Denver makes the front page of the New York Times today, with the headline, “A Question of Faith for a Holiday Parade,” about Denver’s dust-up this year when an evangelical Christian group was not allowed to have a float in the Parade of Lights. First off, did you know that our Parade of Lights of Christmas’ past were “bland as butter?”

The star was Santa, not Jesus, and the mood was bouncy, commercial and determinedly secular.

This year, according to the Times, things sparked because Jesus came. Of course, it would be more correct to say that about 500 of his followers walked along the parade route during the hour before the parade to express their faith while giving out hot chocolate and singing Christmas Carols. The Times doesn’t mention that they weren’t really protesters. They took great care not to really cause problems, by setting and following a self-imposed cease-and-desist policy exactly 10 minutes before show time.

Nonetheless, the Times describes the night:

Like a spark in dry tinder, the result was a flare-up that caught even some church leaders by surprise. A holiday rite that had drawn thousands of paradegoers annually suddenly became a symbol, for many Christians, of secular society run amok.

Has the Parade of Lights really become a symbol of tension over religious involvement in civic affairs ? Not exactly. The Times comes back to earth and correctly notes that the parade is really a business proposition–designed by enterprising merchants to lure bodies downtown to shop during the holidays. Note the response by some of the parade’s business sponsors to the controversy: “If they want religion and it’ll bring more shoppers downtown, bring it on” and “Let the market determine the product.”

At the same time, there’s no denying the evangelicals used the parade to hype themselves and their beliefs.

Some of the churches, including Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada, promoted themselves even as the members sang, with free hot chocolate in cups emblazoned with the church’s name, and handy lists of all the participating churches with addresses and a schedule of Christmas services.

So we all learn what we all knew: Christmas indeed is a religious holiday. It also is a commercial one. And one that is recognized by the Government through national closures of schools, government offices and the like. There are millions of non-Christians in the country who celebrate Christmas as a tradition, a seasonal holiday, a children’s delight, a time to share in a sense of community and good cheer. There are also millions who don’t celebrate the holiday or participate in festivities, not wanting to feel co-opted by another group’s religious holiday.

Here’s my solution: Next Christmas, the evangelical churches should apply for a permit and pay for and hold their own Parade of Lights. They can celebrate with all the caroling and hot chocolate they and their congregants can bring. Another night the Synagogues, Hare Krishna, and Wiccan temples can host their own Parade of Lights. Any group who can pay for the electricity, the floats, the advertising, security and whatever else goes into the cost of the event, can do the same. Let’s get the Downtown Denver Partnership out of Christmas. Because no matter what religion you are — and even if you have none — Christmas should be more about spirit, and less about commerce.