A Holy Thanksgiving

As October quickly turned to November, jack-o-lanterns and costumes were replaced by Christmas carols and Internet outrage over holiday cups. Every year we go from Halloween to Christmas with little space carved out for Thanksgiving.

There is no question that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Many times I have remarked that Thanksgiving is one of the greatest days of the year, that I cannot wait to go home, that Christmas needs to wait until December. Come every November, I begin my internal countdown, growing more excited each day closer to this holy holiday.

We often reserve the word “holy” for holidays such as Christmas and Easter, but for a multi-faith family such as my own, a holiday grounded in something more substantial than – let’s say trees for Arbor Day – while still allowing everyone to come with their own religious identity is not only a privilege, but a gift.

Who Was St. Patrick, and Would He Drink Green Beer?

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons / RNS

St. Patrick of Ireland. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons / RNS

For Catholics, Episcopalians and some Lutherans, March 17 is the Feast Day of St. Patrick. For the rest of us, it’s St. Patrick’s Day — a midweek excuse to party until we’re green in the face. But who was Patrick? Did he really drive the snakes out of Ireland or use the shamrock to explain the Trinity? Why should this fifth-century priest be remembered on this day?

Q: Was St. Patrick a real guy, and would he approve of green beer?

A: Yes, Patrick was a real person, but not much is known of his life. He was born in the late 300s when the Roman Empire extended to England, so he was not “really” Irish — like the vast majority of people who celebrate his day. In his “Confessio,” one of only two surviving documents attributed to him, Patrick wrote that while his father was a Christian deacon, he was not devout. At age 16, Patrick was captured by Irish marauders, carried across the Irish Sea and enslaved. Patrick spent six years alone in the wilderness tending his master’s sheep, praying constantly. “It was among foreigners that it was seen how little I was,” he wrote. He began to have visions and hear voices that told him: “Look, your ship is ready.” So Patrick left his first flock and walked 200 miles to the coast. It’s a pretty safe bet he would have loved a beer, green or otherwise, as he stepped into a boat bound for England.

The Underside of Thanksgiving

Photo via mythja/

I love Thanksgiving.

I love the food, the fellowship, the friends and family, the football, and did I mention that I love the food.  Unashamedly it might very well be my favorite holiday.  Yet, despite all my warm feelings about Thanksgiving, I am not blind to its historical shortcomings. 

As Jane Kamensky says, “…holidays say much less about who we really were in some specific Then, than about who we want to be in an ever changing Now.” I think she’s right about this.  In so many cases, our national celebrations and observances are mere expressions of our collective aspirations and not our actuality.  One clear example of this is the history and practice of the Thanksgiving holiday.

As it goes, every year people throughout this nation gather for a commemorative feast of sorts where we give praises to God for the individual and collective blessings bestowed upon us.  This tradition goes back to the 17th century when the New England colonists, also known as pilgrims, celebrated their first harvest in the New World. 

On the surface, this seems harmless enough but a closer reading of history tells a more dubious story. 

On 9/11 Anniversary, a Survivor Seeks a National Day of Discussion

The twin towers of the World Trade Center, shown along the skyline in New York City. Photo via Shuttershuck/RNS.

As a survivor of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, I worry about how we will remember that tragic day 50, 100, even 200 years from now.

I worry because our nation does a poor job of commemorating our most historic heroes and events. Our efforts to honor history consistently lead to one of two disappointing outcomes.

Our official holidays have become increasingly commercialized. Consider the relatively recent exploitation of Thanksgiving and Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Virtually all other anniversaries have been marginalized. Consider how little attention is paid each summer to the July 20th anniversary of the first Apollo moon landing, one of humanity’s most impressive achievements.

Be a Light

Lighting display, Champiofoto /

Lighting display, Champiofoto /

Light is important to us. Those of us who live in the Midwest are reminded of how much we need it during this time of year. The sun sets early. On so many days, our sunlight is tinged with gray as it seeps through the clouds.

Light seems to be in short supply.

