А городок Кенсингтон 1800 жителей запретил Санта Клауса на церемонии зажжения елки, к вящей радости цивильных либе... либе... молчу. ACLU, короче. Религиозный Клаус этот, и, чтоб вы знали, оскорбляет некоторых нехристиан Кенсингтона.
Как выясняется, и запрета по-настоящему не было, и решение принимал не "городок", а четыре человека. На самом деле очень характерна и сама история, и ее счастливый конец. Все более выпукло, многомернее, сложнее - и одновременно понятнее, человечнее.
Santa Has the Last Ho, Ho, Ho
An Abundance of Saint Nicks Puts Kensington Furor to Rest
By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 3, 2001; Page B01
You might have thought Ken Forti had captured Osama bin Laden, solved the anthrax cases and set a home-run record the way he was greeted outside the Kensington town hall yesterday evening.
Preceded by a phalanx of whooping fire engines, from which his minions tossed candy, Forti was hailed like a god by a cheering, whistling throng ofmore than 500 people when he arrived in flowing beard and crimson robes aboard a majestic Seagrave ladder truck.
"San-TA! San-TA!" cheered the crowd, which included scores of others dressed almost exactly as he was, many of whom had arrived on motorcycle. Loudspeakers blared Ray Charles's version of "America the Beautiful." Fathers lifted infants over their heads to see.
Santa Claus did, after all, appear at the annual Kensington tree-lighting ceremony, after several days of what snowballed into a national controversy over what came to be called the Kensington "Santa ban."
Portrayed by Forti, a lieutenant with the Kensington Volunteer Fire Department, he made his appearance during a somewhat raucous gathering, the biggest by far ever to attend the usually sleepy event. It seemed to draw out the best and worst in people.
At one point, a teenager in a Santa suit was tackled by police after he pulled down an anti-Semitic sign two men had erected. The youth was cheered by the crowd as police pulled him away, pursued by the boy's irate father. Some bystanders shouted "No Santa, No Peace," while others held signs that read, "Yes, Kensington, there is a Santa Claus."
All the while, volunteers moved among the onlookers with trays of cookies, children sucked candy canes, and Mayor Lynn Raufaste declared that Kensington is America's best-kept secret.
"Not anymore!" someone in the crowd yelled.
"I guess I should have said 'was,' " the mayor chuckled.
In the end, after a fair amount of confusion, some hard words and scuffling here and there, Forti showed up as the "real" Santa Claus, and everyone seemed to forget what they were mad about.
"There was nothing keeping me away from here," said Forti, who added that he portrays Santa Claus at the ceremony almost every year. "Santa Claus belongs here. . . . They really didn't want to ban me. They didn't mean to hurt me."
Who exactly "they" referred to remains somewhat murky.
The trouble stemmed from a unanimous decision made Oct. 29 by the town's four-person council to change the tree-lighting ceremony into a more patriotic salute in honor of the victims and heroes of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The patriotic theme would also be a secular one, with Santa Claus's appearance eliminated, the council ruled. The theme was also, in part, a solution to appeals from some of Kensington's Jewish residents that a Hanukah menorah be included in the town's public holiday display. Two residents who do not celebrate Christmas then argued that Santa did not belong in a secular celebration.
But the fine points were quickly lost when the council's decision was reported in the media and it rapidly became termed the "Santa ban." Rocketing via news and the Internet across an already overwrought nation, Kensington suddenly and unwittingly became the capital of the politically correct. On Friday, town officials said they would not prevent Santa Claus from sailing in on his firetruck or keep him from helping to light the tree, although the mayor said Kensington still had not reversed its decision.
The town's announcement didn't appear to appease the protesters at the start of yesterday's ceremony. One demonstrator carried a sign equating the council of the small Montgomery County suburb with the Taliban.
"There really was never a Santa ban," Town Council member Chris Bruch said. "What we decided was we were going to promote our local heroes. There wasn't a Santa ban. . . .
"We need to do a better job of getting the message out," he said.
Raufaste was going with the flow. "I think at this point, it's very exciting," she said as she stood near the town's towering evergreen decorated with a modest display of red, white and blue lights.
Asked about the ban, she said: "Do you see any Santas banned from this town? There are more Santas than I've ever seen in my life."
She was right. They were young, old, thin and fat. Many were not residents of Kensington but had shown up to make a point. Some had additional agendas.
Jeff Brown, 50, of Gaithersburg, wore a tricorn colonial hat and carried a big hand bell. He said he was with a pro-gun activist group called the Tyranny Response Team.
Then there was Sam Lerner, 49, of Rockville, who stood wearing a fake beard and holding a sign that read, "Jews for Santa, Rockville Chapter."
"It's absolutely, totally ridiculous," he said of the furor.
His wife, Robin, added: "Santa Claus is perfectly acceptable to us. It's not a religious thing. It's goodwill and represents the season of goodwill."
As she spoke, a band played patriotic music.
"Hey," someone in the crowd called out, "Do you know 'Jingle Bells'?"