Nativity scene questions

Thomas of Spring Lake asked, "How long has the Nativity scene been in place on Dewey Hill?"
Alex Doty
Dec 6, 2013

ANSWER: According to Dr. Dave Seibold's book "In the Path of Destiny," the scene dates back to the mid 1960s when it was first erected.

The book states that: "During the winter Holiday Season the Fountain and Dewey Hill are transformed into a giant Bethlehem for the nightly telling of the Christmas story with eight-foot shepards tending flocks of four-foot sheep, 22-foot angels, 32-foot camels and an equally oversized manger for the Nativity Scene.

"Betty Ellis, who became an accomplished painter after taking it up in her 50s, designed the setting in 1962 and then supervised the construction and painting of the massive wooden figures. In December 1965, Gov. George Romney was present to dedicate the Nativity Scene, the occasion preceded by a parade down Washington Street ending at the Waterfront Stadium where 15,000 people watched as Romney spoke and
then threw the switch."

As a matter of fact, each year, Grand Haven Rotary Club members put up the figures and manger on Dewey Hill so that the story of Christmas can again come alive. During the off-season, the holiday scene is covered from view.

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Should also add in there that it is currently running between 7-9pm with performances at 7:00, 7:15, 7:30, 7:45 and so on... The performance is something like 8 minutes long so there is a bit of delay between shows.

If you cannot hear the audio over the speakers, simply tune your radio to 88.7 FM.

There were a couple small upgrades this year and problems fixed in the programming.


I think this is another gem of Grand Haven. Very often I hear people being critical of the display. While in some ways it is a bit primitive, it is another example of a unique asset that makes Grand Haven great.


It does not belong on city-owned property. Someone should have the guts to sue the city to force its removal.


Why dont you move to somewhere you'll be happier? I hear Detroit has lots of cheap housing....


It is about church and state seperation the reason most are here in america, maybe you should move to a country that supports your view of mixing the two.


Do you really think the city pays to put up this display? You need to do some research into the reasons why it is allowed to operate each year.

I'm not religious by any means, but I don't go out trying to screw up Christian or any other religion's displays, or pushing my own views on others; and don't get me wrong, I am not some devil worshiper either, I am just simply non-religious. I guess the technical term is Agnostic Atheism but I don't like what the term 'Athiest' has come to mean in modern society; basically, I lean more towards scientific explanations for things, BUT I have an open mind and realize there is a chance there is a higher power and am open to the thought of it.

I help others in need, I try my hardest to live life quite humbly and believe I have good morals, I donate to charity, I volunteer countless hours of my time on charity and community service projects (including the fountain, and this year, the Nativity). I even listen to some Christian Music; you can even find me down at Worship on the Waterfront many Sundays listening to and enjoying the concerts simply because I like the music and the positive messages many of the artists send even if I do not follow any religion.

I am for separation of church and state, especially when it gets intrusive with our laws and whatnot, or is forced upon the people, but something passive like the Nativity scene is harmless and it really ticks me off when people trounce all over simple, well-meaning displays like it. Even if you don't believe in the story, what harm is is doing being on the waterfront for a couple weeks each year? It is not overly preachy, and it is mainstream imagery having to do with Christmas. It's not forcing you to listen to its message, it's not running 24/7, and it is not intrusive at all. I fail to see why anyone would have a problem with it.

What's next? Are people going to start freaking out about that Christmas village thing that a local church puts on in Duncan Park (which is a city park)?

To me, the nativity scene on Dewey Hill is almost a museum piece. It is in somewhat rough shape physically, but an artist created all the pieces and the display has been there as long as the fountain. It is almost as cool up close as those 1950's plywood Santa Clauses people put out in their front yards; it is a little slice of Americana.

And like I posted elsewhere in the comments, it is perfectly legal for the Nativity to be where it is at. It is privately sponsored each year.


I appreciate both the tolerance and respect for others, their beliefs and traditions that is apparent in your comment, and the time and energy you have volunteered to the community, particularly your work on Dewey Hill and the nativity scene. You express it so well - it is a little slice of Americana.


Can you help me get a Festivus pole placed on the hill?

9teen percent

Assuming that the Nativity Display is on public property, if you are for the Nativity Display on Dewey Hill—a public property—you are in favor of breaking a law. You are essentially thumbing your nose at the Constitution's First Amendment—the Separation of Church and State Amendment—saying that it doesn't apply to you. I am not doing to obey it. This seems decidedly un-American. Do you, LessThanAmused, want to be un-American?

