TULSA — Many in this Bible Belt town thought the perceived war on Christmas was over when Tulsa’s downtown parade put the word “Christmas” back in its title after a four-year absence. But the battle will apparently last another year, with some residents continuing to stage their own parade — also with Christmas in the title — on the south side of city.
Organizers of each parade claim there’s no animosity toward the other and that the events aren’t competing, but the resentment is apparent in the backhanded compliments and not-so-subtle digs between the parties — evoking more of a Grinch than a Kringle.
Things became frosty in this city of nearly 400,000 when parade organizers dropped the word “Christmas” from the title of its Parade of Lights in 2009. That caused a backlash from conservatives and cable news pundits who accused leaders here and in other U.S. cities of declaring war on Christ and his holiday.
The spat came to a head in 2011, when a small group of residents staged their own parade at the Tulsa Hills Shopping Center, a mecca of big-box retailers and restaurants that sprouted up off U.S. 75 several years ago.
Simply titled, the Tulsa Christmas Parade unabashedly catered to folks who wanted to shout “Merry Christmas” to fellow revelers. It was wildly successful — even though it was on the same day as the bigger parade downtown — and drew more than 20,000 spectators. It also grew in popularity last year.
This year, albeit briefly, there were signs of thawing in the cold war over which parade was the real thing. Josh McFarland, one of the founders of the rival parade, defected to work on the downtown event after it restored Christmas to its title — now called the Tulsa Downtown Parade of Lights: A Celebration of Christmas, Hanukkah and Other Holidays. The downtown parade is set for Dec. 14.
It was the only concession McFarland had spent years lobbying for, and when his terms were met, he said he didn’t want to stay at the other parade to “run up the score.” He left his partners — who say they were left out of the negotiations loop to merge parades — to keep putting on the rival parade or throw in the mistletoe. His partners decided to green-light the 2013 parade, scheduled for Dec. 7.
“It’s too bad, but at the same time, a lot of sponsors are coming onto the downtown parade” because Christmas is back in the title, McFarland said. “We don’t necessarily wish the south Tulsa parade bad luck if they want to do a Christmas parade.
“We don’t want it to look like Christians are fighting against other Christians,” he said.
Larry Fox, who’s been involved with the initial downtown parade for nearly 30 years, said it’s impossible to compare the two events.
“Frankly, we view ourselves as very different,” Fox said. “We try to put on a high quality event that is unlike any other for the city or the region. We’ve been around for over seven decades, and hopefully will be for the future.
“Like I said, I don’t know what those people’s motives were in starting that parade, but we don’t compete with them,” he said.
Specifically, that high-quality show features floats built in Dallas, helium balloons from California and a grand fireworks show, among other tinsel-studded amenities.
The south Tulsa parade is more nuts and bolts — marching bands, alpacas, picture-taking with Santa Claus in front of the Lowe’s home improvement store — and event co-founder Mark Croucher doesn’t want it any other way.
Like his opposition, he manages to work in the requisite digs.
“I’m not trying to have the subtitle parade, I just want to have a Christmas parade,” Croucher said.
“One with wholesome, traditional family values. A traditional Christmas, not a Festivus for the rest of us,” he said, quoting a Seinfeld episode.
Eddie Huff, another co-founder of the second parade, said he doesn’t have ill will toward McFarland and resents any suggestion that he’s somehow the “bad guy” by offering an alternative parade.
“I think Josh wanted to see bigger and grander floats and things and wants more of a spectacle,” Huff said. “We don’t want to be the biggest parade in Tulsa, much less America. People get it, they enjoy being able to yell, ‘Merry Christmas,’ seeing Santa Claus and honoring that day.”
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