The outdoor Nativity scene in front of Edmonton’s City Hall has been downsized and put indoors, causing some backlash. Photo courtesy Grandin Media

Edmonton City Hall scraps outdoor Nativity scene after 40 years

By  Thandiwe Konguavi, Canadian Catholic News
  • December 21, 2017
EDMONTON – Faith leaders in Edmonton are disappointed that City Hall scrapped its outdoor Nativity scene after more than 40 years and replaced it with a smaller art display indoors.

“This is our Christian tradition,” said Chris Chakmakian, a member of the Armenian Holy Apostolic Church in Edmonton. “You cannot abolish it, you cannot eliminate it, and unfortunately our politicians are working to eliminate and abolish it.”

The outdoor display featured life-sized figures housed in a wooden stable and for years it also included live animals. This year, the city commissioned a $2,000 indoor art display to replace it.

Created by Edmonton visual artist Ritchie Velthuis, the work features dyed clay sculptures of Mary, Joseph and Jesus, the Three Wise Men, a shepherdess and two angels. The 115-by-50 centimetre artwork is on display until Ukrainian Christmas on Jan. 7.

City administrators say an outdoor Nativity scene was unfeasible because of construction outside City Hall over the next two years, but they also admit that it may not come back at all.

“It’s not necessarily temporary,” said Tannia Franke, the city’s supervisor of civic events for Sir Winston Churchill Square. “For at least the next two years, this new Nativity will be featured inside City Hall, and then decisions will be made after that what the future may look like.”

The city’s chaplain says the outdoor Nativity scene also raised concerns about promoting Christianity over other faiths.

“It was quite large and so there was some discussion around — moving forward with this pluralistic society — whether it is appropriate to have something so large sitting right outside city hall doors,” said Presbyterian minister Rev. John Dowds. “And that’s a discussion that we continue to have. We want to be as inclusive as possible.”

Instead, it may have had the opposite effect. Faith leaders in Edmonton wrote to Mayor Don Iveson last month urging the city to bring the outdoor Nativity scene back.

“The Christian community is not asking for exclusive rights to outdoor religious symbolism and we’re not asking for special privileges,” said Julien Hammond, ecumenical officer at the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton.

“It’s really a question here of time-honoured tradition, not only in this city but all around the world. Christian communities put on display in the public square Nativity scenes, just as Jewish communities put up menorahs for Hanukkah and during the festival of Diwali, people put lights out.”

Chakmakian said he fears the city won’t bring back the outdoor Nativity scene, and that the new indoor art display may be temporary, too. “It is a symbolic gesture, and a couple of years from now they will take it away from there as well.”

(Grandin Media)

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