All of the festive holiday Christmas lights have been put away, leaving the darkness unchecked. We recently had religious celebrations that involved lighting candles on our menorahs, on our advent wreaths and our dinner tables. Many people celebrated the birth of a Jewish rabbi who urges everyone to be a light to the world.

Don’t wait for someone else to bring the light. Be the light.

The Christmas Wars Are Over, And Christmas Won

Nancy Bauer/Shutterstock

Nancy Bauer/Shutterstock

If there is indeed a “War on Christmas,” those on the anti-Christmas side of the war have lost — big time.

The television pundits, conservative politicians, and talk-radio loudmouths who believe there is a “War on Christmas” should look around, withdraw their troops, and quit screaming. Because if there is a war on Christmas, Christmas has won.

As Christmas approaches, tens of thousands of churches around the country are planning Christmas services and expecting packed pews. Their choirs are rehearsing Christmas music; and church members have taken the Nativity scene figures out of storage and put them on church lawns. Children costumed as kings and shepherds are learning to sing “Away in the Manger.”

Christmas cards with manger scenes are speeding around the country through the U.S. Postal Service or in the form of online animated greetings that play “Silent Night” and show the wise men following the star to Bethlehem.

Christmas in America: Belief in the Virgin Birth and Visits from Santa

Cookies and milk left for Santa. Photo courtesy Shutterstock / via RNS

Nearly one in three Americans, including many with no little children at home and those with no religious identity, say they pretend Santa will visit their house on Christmas Eve.

Overall, 31 percent of  U.S. adults play up the Santa role in their holiday season, according to a survey released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center.

Jesus, however, is still the star of Christmas.

What Do We Mean By 'Putting Christ Back in Christmas'?

Details of stained glass window depicting baby Jesus at Christmas. Nancy Bauer / Shutterstock

Brace yourselves. The calendar has turned over to December, which means that the inevitable discussion on the War on Christmas will soon see its opening salvo for 2013.   

It is inevitable. There will be an outrage by a prominent figure about how we have lost our moral fabric because as someone was buying gifts with money they dont have to impress people that they dont always like, the cashier will commit the unthinkable sin of wishing us a Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas.

There will be gnashing of teeth as a town or city somewhere will have a Holiday Parade rather than a Christmas Parade, as Tulsa had done several years ago. (The parade was subsequently boycotted by one of its senators.)

The chorus of those who would profess to be Christians will shout that the Political Correctness Police have overstepped yet another boundary and that we should not take the Christ out of Christmas” as the batch of perceived slights against Christendom freshly reveal themselves for this holiday season. 

As a person who would say that Jesus is the most important thing in my life, who has devoted my life to the service of Gods Kingdom, and spends all of my waking moments trying be faithful to that devotion, I have to ask: What exactly do we mean by putting the Christ back in Christmas'?

It's Started: The Christmas Onslaught

Monkik / Shutterstock

A Christmas card. Monkik / Shutterstock

It's started.

I was following the Twitter feed for the conversation between Nadia Bolz-Weber and Amy Butler at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. (#nadiaandamy) about the present realities and possible futures of Christianity in the United States, and it happened. I was happily dividing my cognitive attentions between Twitter and the television when it happened.

There was a Christmas ad.

Dear Congress, This Holiday Season, Don’t Make the Poor Poorer

photo   © 2008   Krista , Flickr

photo © 2008 Krista , Flickr

A lot of ink, pixels, and air have been used on the potential effects of the so-called “fiscal cliff.” While many experts say that “cliff” is a misnomer (it’s more of long slope in the wrong direction), there is at least broad agreement that it’s not the right direction for the country’s long-term health.

We’ve heard a lot about the potential effects on Wall Street, our nation’s credit rating, and even the military. But little has been said about the devastating consequences for our nation and the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people — or for the charities and non-profits that serve them.  

This week, the Circle of Protection, released an open letter to the president and Congress with a simple message: during the holidays, please “advance policies that protect the poor — not ones that make them poorer.”