Santa Monica Lookout
Santa Monica's Nativity Displays Come Down Before the Wise Men Show Up
By Jason Islas and Jorge Casuso
January 3, 2012 -- Baby Jesus won't be in the manger in Santa Monica when the Three Wise Men are scheduled to show up for the Epiphany this Sunday.
The Nativity displays, which were forced from public to private land when the City Council banned the 60-year tradition earlier last year, will be removed Friday.
Widely celebrated in Hispanic culture, the Epiphany marks the arrival the Wise Men who followed the star of Bethlehem to the stable where Christ was born.
Traditionally, holiday decorations are left up and boxes of grass are left out for the Wise Men's camels.
When asked why the displays don't stay up until the Epiphany, Hunter Jameson, chairman of the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee said, “The City hasn't let us keep them up that long.”
Jameson said they need to be taken down, usually the weekend after New Year's, and driven to Hesperia, 100 miles away, where they are stored until next year.
“Storing them in Santa Monica is prohibitively expensive,” he said.
It is unclear where the Nativity displays, which for 60 years were placed in Palisades Park, will find a home next year.
Jameson maintains that the Palisades Park is the “rightful” home of the displays, and the committee is appealing a court ruling that found the City had the authority to ban the displays on public land.
The Ninth Circuit court ruling in November came after the City Council voted to withdraw an exception to the City's ordinance against unattended displays in public parks.
A controversy erupted in 2011 after atheist groups successfully applied for places in the park to display their anti-religious messages.
While Matthew is the only one of the four Gospels that mentions the Epiphany, the visit of the Wise Men has become a mainstay of the holiday season in Catholic countries.
There is no mention of the specific number of Wise Men who visited Bethlehem, but tradition, at least in the West, holds that there were three -- Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar -- each carrying one gift: gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Traditional Nativity scenes, including the one in Santa Monica, portray the Wise Men as three bearded elders, bearing gifts and often wearing crowns.
There have been many paintings and poems inspired by the story, including T.S. Eliot's “Journey of the Magi.”
The poem tells the journey of the Wise Men from the perspective of one of them as he reflects on the events. “were we lead all that way for Birth or Death?” the Wise Man asks.
“We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
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