Hanukkah and Christmas converge often enough that millions of Jewish parents refer to the confusion as “The December Dilemma,” which is unfortunate since both holidays proclaim inspiring messages of hope. This week, we invite our readers to meet one of the most esteemed Bible scholars teaching in America today: Amy-Jill Levine, University Professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt in Nashville. We’re recommending her latest book, Short Stories by Jesus. The book’s main goal is to help readers rediscover the original meanings of Jesus’s beloved stories—and, along the way, Levine helps readers to avoid perpetuating dangerous, anti-Jewish stereotypes.
“War on Christmas”?
For nearly a decade, millions of Fox-TV fans have spent December spreading the story that there’s another “War on Christmas.” This week, University of Michigan sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker explores this phenomenon in his OurValues series. Stay tuned all week! He will share some fascinating stories from America’s holiday history, plus solid data from Pew about our holiday habits.
- PART 1—Do you believe there is a “War on Christmas”?
- PART 2—Who waged America’s first “War on Christmas”?
- PART 3—Are you a SPUG?
- PART 4—Are retailers “naughty” or “nice”?
- PART 5—Is it the war that never was?
HOLIDAYS & FESTIVALS
- ALL THE HOLIDAYS—Remember the easy web address for our master calendar www.InterfaithHolidays.com
- HANUKKAH—You’ll see the first candles lit on Tuesday evening. Our main holiday story also links to further inspiring reading.
- ‘I’LL LIGHT A CANDLE FOR YOU’—Candlelight has a long and deeply felt connection with spirituality worldwide. Author Benjamin Pratt writes about the power of simply praying and lighting a candle.
- POSADAS NAVIDENAS—If you live in a part of the U.S. with a significant Hispanic-Catholic population, look for this nine-day festival of processions, songs and tasty treats.
- YULE / SOLSTICE—Learn about customs surrounding the year’s longest night.
- 200th ANNIVERSARY OF TREATY—It’s called the Treaty of Ghent, because that’s where diplomats signed the pact that was supposed to end the tragic War of 1812. But—that’s not what happened. Learn what happened even after the treaty was signed.
- CHRISTMAS / NATIVITY—Two billion Christians, including about half of Eastern Orthodox churches, celebrate on December 25. Stephanie Fenton’s story is packed with details you’ll want to share with friends.
- ST. STEPHEN’S DAY—Christmas customs unfold in a diversity of traditions, including the stories of St. Stephen, “Good King Wenceslaus,” mincemeat pies and the Christmas Octave.
- KWANZAA—Can you name “the seven principles” celebrated during the seven days of Kwanzaa? Enjoy Stephanie Fenton’s column about the holiday and you’ll be all set for the festival, including links to delicious recipes.
- A PEACE CENTENNIAL IS COMING! Next week is the 100th anniversary of the famed and sometimes fabled Christmas Truce. We’ll observe that next week. This week, we look at how some visions of peace struggled for air in a suffocating time of jingoistic patriotism, fervent nationalism, and horrific violence. We profile A.J. Muste, Muriel Lester and Victor Berger.
- HOLIDAY SHOPPING GUIDE—Check out this broad array of holiday ideas—designed to inspire readers and build healthier communities.
- DAVID GUSHEE, ‘CHANGING OUR MIND’—One of the courageous peacemakers emerging this winter with a message of inclusion for LGBT Christians is ethicist David Gushee. Evangelicals for Social Action just published an in-depth interview with Gushee.
- BULLYING IS NO LAUGHING MATTER—One of those holiday ideas is our big, anti-bullying comic book—a colorful volume that also is a celebration of dozens of beloved American comics. This week, our special comic section features a classic comic that’s largely unknown today: The Monster of Frankenstein.
DO OUR DOGS GO TO HEAVEN?
- POPE FRANCIS DOES IT AGAIN—What a pope! Francis keeps surprising the world with the compassionate face of the Church. On Friday (Dec 12), the New York Times reported: “Trying to console a distraught little boy whose dog had died, Francis told him in a recent public appearance on St. Peter’s Square that ‘paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.’ “
- RESOURCES ON FAITH & ANIMALS—First, we always recommend the U.S. Humane Society’s wonderful array of resources under “Faith Outreach.” Catholics aren’t alone in affirming dogs in heaven; Methodism’s founder John Wesley preached that message, too. Earlier this year, ReadTheSpirit featured an in-depth interview with animal expert Marc Bekoff; and Dr. Wayne Baker’s OurValues series focused on the same theme.
FILM, FAITH & MORE
- A POSTCARD-SIZE WINDOW—Columnist Suzy Farbman tells the story of Leonard Lauder’s boyhood fascination with postcards, which inspired him to create one of the world’s great art collections.
- FAITH GOES POP—Remember that hashtag #FaithGoesPop if you’re sharing items from Ken Chitwood’s new department in ReadTheSpirit. We especially enjoy that clever “Coke Can Nativity” that Ken spotted online.
- FILM CAPSULES DECEMBER EDITION—Faith-and-film writer Edward McNulty offers a new set of Film Capsules. Readers are free to share these mini-reviews of current movies. They make intriguing extras to pop into your own newsletter, for example.
- VISUAL PARABLES IN YOUR STOCKING? Got a film lover on your holiday shopping list? (Maybe that’s you.) Well, now through December 31, Edward McNulty has marked down the cost of an annual subscription to the Visual Parables Journal—for new subscribers.
- MOVIE REVIEWS—Ed McNulty continues to publish free movie reviews, as well. His latest reviews include: Into the Woods (4.5 out of 5 stars), The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies (4 stars), Big Hero 6 (4 stars), Diplomacy (4.5 stars), Interstellar (4 stars) and The Theory of Everything (4.5 stars).
- FEED THE SPIRIT—The Paleo debate? In the first part of a point-counterpoint series of columns, FeedTheSpirit host Bobbie Lewis writes, “Eat Like a Caveman? No thanks!” But—in a good spirit about this subject, Bobbie does serve up a delicious Paleo-style recipe for pancakes! (Are you a fan of Paleo? Stay tuned. We’ve got a counterpoint coming soon.)