on City Hall in Green Bay, Wisconsin

Pagan Yule Wreath & Wiccan Pentacle Bring Old Meanings to Happy Holidays

On Friday afternoon, December 14, in Green Bay, Wisconsin, the City Hall holidays display became interfaith when a Pagan Yule wreath encircling a gold-ribboned Wiccan pentacle celebrating Winter Solstice took its place next to a Christian nativity scene celebrating Christmas.

Green Bay City Council President Chad Fradette purchased the nativity scene for placement on City Hall to counter an atheist group's challenge of a nativity display on public land in a smaller Wisconsin community. After obtaining permission of Mayor Jim Schmitt and the majority of the Advisory Council, on Tuesday, December 11, Fradette placed the nativity scene on the City Hall building above one of its entrances.

News about the placement of a Christmas manager scene on City Hall resulted in an outpouring of citizen comments, pro and con, to local government officials and the media. On Wednesday, December 13, in interviews with reporters covering the controversy, Schmitt stated that symbols from other faiths could be included.

"When I learned that Mayor Jim Schmitt publicly invited the contributions of other expressions of faith, I decided that our church should offer to contribute a Yule wreath with pentacle to the holidays display. Our pentacle wreath represents our celebration of Yuletide and the new solar year, and also is part of our observance of Interfaith Awareness Week in Wisconsin which we have been celebrating all week," said Rev. Selena Fox, Senior Minister of Circle Sanctuary.

Circle Sanctuary, one of America's oldest and largest Wiccan churches, is headquartered near Barneveld and has members throughout the state, across the USA, and in more than twenty other countries. Rev. Fox has been active in interfaith work for more than forty years and is serving her third term as President of the Greater Madison Interreligious Association: http://www.madison.com/communities/GMIA

Interfaith Awareness Week has been celebrated in Wisconsin annually since its founding ten years ago. The proclamation of December 9-16, 2007 as Interfaith Awareness Week was signed by Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle as well as the Mayor of Madison, the Dane County Executive, and others. This year, Rev. Fox was involved in several Interfaith Awareness Week activities including speaking at the Human Rights Day celebration on Monday December 10 and contributing a Yuletide display to the educational exhibit on Wisconsin's religious diversity, both in the Rotunda of the Wisconsin State Capitol Building in Madison.

Fox first called the Mayor's Office on the morning of Thursday, December 13 and left a message expressing interest in contributing a display and mentioning Interfaith Awareness Week. On Friday morning , she did a follow-up call and talked with an assistant to the Mayor who told her that Circle Sanctuary's Yuletide pentacle wreath could be added to the display.

Rev. Fox then met by telephone with Assistant Minister Robert Paxton, whose Circle Sanctuary ministry includes facilitating ceremonies, organizing festivals, and providing other services to Pagans in the Green Bay-Appleton area. After agreeing on the design of the Yuletide pentacle wreath, Paxton crafted it and delivered it, along with its display stand to the Mayor's office yesterday afternoon.

City Hall staff added Circle Sanctuary's Yuletide pentacle wreath to the holidays display at day's end. Fradette contacted Paxton to let him know it had been erected, and Paxton expressed his appreciation for Circle Sanctuary's wreath being included.

Shortly after the City added the pentacle wreath to the holidays display, the expanded display began making news in press, television and AP.

"I am happy that the City of Green Bay chose the path of inclusiveness in placing the symbol of my Wiccan belief in the public square," says Paxton. "If there are to be religious displays on public property, then let all the richness of American religious life be fairly represented."

Fox agrees "In holiday displays that reflect religious diversity at this time of year, it is important that Yule, also known as Winter Solstice, is included as well as Christmas. Winter Solstice has been celebrated as a sacred time by people of many religions and cultures through the ages. In fact, in the fourth century, early Christian leaders in the Western church selected December 25 for the celebration of Jesus' birthday because it coincided with the culmination of the Pagan Roman Winter Solstice celebration known as Saturnalia."

"For more than 1700 years, Pagan Winter Solstice traditions and Christian Christmas celebrations have intermingled. What we have today in holidays celebration is a multicultural and interreligious mix. The evergreens, wreaths, mistletoe, exchanging of gifts, kindling of lights, time off from work, focus on peace, feasting, making merry, and other customs associated with Christmas and New Year's celebrations all have their origins in the Pagan Winter Solstice traditions of antiquity," says Fox.

"At this holiday time, the focus should be on celebrating our diversity and finding good ways to come together in the universal spirit of peace, joy, hope, love, and goodwill -- instead of fighting about what is the best wording for holidays greetings, what name to give the tree in the Wisconsin State Capitol Rotunda, or what religion should be dominant in holidays time expressions," Fox continues.

"In this holidays season and in the years ahead, I hope that Pagans, Christians, Atheists, and those of other beliefs can find ways to respect each other and work together for a healthier environment, for peace on Earth, and for liberty and justice for all."

Circle Sanctuary Press Release
Saturday, December 15, 2007

For more information,
contact Rev. Selena Fox
Circle Sanctuary, Barneveld, Wisconsin
(608) 924-2216