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Christmas and holidays celebrated at Daley Plaza in Chicago

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Chicago's Daley Plaza shows a diversity of beliefs and non-beliefs, representing the population. The festive German Christkindmarket, Christmas Tree and Santa House can be enjoyed by people from a variety of backgrounds, welcoming all with the warmth and spirit of the holidays.

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The German Christkindlmarket and Santa House are open through Christmas Eve, Dec. 24. The Picasso sculpture overlooks at the Christmas market, which brings in authentic vendors from Nurnberg, Germany Christmas markets have been held in town squares in Germany for hundreds of year.

The creche represents the birth of Jesus, the celebration of Christmas and the Christian belief in salvation for believers. Nativity scenes are popular throughout Europe, particularly in Italy and Germany. The scenes include Mary and Joseph with newborn baby Jesus, who is lying in a humble manger in a stable. Nativity scenes can be quite elaborate, including a cast of wise men, shepherds, angels and animals. The creche will be displayed thorugh Dec. 28.

A 30 foot tall menorah represents Jewish Hannukah, the eight day celebration of lights. Hanukkah commemorates the ancient story of how a day's worth of oil burned for eight days in the newly liberated temple of Jerusalem, according to an article in the Chicago Tribune.

This year, the religous symbols were joined by an eight-foot plastic "A," installed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and its Metropolitan Chicago chapter. The FFRF put out a press release stating that the symbol was for Athiesm or Agnostism. The banner by the "A" reads “At this season of the Winter Solstice, we celebrate the birth of the Unconquered Sun — the TRUE reason for the season. As Americans, let us also honor the birth of our Bill of Rights, which reminds us there can be no freedom OF religion, without having freedom FROM religion in government.”

At one time the creche was the subject of controversy, as an athiest group tried to have it taken down. In 1985, the court ruled that since Daley Plaza is a public square, freedom of speech applies, as long as the proper permits are in place. Terry Hodges wrote a history of the nativity scene in Chicago.

When the seasonal scene was officially blessed by two Catholic priests at the grand opening in Nov., 2013 they reminded the crowd that the freedom of speech that allowed the public display was a blessing, according to a report by CBS.

The Rev. Gerald O’Reilly, pastor of Santa Maria del Popolo Church in Mundelein,stated that merchants love the profits that come from Christmas, but want no part of Christ in Christmas, even though there would be no Christmas without him. Rev. O'Reilly said, “All these businesses — 40 percent of their money comes in for Christmas, Don’t mention Jesus. Don’t mention Christmas. But give me your money!”

The creche is owned by Jim Finnegan and retired Chicago Police officer Terry Hodges. Finnegan said they purchased it from the late William Grutzmacher in 1995. Grutzmacher fought the court battle for the right to display the creche. The creche is set up by a group of devoted volunteers who call themselves the "God Squad."

Finnegan said he became involved because he was disgusted that so many merchants wouldn’t even say “Merry Christmas” any more, insisting instead of the generic “Harry holidays.” Finnegan also said that he has no problem sharing the Daley Center spotlight the Christmas tree and other symbols. stating "Frankly, I’m pleased that there’s a Menorah here, too. That’s fine. We have a great danger when they start telling us that we can’t exercise our freedom of speech."

Freedom of speech is alive and well at Daley Plaza in Chicago. As long as all parties remain civil and polite, the resulting discussion is healthy and welcome.

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