A New Jersey councilwoman who quit over the naming of a Christmas tree lighting ceremony has now rescinded her resignation. Councilwoman-At-Large Charlene Storey reportedly became angry and left a council meeting Thursday in Roselle Park after legislators voted 4-2 to rename the local “Tree Lighting” ceremony as the “Christmas Tree Lighting” ceremony.
Storey said renaming the “Tree Lighting” ceremony to the “Christmas Tree Lighting” ceremony “turned it from a non-religious event to a religious one.” She said she was raised Catholic, but now identifies herself as a non-believer. By including the Christmas holiday in the tree lighting event, Storey says people who are non-Christian are now being excluded.
The name change “cuts non-Christians out of the loop,” Storey said.
Interestingly enough, back in the 1990s Roselle Park took “Christmas” out of the name of the tree lighting event, according to the NY Daily News. Storey said officials changed the name to simply “Tree Lighting Ceremony” due to a lawsuit over a Christmas display in nearby Jersey City.
“If it had always been called a ‘Christmas’ tree lighting, I probably would never have said anything, but the adding it back bothered me,” Storey said.
“If the town wanted to display different religious symbols in Michael Mauri Park that would be nice,” she told the Roselle Park News. “It would be inclusive.”
In her submitted resignation letter, Storey wrote she couldn’t continue to work with the mayor, insinuating she believes he’s being “exclusionary.”
“I cannot in good conscience continue to be part of a council that is exclusionary or to work with a mayor who is such.”
Roselle Park Mayor Carl Hokanson was the one to propose the name change, but said he did not intend to be exclusionary, stating, “a Christmas tree is a Christmas tree. The Easter Bunny is the Easter Bunny and not the Holiday Bunny.”
The mayor also said the city can call the lighting ceremony what they want.
According to the Daily Caller, the tree that will be lit at the Christmas Tree Lighting on December 11 “appears to be a green, non-deciduous tree with red balls on its branches and white lights strung around it.” The description certainly does sound like a Christmas tree.
“It’s not a street, it’s not a building, it’s a Christmas tree,” he said.
Hokanson said he’s received many calls and emails supporting his decision to rename the tree lighting ceremony with the inclusion of Christmas. He also expressed his disbelief that the renaming turned into such a fiasco.
“I can’t believe that people are going this crazy over this. There are more important things going on in this world.”
Though they disagree about the naming of the lighting ceremony, Mayor Hokanson had nothing but praise for Storey’s work as a member of the council. He reached out to Storey to meet with her in order to try hashing out their difference of opinion.
Storey also spoke highly of the mayor.
“I think Carl is going to be one of the best mayors, if not the best mayor, Roselle Park has ever had. He is on his way to creating change that needs to happen. This was just an unfortunate severe split.”
Storey agreed to meet with Hokanson privately after she had time to calm down. Once the meeting was over, she decided not to quit and rescinded her resignation on Saturday, NJ reports. Storey’s last day would have been January 7.
Besides her decision not to quit, another outcome of the meeting is that a committee on diversity will be created with Storey leading the committee.
Although Storey said she regretted handing in her resignation over her disagreement with including Christmas in the tree lighting event, she still feels the same way and will not be attending the event.
The ceremony will still have the name “Christmas Tree Lighting” and will take place in Roselle Park, New Jersey on Friday, December 11.
[Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images]