Instead of the Nativity Display, how about a First Amendment Display. In the center we would have the constitution with the first amendment—the separation of church and state amendment—highlighted, and surrounding that we would have pictures of the founding fathers who gave birth to this idea along with brief statements of what they had to say about the separation of church and state. And then a series of pictures of other famous people who came after the founding fathers leading up to the pictures of the founding fathers—sort of Magi- or Wise Men-like (for those of you who really miss the Nativity Display)—who have also had something to say about the separation of church and state. In essence, thanking or paying homage to the founding fathers for their wisdom.

If you see this as a caricature of the nativity display, you are right. It is. I could say that the devil made me do it. But, since I don’t believe in him either, I’ll take the blame/credit. One could, however, look at this parody of the Nativity Display as a means for helping one transition from the phantasy world of religion to the real world.

SignalMaintainer, I am curious as to what an ‘agnostic atheist’ is? Regarding not liking the term ‘atheist’, everyone is an atheist. If there is a god out there, e.g., Zeus, that you do not believe in, you are an atheist with respect to that god. So if there are a hundred gods out there, a non-religious person is an atheist one more time than a religious person. Furthermore, if you do not like the term atheist—actually, who does—tell people that you are intelligent enough not to be superstitious.


You have no freaking clue what you are talking about.

There is a difference between publicly sponsored and privately sponsored religious displays on public property. Both are legal, but publicly sponsored displays need certain conditions met to be legal.

The Nativity is privately sponsored as far as I know.

Do some research buddy.

' The display of nativity scenes and religious symbols takes on two forms: publicly sponsored and privately sponsored, both of which can be displayed on public property. A publicly sponsored scene is one that is erected and maintained by public officials. A privately sponsored scene is one that is erected and maintained by private citizens. Both are constitutional, and both can be displayed on public property. The main difference is that a publicly sponsored scene should have some form of secular display in the same context, while a privately sponsored scene need not have any secular symbols, but should probably have a sign indicating the display is privately sponsored.

Publicly Sponsored Symbols

An example of a publicly sponsored religious symbol is one that is erected and maintained by city officials on public property. A publicly sponsored holiday display containing a religious symbol should generally include secular symbols. The secular and religious symbols should be within the same parameter of view. For example, a holiday display can include a nativity scene along with Santa Claus, reindeer or a Christmas tree.
What is true for publicly sponsored holiday displays on public property is also true for holiday displays in public schools. A teacher may decorate the classroom with or feature a display having both religious and secular symbols of the holiday.

Privately Sponsored Symbols

A privately sponsored religious symbol can also be displayed on public property. The main difference is that the display is sponsored by private citizens. Privately sponsored scenes are more common in public parks where citizens are allowed to engage in expressive activity. In most public parks, citizens are allowed to hold gatherings and erect displays. To prohibit religious expression in a public forum where other expressive activity is permitted violates the Constitution.
In a privately sponsored scene, secular symbols are unnecessary. In order to clearly designate that the display is privately sponsored, a sign can be erected, similar to the following example: AThis display is privately sponsored by XYZ Company.@ However, such a sign is not mandatory. Private holiday displays of religious symbols on public property are permissible under the Free Speech Clause.

deuce liti

" Do you, LessThanAmused, want to be un-American?"

Of course American means the rape and plunder of it's 90% as the facade of freedom is sold to the highest bidder using lobbyists as middle men.

"you are intelligent enough not to be superstitious."

It's funny you'd say that when Einstein believed in God and said, "Nationalism is a disease."


Maybe you should use more than 19% of your brain when you speak / type?


Who do you think should have the guts?


It would be a dicey proposition. The people in this town would probably firebomb the house of anyone who filed suit, all in the good name of Christianity, of course.

deuce liti

I think the real question should be: why is the nativity scene not in the bible?


...and Happy Hanukkkah (although it was early this year, and now done), Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Solstice, and not all of Grand Haven's residents are Christian. Sheesh!


Nobody said they were all christian Baba...they're just one group who has the unalienable right to profess the faith of their choice, just like all the other beliefs. It'd be hard to argue with the fact though that Christianity has a bigger fan base than most of the others in this area at least.

For me personally, not that you can use whatever crutch you think you need to get thru the day, as long as you don't try to beat me up with your beliefs. I have an extremely low tolerance for missionaries. I know very little about the Jewish faith, but I don't get indignant every time I see a Menora displayed somewhere in public. A bit of tolerance for others and a live and let live attitude would go along way towards improving the quality of life for all.


9teen percent- Show me in the US Constitution where is says Separation of Church and state.


I'd like my beliefs to be recognized on the hill as well. I will personally sponsor the placing of an aluminum pole on the top of Dewey Hill in recognition of Festivus.

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