Rob O’Flanagan, Mercury staff
Tue Nov 27 2012 08:23:00
(…) A once prominently displayed nativity scene is now homeless after Guelph’s largest shopping centre decided there was no room at the mall.(…)
GUELPH — There’s no room for a nativity scene at the mall.
After a decade of being part of the Stone Road Mall’s seasonal ornamentation, an elaborate plaster scene depicting the birth of Jesus Christ and the attending wise men, camels and angel, has been pulled from the mall’s festive season decorations. The mall’s general manager says it is a simple business decision related to space.
But the decision has ignited outrage, petitioning, and a call to boycott Guelph’s largest shopping centre. Representatives from a number of churches have inundated the mall’s management with messages decrying the decision to remove what is universally accepted as a central symbol of Christmas.
There is a place for a nativity scene in a shopping mall, many opponents of the decision said, especially given that the meaning and spirit of Christmas are what drive gift giving, and therefore shopping, at this time of year.
“Our decision was strictly a business decision,” said Tony Stapley, Stone Road Mall’s general manager.
“We’re a shopping centre trying to maximize our potential.”
He explained that a number of retail opportunities specific to the festive season have emerged and the space the nativity scene has taken up for many years was needed to accommodate a vendor in what is known as the common area of the mall.
As well, he added, the mall’s holiday season décor has been changing and will continue to evolve. There has been a general downsizing of decorations, including reducing the number of trees, garlands, animated figures, polar bears, and the size of the Santa Claus display area.
“We’ve put a lot of thought into making this decision,” Stapley said, adding that the nativity scene has been donated back to St. John’s Church in Guelph, “rather than throwing it away or sticking it in a storage room to just sit there for years.”
“They were really very pleased to receive it,” he added. “So it’s still in the community, it’s just not at Stone Road Mall.”
Stapley said Stone Road Mall officials toured the sites of several major competitors recently — in Toronto, Kitchener and Cambridge — and found that it is no longer common to display décor that represents a particular faith.
“We basically try to stay neutral,” he said.
Ann Croft is among the local Christians who are offended by the decision. She said Christmas and its gift-giving tradition is rooted in Christianity, and it troubles her to see retailers profiting on the celebration of Christ’s birth without acknowledging Christ or showing respect to the Christian faith.
“Christmas is a Christian holiday and it’s traditional,” she said, adding that tens of billions of dollars will be spent on Christmas gifts this year in Canada, much of that by the roughly 70-75 per cent of Canadians who identify as Christian.
“Our economy is driven by the money that is spent at Christmas time,” she said. “The malls should acknowledge the origins of Christmas.”
Charitable giving and volunteerism increase significantly during the Christmas period, she added.
“There is still heart in Christmas,” she said. “People smile more, they give more, they think about other people. It is still a time of goodwill and hope for peace on Earth. All of that revolves around our Christian nativity.”
The world is rife with horror and tragedy, she said, and in the midst of it the nativity scene has stood as an easily recognizable symbol of all that is good, pure and right.
“I resent the fact that retailers will exploit our Christmas season for profit, and then, without any conscience at all, dispose of the nativity, which is the reason for Christmas,” she said. “Too many of the old traditions are being tossed aside. And it is hypocritical to exploit this Christian holiday without acknowledging its origins.”
Croft said when a symbol of Christianity is considered an expendable decoration it shows a lack of respect for the faith’s sacred symbols.
“It looks very greedy for retailers to exploit Christmas, and then remove our symbol of Christianity,” she said, adding that a number of petitions have been started to have the mall’s decision reversed.
Stapley said the mall would not be pressured into reconsidering.
Robert C.M. Jewell is another opponent of the decision to eliminate the nativity from the mall. He agrees with Croft that shopping centers make a great deal of money during the Christmas season, and should acknowledge the origins of the celebration.
“I think everyone should be informed about what is happening here, and if it backfires on the mall, tough,” he said. “The nativity should be there as a reminder to everybody, whether they are Christian or not Christian, that if it wasn’t for the deity of Christ we wouldn’t have all the rest of it.”