Story Update: Council President Kristine Morieko's comments were inadvertently left out of the original posting. They are in bold below.
Editor's Note: The author of this article and editor of the site is the Glen Rock Chamber of Commerce president and a member of the Glen Rock Holiday Committee.
GLEN ROCK, NJ - No Santa will be allowed on borough property this holiday season, but this exclusion is not new, nor is it exclusive to Santa.
But the topic may arise at the Nov. 13 council work session, according to some council members.
Council President Kristine Morieko said she was "more than willing to discuss this at the next work session provided that the responsible party (those asking) request to be on the agenda and come prepared to speak on this."
"Many years ago, before most of us were on the council, a policy was adopted that religious symbols (including Santa) would not be included in events hosted by non-profits on Borough property," Mayor Bruce Packer said in an email after he was posed with the question last weekend.
"This policy has not been overturned to date," he said.
One borough tradition that continues to stand is Santa riding through the streets on a Glen Rock Fire Department truck.
"For the record," Councilman Mike O'Hagan said in an email, "I have never thought that Santa was/is a religious symbol."
The Santa issue arose at the Oct. 23 Borough Council work session, which reopened late in the evening after most of the public had exited.
"With no advanced warning, toward the end of the work session, the council was asked about overturning the policy and told the decision needed to be made immediately," Packer said. "The council felt uncomfortable changing the current policy after the brief discussion that time allowed."
Morieko concurred. "At the last meeting this was not on the agenda - though Mary [Barchetto] did request a borough holiday events be on (namely ice skating) - and we were not properly noticed of the discussion..."
According to Borough Administrator Lenora Benjamin, the policy regarding Santa and other religious symbols has been followed as a result of the "history of past practices – there is nothing documented by resolution or filed in the borough code."
Packer said the council was "open to resuming the discussion after gathering more information and details at the next meeting and including [the] discussion on [the] agenda."
Councilwoman Mary Barchetto agreed.
"I feel this topic needs a more in-depth discussion at our next work session," she said in an email. "As it was not on the agenda for last Wednesday's meeting, I personally did not feel I had adequate time to reflect on the past practices and polices of the Borough.
"That being said, at our next work session we will be examining said practices versus our policy and I will be suggesting we put clear guidelines in place to prevent confusion in the future," Barchetto said.
The next council work session and meeting is scheduled for Nov. 13.
The Holiday Committee, a free-standing committee run by independent volunteer residents, has planned the tree lighting for Dec. 7 and was seeking a Santa visit, possibly on borough property, during the hours prior to and succeeding the 4:30 p.m. tree lighting on private property. Due to safety factors, the Holiday Committee was working on scheduling Santa in a safer, less congested area adjacent to tree lighting, which takes place at the Exxon gas station and the accompanying Kilroy's lot.
Packer said it would be unusual for a longstanding policy of any kind to be changed without "a somewhat lengthy discussion and before there was an opportunity to allow residents to join the discussion by listing it on the agenda."
Packer was part of a community discussion last year to change the October Columbus Day designation on the borough calendar to Indigenous People's Day. After a public outcry, the council dropped the idea.
Councilwoman Michelle Torpey said it seems the rationale to exclude Santa and the actual policy is "implemented inconsistently. Santa is already riding around town in our firetrucks, and the Easter Bunny visits children to kick off the Easter egg hunt each spring at Thielke Arboretum.
"We should listen to residents. If there is concern, perhaps we treat this as a pilot with Santa to see how that helps draw residents versus previous years when we have not had a celebration," Torpey said in an email. "I am sure the town leadership wants to bring joy to our little town, rather than be viewed as the Grinch."
According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, Santa Claus, known also as Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas, Sinterklaas, is a "legendary figure who is the traditional patron of Christmas in the United States and other countries, bringing gifts to children. His popular image is based on traditions associated with Saint Nicholas, a 4th-century Christian saint. Father Christmas fills the role in many European countries."
"The Dutch are credited with transporting the legend of Saint Nicholas (Sinterklaas) to New Amsterdam (now New York City), along with the custom of giving gifts and sweets to children on his feast day, December 6," the Encyclopaedia Britannica editors wrote. "The current depiction of Santa Claus is based on images drawn by cartoonist Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly beginning in 1863. Nast’s Santa owed much to the description given in the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (also known as “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”), first published in 1823. The image was further defined by the popular Santa Claus advertisements created for the Coca-Cola Company from 1931 by illustrator Haddon Sundblum."
Not all council members immediately returned an email request for comment. TAPinto also contacted St. Catharine's Roman Catholic Church, Glen Rock, for its take on Santa. To be continued...