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‘Christ’ is back in Christmas at B.C. mall that didn’t like it when Salvation Army carollers sang about Jesus

‘Christ’ is back in Christmas at B.C. mall that didn’t like it when Salvation Army carollers sang about Jesus
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A British Columbia mall that disapproved of Christian Christmas carols being performed at a Salvation Army fundraising event on its premises has backtracked, assuring the charity that two songs about the birth of Jesus won’t be banned from future shows under the mall’s prohibition on religious music.

The Pine Centre Mall in Prince George, B.C., has restored the Christ in Christmas, with management deciding over the weekend that Mary’s Boy Child and Go Tell It On The Mountain don’t threaten its ability to remain non-partisan and non-sectarian.

Neil Wilkinson, the captain of the Salvation Army’s Prince George chapter, says he was standing to the side of a small concert his organization held to kickstart its annual Christmas kettle campaign on Friday afternoon when the mall’s promotions manager informed him that the carols a local trio was singing in front of them violated Pine Centre policy.

“I chose to shut things down before it compromised any relationships the Salvation Army has in the community,” he said.

As it turns out, Wilkinson need not have fretted. He says another mall official told him the following day that the two carols constituted “traditional Christmas music” and, as such, were permissible forms of expression at the mall despite their lyrics’ constant references to Jesus, the Lord, the Bible and Christianity.

I chose to shut things down before it compromised any relationships the Salvation Army has in the community

The American composer Jester Hairston wrote Mary’s Boy Child in 1956 to hail the long-ago birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem: “Hark, now hear the angels sing, a king was born today / And man will live for evermore, because of Christmas Day.” Go Tell It On The Mountain, meanwhile, is an African-American spiritual that exhorts people to disperse “over the hills and everywhere” to proclaim Jesus’ birth.

The group that sang Mary’s Boy Child and Go Tell It On The Mountain opened their set with two other songs, at which point the promotions director approached Wilkinson to ask for the noise level to be toned down. The musicians were using guitar amps rather than performing acoustically, an expectation Wilkinson said the Salvation Army forgot to tell them about.

Wilkinson said the promotions director continued to stand beside him and expressed her misgivings when Mary’s Boy Child and Go Tell It On The Mountain were played.

Pine Centre Mall’s general manager, Rachel Olson, did not return calls seeking comment before deadline on Monday. She told the Prince George Citizen newspaper that the carol flap was “just a misunderstanding and miscommunication amongst all parties … The Salvation Army and Pine Centre Mall have an amazing relationship that goes back years and they will continue to be here and we will continue to support them in all the ways that we can.”

If our carolling is not helpful, well, then we’re happy to pull back

In future, Wilkinson said, mall management has asked to approve in advance any carolling the Salvation Army wants to hold at its kettle location. He added that he and Olson came to a verbal understanding on Saturday that Mary’s Boy Child and Go Tell It On The Mountain would be allowed at future shows.

The Salvation Army has launched its kettle fundraising campaign with musical performances at the mall for several years running, dating to before Wilkinson became the local captain eight Christmases ago. He said a few singers have told him they’d like to perform there later this holiday season, but noted he’d refrain from organizing more carolling if that’s what the public prefers.

“Our goal as the Salvation Army is to be a source of hope in the community,” Wilkinson said. “If our carolling is not helpful, well, then we’re happy to pull back.”

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