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A religious group in Stirling, Scotland, is riled up after a major shopping center in the area denied its request to set up a traditional nativity scene for Christmas.
The Legion of Mary association —  a worldwide Catholic group — posted the rejection letter in a Facebook group set up to raise awareness of the ban. In it, Thistles Shopping Centre claims the proposal was denied for two reasons: one is due to lack of available commercial space for the display, and the other is to remain “religiously neutral.”
The letter reads, in part, “we do not believe it would be right to agree to host this type of promotion within a shopping centre where our customers come to enjoy a leisure activity without being subjected to individuals organisations beliefs.” The letter concludes that this is a final decision and that appeals will not encourage officials from Thistles to reconsider. It is signed by Stephen Kerr, Member of Parliament for Stirling.
Margaret Paterson, a representative for the Legion of Mary, told Yahoo Lifestyle she was disappointed to receive the letter for several reasons, starting with her claim that she never encountered resistance in the past. “Some years ago we did get permission and it was wonderful then the children loved it and no one complained,” she said. Two years, the group moved to another town, so Paterson identified Thistles as the new home for the nativity. But when she applied in 2017, she was told it was too late — so this year she made sure to submit her proposal in July.
“Alas, I was refused. They said the could not accommodate us as I was too late in applying, again the same this year,” she said. “I was surprised and sad because I thought I had applied in plenty of time.” That’s when she sent a note to Kerr and received the official let-down. Paterson made it clear that the organization’s protest did not imply a boycott of Thistles. “I love our centre and want us all to support it to thrive … we need a thriving town centre, no matter how misguided the Management is put in by Standard Life Investments,” Paterson wrote on Facebook.
Thistles spokesperson Hannah Collett said in a statement to Yahoo Lifestyle, “While we are sympathetic with the Legion of Mary’s request to have a nativity scene in Thistles Shopping Centre, we are unfortunately unable to accommodate it. As is common amongst shopping centres, our policy is to support our local community in celebrating the festive season without affiliating with any specific religions or beliefs.”
Other religious leaders have stepped in to defend the Legion of Mary’s vocal opposition of the nativity set ban. A Church of Scotland spokesperson told Yahoo Lifestyle, “We find it very disappointing that the true meaning of Christmas has been completely lost here. When a shopping centre can focus purely on commercialism to the exclusion of the reason for the celebration of Christmas it is a sad day for all of us.” A spokesman for the Catholic Archdiocese of St Andrews & Edinburgh even called the move “Grinch-like,” according to the Daily Mail, adding, “In the true spirit of Christmas, we would ask them to reconsider.”
Shoppers have also taken to Thistles’ Facebook page to voice their concerns about the ban. One of them wrote, “This centre has just insulted the Christian community of Stirling and central Scotland by its refusal to display a scene from the nativity for fear of upsetting other faiths, but advertise Christmas shopping.” Another called Thistles’ refusal to “acknowledge the true meaning of Christmas” a “disgrace,” and said they are “utterly ashamed and embarrassed” to come from a hometown that would “prefer to focus on commercialism” than the “true meaning” of the holiday.
Paterson told Yahoo Lifestyle she still holds out hope that Thistles officials will change their mind, but in the meantime, she’s happy with the response she’s been getting from fellow community members. “All are saying keep Christ in Christmas,” she said. “It’s the reason for the season.”

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