As residents and visitors walked through North School Park this weekend, many focused on what was included in the holiday display rather than what was not.
“Just look at the Dreidels,” Dana Foley said, “I can see how religions are not fully represented.”
A longtime resident of Arlington Heights, Foley said her two children always love to see the holiday display but she’s questioned the inequality it represents.
“I’ve always been surprised by the Dreidels,” Foley said, “There are Dreidels here, so I don’t know why they wouldn’t want a Nativity scene.”
A complaint was filed against the Arlington Heights Park District after the Illinois Nativity Scene Committee’s request to place a privately funded a Nativity scene at the village’s holiday display was denied. According to CBS Chicago, the board stated they did not want to make any changes to the display at that time.
“I would assume it’s a planning issue,” Foley said, “This is what it’s always been so I hope it was just a matter of planning.”
According to park district board president, Maryfran Leno, it takes the district staff months to plan and weeks to set up the display.
The village owns the property at North School Park and rents it out to the park district. In partnership with the village and special events commission, the park district heads organization of the holiday display.
On behalf of the complainant, a former Arlington Heights resident and co-chairman of the Illinois Nativity Scene Committee, the Thomas More Society sent the letter of request to the park district the week of the tree lighting ceremony, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Whether is was an issue of time, planning or just a simple 'no,' many said they wish there was a Nativity scene at the village's holiday display.
“I would like to see a Nativity scene but they don’t need to have one," said Chika Okano, “This isn’t my yard.” An Arlington Heights native who now lives out-of-state, Okano said she returns home every year to see the lights at North School Park.
“Nothing here screams Christian holiday,” said Okano, “So it is strange to see the Dreidels.”
Among the groups of people at North School Park, Okano said it does not look like religions are fairly represented in the village's display but some disagreed.
“I like to see the Dreidels,” Susan Koegel said, “There is a Christmas tree here.”
A lifelong Arlington Heights resident, Koegel said she’s seen the holiday display become more inclusive and more balanced over the years. “I think we all put forth a lot of effort to make sure all sides are represented,” Koegel said, “It’s all about awareness.”
Someone who does not celebrate Christmas, Koegel said the current display caters equally to both Judaism and Christianity. The addition of a Nativity scene, Koegel said, would throw off that balance.
“If they did put up a Nativity scene I’d like to see a Menorah” Koegel said, “It wouldn't bother me as long as everyone is equally represented.”
While Koegel said the display’s centerpiece, a 30-foot Colorado Blue Spruce, represents Christmas, others argued the tree symbolizes the holiday not the religion.
“The tree is Christmas but the Dreidel is more heavily religious," Foley said, "I think if any religion is represented, they all should be." But Foley admitted that is a slippery slope, "How do you include all religions?" Foley said, "I don't even know if that's possible."
The Chicago-based Thomas More Society is representing the Nativity scene group in an effort to get the park district board to rethink its decision and allow the Nativity scene at North School Park.