The Spirit of Christmas Present

Readers of this blog may be feeling as if this December has been a month of rancor and divisiveness at a time when unity should be the theme. Lest we sign off on a low note, December Dilemma Watch wants to use this last entry as a reminder that the ever-elusive "holiday spirit" still lives in our world. Like the Massachusetts woman who is donating her kidney to a friend as a Christmas gift. Or the anonymous donor who delivered envelopes containing $100 bills to a mother whose husband is deployed to Iraq. Or the way that Israelis and Palestinians are cooperating for the first time in five years to encourage Christians to visit Bethlehem for Christmas. All stories of sacrifice, cooperation, and giving that carry with them a sense of hope for next December--and all the months before that.

And to all a good night.

Update: Festivus in the Public Square

As we previously reported, today, December 23, is "Festivus," the fictional holiday made famous by "Seinfeld" sitcom character Frank Costanza. The holiday, which consists of spare decorations and secular rituals like "feats of strength," has gained popularity among some who like the message, "A Festivus for the Rest of Us."

In Barlow, Florida, the observance of Festivus hit a December Dilemma snag, however, when a town commission ruled that a Festivus sign placed in the town square next to a nativity scene must be removed. The nativity scene had been erected without permission from the board, and in response the board voted to make the area a "temporary forum for expression." However, the Festivus supporters did not subsequently apply for permission to keep their display up, so it will be removed. A display honoring the ancient sage Zoroaster, however, will be allowed to stay.

Happy Nothingday?

With debates raging nationwide about celebrating Christmas in public places like schools and town squares, one Catholic activist is suggesting that atheists join in by establishing their own holiday. William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, said today that atheists should celebrate "Nothingday, a day on which they could "honor what they believe in, which is absolutely nothing."

Religious v. Secular

Evangelical Christians aren't the only ones who are up in arms about efforts to banish "Merry Christmas" from schools and other public places. Mainline Protestants and even non-Christians are joining in the effort to welcome Christmas in public spaces. The "snowflake that broke the camel's back" for many parents is when schools include Hanukkah songs and other holiday music in concerts but relegate Christmas music to only the "Let It Snow" variety.

Orthodox Rabbi Shmuley Boteach believes that the "Merry Christmas" backlash has gone too far. Boteach believes that fighting over whether to say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" is having serious social consequences for our country, including widening the divide between religious and secular Americans.

Last-Minute Interfaith Understanding

It's not too late for interfaith families to work together to come to terms with how to honor multiple faiths in their home during Christmas. This MSNBC article offers some suggestions and some resources for doing just that. A helpful reminder: even with hard work to make children understand their parents' respective traditions, kids will still be confused at times.

Pope Endorses Christmas Trees

The best Christmas gifts are not found in the malls or on e-commerce sites, says Pope John Paul II. In a speech this past weekend to pilgrims gathered at St. Peter's in Rome, the Pope warned that materialism suffocates the spirit of Christmas. He urged Christians to focus not on material gift-giving but on the "religious symbols," especially the nativity crib and the Christmas tree, which represent the true meaning of the holiday.

For the Rest of Us

In this season of multiple celebrations that can lead to holiday confusion, the answer might just be found in that "show about nothing." Festivus, the winter festival invented by Frank Costanza, Jerry Stiller's character on the 1990s sitcom "Seinfeld," included such non-sectarian rituals as "the airing of grievances" and "feats of strength." Frustrated with the dizzying array of holiday pressures, Frank decided there needed to be "A Festivus for the Rest of Us!" Read more about the "tradition," whose only decoration is a bare aluminum pole, on a Seinfeld fan website.