California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom received this year’s “Ebenezer Award” for being “the year’s biggest Scrooge” after canceling the state’s annual Christmas tree lighting festival and choosing to skip a menorah lighting ceremony.
“In canceling one of California’s most cherished holiday traditions and skipping another, Newsom can rightly be dubbed the Governor who stole Christmas and Hanukkah,” said Mark Rienzi, president and CEO of Becket, a law firm specializing in religious liberty cases involving all different faiths.
“Each year the Christmas and Hanukkah season inspires a slew of outrageous offenses against the free exercise of religion,” Becket said in a statement. This year, the 56-year-old California governor was “the most outrageous offender” against the spirit of the season, the law firm said.
The California Democrat, who is widely rumored to be a potential 2024 presidential candidate, has been governor of California since 2018. Under Newsom’s leadership, California saw some of the harshest COVID lockdowns in the country, with church attendance heavily restricted for over a year. With many families and individuals moving out of the state in recent years, under Newsom’s leadership, California also experienced its first recorded population decline in 2021 and again in 2022.
This December, Newsom closed to the public the annual Christmas tree lighting at the state capitol, replacing the nearly 100-year-old tradition with a prerecorded virtual ceremony on Dec. 6 that was attended by the governor’s family and select guests.
A spokesperson for the governor’s office said that the ceremony was moved to the closed virtual format because of concerns about anti-Israel protests disrupting the event, according to the Los Angeles Times.
In an interview with Fox Los Angeles reporter Elex Michaelson, Newsom said: “We just couldn’t risk” a demonstration at the Christmas tree lighting ceremony.
“Rather than allow all Californians to ring in the Christmas season at the capital,” Becket said, “the governor invited only his family and a few select guests.”
In the Tuesday press release announcing Newsom as this year’s Ebenezer Award winner, Rienzi criticized Newsom’s decision to cancel the Christmas tree lighting festival, saying that “all Americans should be able to come together in a spirit of joy and hope at the holidays.”
Likening Newsom to the Grinch, Rienzi said: “We hope the governor’s heart will grow three sizes next year so that Californians can once again celebrate their annual holidays with joy.”
“While there will always be those who seek to divide us,” Rienzi went on, “the Christmas and Hanukkah season serves as an important reminder of our need to live together in peace despite our differences.”
Past ‘Ebenezer Award’ winners
In 2022 Becket awarded King County, Washington, the Ebenezer Award for banning holiday decorations in employee video backgrounds. The county’s Department of Human Resources told employees that they should not display Nativity sets, menorahs, and other religious holiday displays because they could be offensive to their colleagues.
The 2021 Ebenezer Award went to the Brookings, Oregon City Council for restricting church efforts to feed the homeless.