowledge that at this time of year,” he said. “It’s just a fact. A manger scene acknowledges that this event is happening in the community, just as the Menorah lighting acknowledges the same for Hanukkah in the Jewish faith. It would be different if the mayor were reading resolutions in support of a religion or a religious observance. That isn’t happening.”