"Oh, we know you were here," a city official told me Monday, after I'd returned from my undercover mission to inventory the shlock and awe that is Denver's annual holiday display on the steps of City Hall -- and then explain why, exactly, it's legal to have a Nativity scene at a a public facility.
Short answer: put out enough crap -- a Snowman, eight country-music-playing elves -- to balance out the figures in the Nativity, and the display becomes a celebration of the season, not a religious scene. And then there's Santa, of course, who these days apparently stands not just for crass commercialism but Big Brotherism: He knows when you've been sleeping, he knows when you're awake, he knows when you've been bad or good... or visiting City Hall.
Is there a SantaCam in the holiday display?
That's just another question that's going unanswered, along with these:
-- Where the hell did all these things come from? -- What are those alleged elves, who look like they're imitating the Country Bears? -- Can any citizen donate items for the display, to make it even more secular and celebratory?
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But after talking Tuesday with George Seviers, a city employee who used to oversee the display and retired in 2001, I have another question: What happened to the giant toy soldiers that used to stand guard at the bottom of the steps?
The soldiers were made in a city workshop, Seviers says, and were a longtime favorite of those coming to see the light display. Today, a couple of Christmas trees stand in their place.
Why were the soldiers withdrawn without an eighteen-month notice?
Maybe Santa knows.