Nov. 28, 2006
Nov. 30, 2006

Nov. 29, 2006


You can find other sources for breaking news about Pope Benedict XVI's trip to Turkey, so I thought that here you might want to see some different commentary and analysis. Click here for a piece about how Turkey has been moving toward a more Islamic identity. For Catholic commentator Maggie Gallagher's take on the trip, click here. For an interesting editorial about the trip from a Lebanese perspective, click here. And for a CBS News reporter's notebook about the journey, click here.

* * *


This past weekend, my bride and I went for a wedding anniversary getaway to Weston, Mo., just north of Kansas City.

Weston1We both grew up in small towns (Weston's population is about 4,000) and now and then like to spend time in them.

Because it was the post-Thanksgiving shopping weekend, the little shops downtown were filled with customers and an amazing amount of stuff. And I began to ponder how a small town Christmas shopping experience is any different from going to a mega-mall. I also began to think about what either experience has to do with the birth of Jesus.

I know that it's probably easier on my brain just to enjoy wandering through the shops and looking at the candles and ornaments, jewelry and junk. But my brain has a mind of its own and often goes wandering into uncharted territory without my permission.

Anyway, if I have to go Christmas shopping, I prefer not to do it at a mall. So right off the bat Weston or any small town beats any mall.

Weston4Instead of a cloned Santa Claus, for instance, in Weston you get Father Christmas wandering the streets, as he's done there for about 20 years in the employ of local merchants through the Chamber of Commerce and visitors bureau. He'll even stop to have his picture taken with journalists.

If you press Father Christmas, as I did a little, you discover his real name is Tom Hooper, and he really does enjoy this seasonal work.

But if we're talking about what Christmas really is -- or should be -- about, how is buying a locally made work of art in a small town, say, different from buying a big-screen TV at a mall? Yes, I'd rather support a local artist than a foreign TV-making company, but that would be true completely aside from the Christmas season and completely aside from enjoying the fact that Gravy the cat lives in and wanders around in downtown Weston pretty much at will.

Weston12What happens, whether at a mall or in a small town, is that we begin to mix and merge our secular customs with our religious ones, and the result is, I think, a dimunition of religious meaning.

What can it possibly mean to have a Santa Claus statue painted with the words "Peace on Earth"? Isn't that like having a stuffed Easter Bunny wearing a T-shirt that says, "He is risen"?

Weston11I'm really not trying to be Scrooge here. I love Christmas. I love watching my children and grandchildren give and get gifts.

But those of us who are Christian, I think, get swept along by a culture, and thus we continue to move farther away from celebrating the incarnation. And if Christmas for Christians isn't about the incarnation, why celebrate it at all?

To read my latest Kansas City Star work, click here.



I have long held the dream for a family Christmas without presents. Being an Oregon kid, my dream would be to rent a large house in the snowy hills surrounding Mt. Hood. My parents, my daughters, my brothers and their families, my aunts, my cousins would all be invited. Food, warm fires in the fireplace, music...the Gift of Family.

Something like this kinda happened one year when a bit of a freezing rain storm hit my parent's home while we were celebrating. It became pretty evident rather quickly that we would all be spending the night together. I was married with my two daughters (about 10 and 8), one brother and his wife and my other brother shared the evening. What made this Christmas so memorable was not the presents shared. Frankly, I have no idea what was given and received that Christmas Eve. Instead, my parents still lived in the neighborhood in which my brothers and I grew up. As the ice continued to mount, my brothers and I opted to relive our childhood, went into Mom and Dad's garage and found our old sleds. We then took to "The Hill", along with my daughters, to go sledding. Sharing my childhood with my daughters and reliving those innocent days with my brothers, became the Christmas I've most treasured all these years.

Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward All,


I was totally surprised by the Vatican's 180 degree turn on Turkey's membership in the EU. If the Catholic Church gives its support to Turkey with the totality of its previous opposition, it will truly be a major shift.

The New York Times reports this morning:

>" “He said, ‘You know we don’t have a political role, but we wish for Turkey’s entry into the E.U.,’ ” Mr. Erdogan said the pope told him. “His wish is a positive recommendation for us.”

Although the Vatican does not play a formal role in the European Union, or delve publicly into domestic matters of other states..."<

I beg to differ, vehemently. I can't think of any other religious leader more involved in politics around the world. Yes, there are many others, too, but none with the world-wide stage, hierarchal organization, and personal control of the Pope. Witness the U.S. Bishops during the 2004 presidential elections. To say the Catholic Church was not actively involved in US domestic politics is disingenuous at least.

Sorry, I don't mean to pick on the Pope exclusively. There are several "Jewish" lobbying organizations that I feel overstep the line between religious and civic leadership. But there is no "Pope" in Judaism, Islam, or most Christian denominations.

