That Church Calendar Christmas Crunch

In the beginning, there were humble Nativity pageants for the kids and Christmas choir extravaganzas for the grown-ups.As the decades passed, some big Protestant churches began hiring orchestras and buying advertisements, creating a music-ministries arms race that pitted the Baptists against the Pentecostals and the Presbyterians against the Methodists. Some prosperous churches even began moving these performances on stage or outdoors, adding elaborate sets, costumes and lights. But the leaders … [Read more...]

About those ‘secular’ menorahs

When it comes to decorating tabernacles and temples, the God of Israel cares about the fine details.Consider these Exodus instructions: "Thou shalt make a candlestick of pure gold: of beaten work shall the candlestick be made: his shaft, and his branches, his bowls, his knops, and his flowers, shall be of the same. And six branches shall come out of the sides of it; three branches of the candlestick out of the one side, and three branches of the candlestick out of the other side."Counting the … [Read more...]

Skipping the 12 days of Christmas

It was around 200 A.D., according to St. Clement of Alexandria, that theologians in Egypt settled on May 20 as the birthday of Jesus, while others argued for dates in April and March.This wasn't a major issue, since early Christians emphasized the Epiphany on Jan. 6, marking Christ's baptism. Then sometime before 354, Rome began celebrating the Feast of the Nativity on Dec. 25. Eastern churches kept using different dates, but the Roman custom became the norm by the end of the 4th century."It was … [Read more...]

Santa Claus vs. St. Nicholas?

We see the headlines every two or three years during the holidays.A pastor preaches on the true meaning of Christmas, warning about sins of selfishness and materialism. Then, in a moment of candor, disaster strikes.This time the dateline was Santa Fe Springs, Calif. Local newspapers, followed by national wire services, reported that Father Ruben Rocha of St. Pius X Catholic School did something shocking during a Mass for students in kindergarten through third grade. He told the children that … [Read more...]

Oy Joy! Merry Chrismukkah

At first it seemed normal to Michelle Gompertz to be sitting in an Indian restaurant listing to Kenny G recordings of pop Christmas carols.Then she grew disoriented. This Indian restaurant was in New Deli. She was surrounded by Hindu culture, but nobody thought twice about listening to the same holiday saxophone Muzak that would be playing in American shopping malls."I knew that Christmas was everywhere. But it really hit me," said Gompertz, the daughter of a United Church of Christ pastor in … [Read more...]

Deja vu Nativity wars

Another Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Winter Solstice season has come and gone, but the lawyers will be cleaning up for quite a while.Things got rough on the church-state front. Pick a zip code.Firefighters in Glenview, Ill., were ordered to take down their station's lights, tree and Santa when neighbors said they were offended.A pastor in Chandler, Ariz., was grieved when the public library set up a display of readings about Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, but not Christmas. Instead of adding … [Read more...]

What is a ‘carol’ anyway?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Second of two columns on traditional carols.The story begins with the Empress Helena, who commanded that the relics of the Wise Men of the East be brought to Byzantium.These three skulls were eventually taken to Milan and, in 1162, to Cologne. According to folk tradition, the relics made their journey from Bethlehem to Cologne in three ships. As minstrels kept singing the songs, the destination changed and so did the identity of the travelers.The result was a carol: "I saw three … [Read more...]

A Caroling We (Don’t) Go

Sometime just before Christmas, maestro Patrick Kavanaugh will gather a few friends to take part in a quietly subversive public rite.Slipping from house to house under cover of darkness, it is their intention to sing pieces of explicit, doctrinal religious music to family, neighbors and even strangers. They do this every year, even if it is snowing.Historians refer to this rare activity as "Christmas caroling.""People really do love it," said Kavanaugh, conductor for the Christian Performing … [Read more...]


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