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Frosted Over a Ban on Santa

TIMES STAFF WRITER

At a Baptist school in Tarzana, pictures of Santa Claus are about as welcome as coal in a Christmas stocking--and the parents of one student want to change all that by having the jolly old fellow picket the school.

Administrators at Lindley Avenue Baptist School in Tarzana said they have a longtime policy prohibiting pictures of the bewhiskered gift-giver in the red suit at the school because they worry that such depictions will distract from the religious atmosphere of Christmas.

But Bob Buckley, whose 4-year-old son, Brendan, attends the school, is so frosted about the ban that he demonstrated in front of the school Friday and Monday dressed as Santa and carrying a placard that read: “Santa Is Outlawed Here--Why?”

“My feeling is that Santa is a positive role model” for students, said Buckley, a self-employed handyman who promises to picket the school until administrators address his concern. “He is one of the first adults outside of the home that they grow to trust.”

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School administrators said they have nothing against Saint Nick. They said they simply prefer to have the students concentrate on the original meaning of Christmas--as a celebration of the birth of Christ.

“We are not anti-Santa, we are pro story-of-Nativity,” said James Dean, pastor at Lindley Avenue Baptist Church, which operates the school.

Dean said the media are doing plenty to teach children about the Santa Claus myth, and school administrators want to use the limited time they spend with children to teach them about the birth of Christ. “This is an old policy that goes back to the beginning of the school,” he said.

Buckley said he and his wife Linda learned about the ban when his son asked him last year whether Santa had done something bad because the boy noticed that there were no pictures of Saint Nick at the school. He said the Santa ban confuses children because the school still allows teachers to decorate the classrooms with reindeer, candy canes and Christmas trees.

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Linda Buckley said administrators agreed to meet Monday night with her and her husband about the issue, but the meeting was closed to the public.

Dean said reindeer and Christmas trees are allowed because they are associated with winter and that the candy cane has historically represented the shedding of Christ’s blood at Easter.

Stephanie Johnson, whose three children attend the school, said she, too, opposes the Santa rule. She said the school’s policy of allowing other Christmas symbols except for Santa has confused her children. “One of my twins saw a decoration and asked me: ‘There is Rudolph but where is Santa?’ ” she said.

Questions about the role of Santa in religion are not unique to the school. Most churches have no objection to displaying secular Christmas symbols such as decorated trees and wreathes, but they also prefer to emphasize Nativity scenes rather than images of Santa Claus.

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“Some of our churches say ‘absolutely no’ to Santa Claus on church property, but others don’t mind. I’ve even dressed up as Santa Claus at a church,” said the Rev. Robert Fernandez, a San Fernando Valley official of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Sister Adela Franco, religious education consultant for the San Fernando Region of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles said the Catholic church does not oppose teaching children about Santa but prefers to concentrate on the birth of Christ. But Santa Claus is represented in Catholic schools, she said. “I’m afraid he’s here to stay.”

Staff writer John Dart contributed to this story.


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