The NPR story I mentioned last night ( ) points out that while the Vatican is urging a more secular Turkey (99% Muslim), it's also pushing for a more spiritual Europe (80%++ Christian), especially in France.

Mary Behr

Thank you Donna. We work with what we have. And with an open heart, anything is possible. Beautiful images of snow and sledding and sharing time with your family.

Bill,looking good with Father Christmas.

The angel of the Lord picked my husband and I up by the hair of our heads and dropped us in S. California several years ago to be near our children. My husband and I had the privilege of celebrating Christmas Morning with Mass and having a quiet day of reflection on our own as one daughter and her family spent the day with her in-laws. Our 4 children and grandchildren gathered the next day to share with us their presence and presents. Being daily communicants, my husband and I had gone through each day of the season of Advent with appropriate hymns and scripture readings in anticipation of Christmas day.

This year, the first one after the death of my husband, I shall have to go with my daughter to Vigil Mass on Christmas eve and then spend Christmas Day with that daughter’s family and her in-laws--the latter are not churchgoers and for them Christmas means family and the grandchildren opening presents.

Well,I could fret, but I think the angel of the Lord dropped me into this situation as well, so I shall go with a quiet mind and open heart. I love all those people. My other children will come the day after as usual. We will miss my husband (father and grandfather) but we will be together. And still able to attend daily Mass, through the kindness of a handful of helpful drivers, I count my blessings. I get to help weekdays by taking turns leading hymns. And I love the Advent hymns. Get shivers when I sing O Come O Come Immanuel. Hemmingway (?) wrote that Paris is a moveable feast. I use that idea for any and all celebrations. And now, the “Holiday Cactus” I bought several years ago, is now once again a “Christmas Cactus” in the mall – which it always was in my heart. It is in full white bloom on my small patio along with a new ceramic nativity piece to delight the eyes of other residents passing by. My husband would be pleased.

Peace to you all in this beautiful season.

Mary Behr

Appreciate your comments as always, Keith. Complex issues.

We pray that the Pope's trip has some good results for all and that he returns safely to Rome.
(the same goes for Pres. Bush, sigh--but that is iffy as far as good results, whatever they are).

As for the Catholic (and other) churches in U.S. they can enter into the discussion of issues, but not candidates. Can't control what some "Catholics" or others do or say.


"And if Christmas for Christians isn't about the incarnation, why celebrate it at all?"

So true, Bill.

Your namesake, Bill O'Reilley, holds himself out to be the great defender of Christmas in our secular culture, but he totally caves in to the secularists by claiming we're celebrating the birth of "Jeus the philosopher." What a sell-out. If we can't celebrate Christmas as the birtday of Jesus, the Son of God, why pretend to celebrate it for religious reasons at all?


Mary, I have this great faith that your daily love and devotion keeps your late husband's spirit very much alive. He will be there with you daily at Mass, with and in the hymns. After all, he wrapped you in his love for many years. That doesn't just go away. I do hear the pain in transition and will pray for you.

Joe Barone

I'm not a great historian, but wasn't Christmas itself incorporated into some pagan holiday? Maybe it works the other way too. Maybe the culture is a bit Christianized by Christmas just as Christ's birth is commercialized. You can worship in the temple or the synangogue, hide in your church or go out into the world. Both ways have their price.

Dolores Lear

I was a LC-MS and we always had a Children's Christmas Eve program about Jesus' Birth. When we returned home Santa had been there, so we always had Christmas on Christmas Eve.

When I was about 6 and my brother 4, Santa was there when we got home. We recited our parts in the program, and were thrilled to see Santa. I was probably 7 before I did not believe in Santa. Children today are probably younger.

It is Time to put Christ (Anointed) back into Christmas, and stop all the secular practices that do not do the work. Jesus started when he was here, to Share Equally the resources with each other, and not carry a gun or kill our brothers/sisters. What happened to this Lifestyle Jesus taught?

My husband and daughter and son, and my family always had Christmas on Christmas Eve and we had it with his family, not Lutherans, on Christmas Day, so that was one pressure that some people have today, that we did not have.

But the pressure of gift giving after prosperity, when everyone had everything, was awful. We finally quit giving friends and family gifts, except for the children.

I was not one to give something cooked or made by hand, so was glad to be out of that pressure. Why do we do this? I received many gifts I did not really want, and garage sales were popular and could get rid of them or gave to to Salvation Army. What a waste in a way.

Anyway Seasons Greetings, to All, even Keith with their version of Christmas, and to Athiests if we have any on the Blog.

May we finally return to Sharing All with All and have the Peace on Earth Jesus taught and lived.


Amen, amen, Bill. And Donna. It always make me crazy when people are worrying about the Christmas signs at Target and whether or not they read "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas". You won't find Christ through the action of shopping in malls. Why advertise the name on a sign?

I count myself fortunate to have grown up with few material goods. My parents had been poor and my mother used to recount the story of her best Christmas to us each Christmas.

