(Photo: Screenshot/YouTube via Spencerport Christmas on the Canal 2008)
A small town in upstate New York has rallied together to continue funding its local community's Christmas celebration, even though an atheist's complaint forced the local government to stop supporting the event.
The town of Spencerport, N.Y., a small village located just outside of Rochester, has been celebrating its annual "Christmas on the Canal" event for 17 years until this year, when Elaine Spaziano, the event's founder and organizer, announced that the tradition had to be canceled after an atheist complained about First Amendment rights and the separation of church and state to the local government.
The event features an array of holiday-themed activities, such as a tree lighting ceremony, carols, a nativity, a blessing by a local clergy member, and other festive events. The celebration was funded partially by Spencerport and the neighboring village of Ogden, and both villages were forced to pull their funds and support for the celebration this year after an atheist activist complained that the event used taxpayer dollars to support Christianity. The activist reportedly had a petition and threatened to take the cities to court if they continued donating to "Christmas on the Canal."
As Spaziano told The Blaze, the local government initially went to the event's planning committee to see if they would change the name to something more universal, such as "Holiday on the Canal," but the board ultimately voted to keep the old name, arguing that taking the faith-based elements out of the event would ruin its entire foundation.
According to the local Rochester YNN news, after word got around that the "Christmas on the Canal" event had been canceled, donations from local residents and businesses began pouring in, in an effort to keep the decades-long tradition going. Resident Ralph Parmelee began imploring local businesses to donate to the event, and the town has now officially raised enough money to hold "Christmas on the Canal" for another year.
"We cannot let this die. For the generations that are coming, the young people and all, we can't take Christmas out of the picture. It's got to stay there and we're going to keep it there," Parmelee told the local media outlet.
Another resident, Peter Marra, told the local media outlet that Spencerport is a great community that is fully capable to take on the challenge of raising enough funds for "Christmas on the Canal." "A community like Spencerport is a perfect place to pitch that battle. The people around here know how to rally. It's a great community, that's why I have a business here, that's why I raise my family here, It's a great place to live."
Spaziano added to The Blaze that after she announced the event had been canceled, she and other members of the event's planning committee had strange experiences that she feels were messages from God, encouraging her to hold "Christmas on the Canal" for another year.
In one such experience, Spaziano said she was walking around town praying about the event when she "was walking back to my car and all of the sudden I heard church bells ringing. I listened closely and as I got closer - it was dark there wasn't a soul around. There were no lights on in the church and the song that was ending was 'My Country 'Tis of Thee,'" she said. "I just stood there and the next song that came was 'O Beautiful for Spacious Skies.'"
"We do have these freedoms. We've got to fight for these freedoms," Spaziano said. "The joyful news is the community as a whole - businesses, individuals, a little boy with his change … it will be a community supported event."
The event will now reportedly take place in early December, and the city has also slated a separate holiday tree-lighting event for late November.