Loudoun Bids Farewell to Controversial Holiday Tradition

One+of+the+county-sponsored+holiday+decorations+that+sits+in+front+of+the+courthouse+includes+Santa+with+his+sleigh+of+presents+and+a+decorated+Christmas+tree.+Photo+credit%3A+Jack+Minchew

One of the county-sponsored holiday decorations that sits in front of the courthouse includes Santa with his sleigh of presents and a decorated Christmas tree. Photo credit: Jack Minchew

By: Jack Minchew

One of the county-sponsored holiday decorations that sits in front of the courthouse includes Santa with his sleigh of presents and a decorated Christmas tree. Photo credit: Jack Minchew
One of the county-sponsored holiday decorations that sits in front of the courthouse includes Santa with his sleigh of presents and a decorated Christmas tree. Photo credit: Jack Minchew

Every December, many Leesburg residents celebrate the holidays with festivities and displays such as Menorah lightings, Christmas trees, and Nativity scenes, all traditions common across the world. In recent years, though, Leesburg has developed a reputation for its own unique December tradition: an annual battle over religious or anti-religious displays on the lawn of the Loudoun County Courthouse.

For years, the only displays on the front lawn of the courthouse in downtown Leesburg were a small nativity scene at the corner of Market and King Streets and a Christmas tree in front of the old courthouse. In 2009, a county committee on the courthouse grounds passed a new policy prohibiting all holiday displays on the lawn, a decision that sparked outrage from many Christians. This policy was overturned by the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, and was replaced with a plan to allow 10 displays, chosen on a first come, first serve basis.

In the first year the plan came into effect, Loudouners were greeted with many never before seen displays, such as multiple atheist signs criticizing Christmas and mocking religion, a “Jediist” display with a mannequin of Luke Skywalker, and a “letter from Jesus” that was written by a local atheist, along with the traditional manger scene and a Christmas tree.  “Some of [these displays] were a little odd”, said senior Leah White, who thought that “[the atheists] should get their own to time to display what they feel like”.

In the years since, the courthouse has seen even more controversial displays. 2011 saw the posting of two signs from the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, an atheist sign depicting Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and Jesus Christ with the caption “myths for young and old”, and a display of a skeleton dressed as Santa nailed to a cross.

This year, however, the controversy that usually comes with the holiday displays is expected to be far less than in past years. The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, which has authority over the courthouse, has made official a temporary rule that bans all unattended displays, except for the County sponsored Christmas tree, Menorah, Santa Claus, and Nativity scene.