The Ebenezer Award

Becket's annual award to the year's biggest Scrooge

Each year Becket reflects on the most absurd affronts to the Christmas and Hanukkah season, producing a list of outrageous offenders and handing the most scandalous holiday season transgressor a present worse than coal itself: The Ebenezer Award.

The 2023 Ebenezer Award Winner:

Governor Gavin Newsom

The most outrageous offender of this year’s Christmas and Hanukkah season, and Becket’s 2023 Ebenezer Award winner, is California Governor Gavin Newsom, who canceled the state’s annual in-person Christmas tree lighting and skipped the menorah lighting traditionally attended by the governor. As if to combine the two slights, the governor said he was canceling the live Christmas tree lighting over fears that anti-Israel protestors would cause disruption.

Governor Newsom and First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom announced in a press release on December 6 that the annual Christmas tree lighting—which was set to feature a Christmas market and live music—would instead be streamed on the Governor’s social media accounts. Newsom’s reason for moving the longstanding tradition to a virtual format was the recent flurry of anti-Israel protests which he feared would disrupt the festivities. Rather than allow all Californians to ring in the Christmas season at the capital, the Governor invited only his family and a few select guests. 

“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. “We hope Governor’s heart will grow three sizes next year, so that Californians can once again celebrate their annual holidays with joy.” 

Each year the Christmas and Hanukkah season inspires a slew of outrageous offenses against the free exercise of religion. At Becket, we do Santa’s dirty work for him, delivering a lump of coal as an acknowledgment of scroogery on a grand scale. Previous Ebenezer Award winners include the American Humanist Association, which tried to stop schools from sending care packages to children in need; the Department of Veteran Affairs, which banned employees at its Salem, Virginia facility from saying “Merry Christmas” to veterans; and the University of Minnesota, which banned from campus holiday colors, Santas, bows, dreidels, and even wrapped presents. (See list of previous winners).   

Finally, this year’s Eggnog Toast, given to an individual or group who has shown persistence in the face of adversity, goes to the Chabad Williamsburg and Rabbi Herber for putting on a Menorah lighting ceremony. In early December, Virginia non-profit LoveLight Placemaking refused to host menorah lighting in part because it did not want to appear to be “supporting the killing/bombing of thousands of men, women & children” in the Israel-Hamas war. In response, Chabad Williamsburg and Rabbi Herber decided to host one of their own so that local Jewish residents could celebrate the beginning of Hannukah. More than 250 people attended the lighting.   

“All Americans should be able to come together in a spirit of joy and hope at the holidays,” said Rienzi. “While there will always be those who seek to divide us, the Christmas and Hanukkah season serves as an important reminder of our need to live together in peace despite our differences.” 

Becket wishes everyone a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, and a joyous New Year! 


See Previous Year’s Winners


What is the Proper Role of Government in Religious Displays?

  1. Because religious holidays are an important part of human culture, governments are allowed to recognize and celebrate those holidays with appropriate symbols.
  2. The Supreme Court has long upheld government holiday displays that send “a message of pluralism and freedom of belief during the holiday season,” including displays that have distinctive religious elements.
  3. Although public opinion and the law are on the side of religious holidays, some bureaucrats insist on scrubbing the public square of any religious references. This often leads to absurd results.
  4. One fairly recent tactic is to try to force local governments to permit displays that mock or belittle religion if the government permits displays that recognize religious holidays. But that’s not the law. Just as the government doesn’t have to include a pacifist memorial next to every war memorial, it doesn’t have to include mockery of religion next to every crèche or Christmas tree.