She was born and raised on a dusty prairie homestead in Colorado, where the family lived first in a soddy and then in a tiny frame house. Her German father and Czech mother built the little farm into a successful ranch with a large herd of cattle.

Then, inexplicably, her father bought a house in southern Missouri and planned a move. It was sight unseen. He made the purchase after having seen a picture of the lovely farmhouse with roses climbing all over the front porch and fences, in a farming magazine.

Not surprisingly, the purchase and the move were a disaster. All the cattle were lost, herding them from the high altitude of Colorado to the low of Missouri. My uncle once described the soil of the farm so bad that, "You couldn't even raise hell there."

Things went from bad to worse over the next couple of years as the family was losing the farm and everything else. My grandfather, a gentle and kind and well-loved man, began hitchhiking to Kansas City to look for work. One Christmas he was to hitchhike back and arrive the week before Christmas. But two days before the holiday and there was no father. A day before and he still wasn't home. The family of nine little children lived in terror that the disaster of the move had now taken their most loved Papa.

It was mid-morning Christmas Day that he made it home. He had walked most of the way because there was so little traffic during the holidays. He had one orange for each child and a little hard candy. And my mother and all her siblings would insist, for the rest of their lives, that it was the best Christmas they ever had. Because the family was all together.

My own family has born hearing this story each Christmas. They endure my edicts against purchased goods and gatherings to make gifts and popcorn strings and the mandatory Christmas Eve church, with remarkable good will. (I have a child who swears that the word "holy" surely must have been created when Jesus looked down at his fingers after HIS mother made him thread a needle through rock-hard cranberries.)

Here are my wishes for all here to have love and family and Christ in your lives during this blessed season.


Christmas is about being together, midnight mass on Christmas eve, all the girls helping me cook - yeah it's sexist, but it is a small kitchen, watching the Life of Brien, A Christmas Story, and giving books that we love - this means they are mostly second hand. Any kid who needs it get underwear and socks and then we eat and laugh and play scrabble and Trivial Pursuit.. We don't spend much and this year will be giving to whatever weird charity my youngest finds for us. Actually, they are not weird, just unheard of. I love fixing the meals and even cleaning up afterwards. Those meals have become simpler - no more prime rib - how's pasta for Christmas. Cinnemon rolls are a bit hit as are the many nativity scenes we have collected from all over the world. It is a peaceful day and there's almost no shopping involved. I have discovered that there is an inverse relationship between shopping and having a peaceful Christmas. Traditions grow with the stage of life that we are in - simple is best now. I wish we had discovered that when we had little kids.

Matthew Creath

your article is a wonderfully written. It is not so much an attack of where we are as a society in dealing with the Christmas holiday, but instead a wishful thought of where we it should be. I appreciate it, and agree with it. Merry Christmas!


Great selection of articles on the Pope's visit, Bill.

I wasn't as surprised as you, Keith, about the Pope's "turn" concerning the EU. Commentators that I respect had noted that it was the one thing that might assuage his Regensburg remarks. It certainly points up the fact that once we are into the upper echelons of any church or religious organization, politics often rule.

And speaking is Judaism governed? I mean, what sort of hierarchy is there? Anyone at the head? Or a group?

I have thought of you as we Christians all give our blog postings over to Christmas and Bill's question of incarnation celebration vying with secular. (A term, I should add, that has different meanings by different Christians.)

You have mentioned more than once that you married a Christian. Since you have a daughter, perhaps sometime you will share how you handle the season.

I do, incidentally, recognize Chanukah and celebrate in small ways, with the stories, menorah lighting, and some foods. With or without Jewish friends. It enriches our holiday season. I don't know, though, whether all Jews would consider Christians celebrating the holiday a good thing or not.


Patricia, there's an old Jewish joke about if you lock 2 Jews in a room, you'll soon find a minimum of 3 opinions, all equally well argued. How do you govern something like that????

Generally speaking, there are regional, national, and international Rabbinical societies which often act as "governing" bodies, plus the theological schools/seminaries, which can have a large influence at times. In some of the traditional orthodox sects you can find Rabbi's with an international following, such as the Chabad and Hassidic movements.

I personally contend we're ungovernable, but that's only my opinion. ;-)


Our family's fondest memories come from 1995, the year my husband lost his job. Our sons were in middle school and certainly old enough to understand financial sacrifices. We had a family meeting and decided that rather than exchange actual gifts we would exchange imaginary gifts with each other. We would try to dream up the perfect gift, package it creatively, and share them on Christmas morning. It was so fun to have no limitations on gift giving. Money was no object because the gifts were imaginary. We certainly put more thought into these gifts than we ever had and spent more time than was our habit to find an original way to present the gift. As we sat around Christmas morning sharing our imaginary gifts, we spent time talking, laughing, sharing, and having heart-felt gift presentations. That cash-strapped Christmas is still our favorite Christmas memory.

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