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Durham's Move To Make Holiday Celebration More Inclusive Sparks Out-Of-State Complaints

The town of Durham has been the target of angry messages from across the country after making some changes to its annual holiday celebration.

Officials say they hoped to make Saturday's event more inclusive and less Christmas-centric. But some locals say they wish the decision had been handled differently. 

The biggest change to Durham's event is in the name - instead of the Annual Tree Lighting, it'll now be called Frost Fest, and instead of lighting a Christmas tree during the event, the tree will be lit the whole time. 

Santa will also be there the whole time as well, rather than arriving on a fire truck part way through the event, as he's done in previous years.

Durham town manager Todd Selig says the changes stemmed from some locals' concerns that the event wasn't welcoming for non-Christian residents.

"And it's created a good deal of controversy here," he says.

Selig says he and the town council began to hear from people who saw the move as an attack on tradition after news of the changes spread online, including on some conservative blogs and in a Union Leader editorial.

Selig says the vast majority of complaints were from out of state. Many were irate, profane, even threatening - accusing the town of bowing to political correctness - and saying people who didn't feel welcome at a Christmas event should feel free to not join in.

Earlier this week, as the new Frost Fest approached, Durham's main drag didn't feature any holiday decorations yet.

Frame shop owner Amy Gibbs says all the vitriol feels bad for business, and she worries it'll put a damper on Saturday's celebration.

"For me personally, I think that - when they want to be more inclusive, possibly adding this to it would have been better, as opposed to taking things away," she says.

Todd Selig says he's open to more changes in future, but he regrets that the discussion had to begin this way.

"With these topics that sort of cross the boundary between a purely local issue and a national conversation on inclusivity or Christmas or change," he says, "I don't know how you gently move those conversations forward."

Selig says the town hopes to get more community input next year on fine-tuning the Frost Fest. This year, it's taking place on Saturday from 6 to 8 p.m. on Durham's main street.

Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.
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