Dec. 25 commemorates the birth of Christ, not the birth of "X" — so the term "Xmas" really doesn’t cut it. And although "happy holidays" is a well-meaning and politically safe greeting, Christians can best represent their faith by spreading the term "merry Christmas."
These are reminders that the Knights of Columbus in Tompkins County have sought to emphasize via their "Keep Christ in Christmas" campaign. Members of Ithaca Council 277 sold magnets featuring the four-word phrase at Masses Dec. 12-13 for the clustered churches of St. Anthony, Groton; Holy Cross, Dryden; and All Saints, Lansing.
The magnet initiative was begun internationally in 2005 by the Knights of Columbus. This is the first time it has been done in the cluster, according to Norman Wheeler, an All Saints parishioner who serves as Deputy Grand Knight of Council 277. He said the idea came up during a council meeting a few months ago, and from there he got clearance from Father Scott Kubinski, pastor of the Groton-Lansing-Dryden churches, to conduct the magnet sale.
Magnets measure 6.25 by 7 inches and are shaped like a cutout of the Nativity scene, with the words "Keep Christ in Christmas" appearing across the bottom. Wheeler and fellow council members Anthony Astarita and Joseph Amore, both parishioners of St. Anthony, sold the magnets for $5 each at the three cluster churches. That’s only a few bucks to promote what they consider to be a vital message.
"We keep seeing in the newspaper, ‘Xmas’ advertisements or ‘happy holidays.’ People seem to have lost the concept of what this (holiday) is really for," Wheeler remarked.
"The radio stations say ‘happy holidays’ and in the store everyone will tell you ‘happy holidays.’ There’s no ‘Christmas,’" Astarita said. "We’re not hearing it as much as when I grew up, and we’ve got to get the word out that Christ is the reason for Christmas."
Amore added that with so many commercial aspects now tied to Christmas, "people really lose track of the real essence" of what the holiday signifies: "It’s all about the birth of Jesus. It’s not about Santa Claus and toys, although that’s fun for the kids," he said.
The magnets are large enough to be seen at a distance. So even though there’s no reason they can’t be placed on refrigerators, Wheeler suggested that cars are the optimal spot for spreading the "Keep Christ in Christmas" message to the greatest number of people.
People who are still interested in obtaining magnets can call Wheeler at 607-257-7375, Amore at 607-898-3760 or Astarita at 607-838-3300. Or, they can visit the Knights of Columbus online store at www.kofc.org.
In addition to the magnet campaign, the Knights of Columbus encourage "Keep Christ in Christmas" billboards and newspaper advertisements; resisting the temptation to abbreviate "Christmas" as "Xmas"; displaying a Nativity scene on one’s property or at one’s place of business; and sponsoring "Keep Christ in Christmas" poster and essay contests for students across the United States.
Amore said it’s important to stand up for your faith despite occasional efforts by individuals and groups to have Christmas displays removed from public places. He recalled that during his tenure as principal of Groton Elementary School from 1985-2001, a teacher once gave students crayons and paper and asked them to draw images of what they felt Christmas signifies.
"Many of the pictures were of crosses, churches and priests," Amore noted.
The teacher subsequently displayed the pictures on a bulletin board — but that proved offensive to a Jewish teacher, who sought to have the drawings removed. When Amore intervened, he said if that’s what the students regarded Christmas to be, the first teacher had every right to leave the drawings up. He also encouraged the Jewish teacher to develop some lessons on Hanukkah, and the incident blew over.
Amore’s moral of the story? Don’t be afraid to show your religious beliefs, even if that means ruffling a few feathers.
"Once in a while we have to plant our feet firmly on the ground and say, ‘Go ahead, test me,’" he remarked.