'Christmas' back for Patchogue parade - fireworks are not

The 2008 Patchogue Holiday Boat Parade along the The 2008 Patchogue Holiday Boat Parade along the Patchogue River. Photo Credit: Newsday File / Kathy Kmonicek

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The organizers of the annual Patchogue boat parade have decided to restore the word "Christmas" to the event's title - but they will sideline the man who ignited a controversy over last year's parade name.

The parade, which began in the mid-'90s, was named "Patchogue Holiday Boat Parade" by last year's organizers in an effort they said was intended to make the event more inclusive. The renaming angered Philip Butler, a vice president of Brookhaven-based Fireworks by Grucci and a self-appointed "Christmas cop" who opposes the secularization of Christmas.

Grucci donated $5,000 in fireworks to the 2007 parade, called "Patchogue Christmas Boat Parade," but pulled support from last year's event, which drew 500 fewer spectators than usual.

This year's event, scheduled for Sunday at 6 p.m. along the Patchogue River, will be called "Christmas Holiday Boat Parade," said Michael Bruemmer, chairman of the Patchogue Riverfront Committee, a group of merchants and boaters hosting the event.

Bruemmer said organizers picked the new name because "it is respectful of the people in the parade that celebrate Christmas, and it invites everyone else who celebrate their holidays, other than Christmas, to come celebrate with us."

But Butler's attempt to take part in the rechristened parade was rebuffed.

Butler offered to donate Grucci fireworks and produce a show for the event. But Bruemmer said the parade "stands on its own" and will go on without fireworks.

Bruemmer added that the parade organizers don't want Butler using the parade to peddle his views, as the event is intended to "invite everyone." Having fireworks also would increase insurance costs for the event, which already costs about $5,000 to put on, Bruemmer said.

"To have someone else, in our name, say, 'We've defeated the heathens and Christmas is back,' is not our message," Bruemmer said.

Butler said he was "disappointed" Grucci will not be asked to provide fireworks, and he had "no intention to save souls by the seashore." But he added that "there's a big, national effort to keep 'Christmas' " in the names of holiday events.

"That's my passion, I'm sorry. If it's during the Christmas season, it's Christmas, it's not a holiday," he said.

Last year, the event, which has used several names over the years, drew about 1,000 spectators to Patchogue's waterfront. Bruemmer said the bad publicity over the name controversy combined with cold weather kept the attendance down, and he expects twice as many people to attend this year.

Last year's event had 17 decorated boats, but this year could have more than 25, he said.

Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri said this year's parade "is really about the community and bringing people together."

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