Keeping Christ in Christmas

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As creeping secularization chips away at the religious significance of Christmas, the tradition of honoring the birth of Jesus by saying or displaying the word “Christmas” is being pushed from the public square.

The battle for Christmas is not new to the Knights of Columbus, which has publicly promoted the true meaning of Christmas for more than 30 years through its multi-faceted “Keep Christ in Christmas” program. The Order’s public service Christmas announcements have reached more than 20 million television viewers and about 27 million radio listeners since they began airing in the 1980s.

Many councils promote the “Keep Christ in Christmas” message in billboards, lawn signs and posters. Knights also honor the birth of Jesus by illuminating and blessing a Christmas tree or Nativity scene on the first Tuesday of December as part of the Order’s “Light Up for Christ” campaign launched in 1991. Other Knights keep Christ in Christmas in a variety of ways.

Curbside Appeal Back to Top

In Half Moon Bay, Calif., 30 miles south of San Francisco, Mel Schwing of Our Lady of the Pillar Council 7534 staged a live Nativity scene in 1987 along Route 92, the town’s main thoroughfare. Schwing got the idea while driving the route to work.

“It’s always decorated with Christmas trees and lights. It’s real Christmas-y,” said Schwing. “I thought it would be nice to have a Nativity scene there.”

The live Nativity was eventually moved to the grounds of Our Lady of the Pillar Church, at the pastor’s request. The week before Christmas, 80 volunteers, including local firemen and police, play the roles of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and Three Kings. Area farmers donate animals. Musicians and singers perform or Christmas music is played. A statue of the baby Jesus is added on Christmas Eve, said Schwing, and at midnight the Nativity players process into the church before Mass. A final showing takes place on the feast of the Epiphany.

The Nativity attracts hundreds of people from outside the area as well, some who say it helps make their Christmas more meaningful. “I’ve never heard negative comments, and the public appreciates it,” said Schwing.

Bearing Gifts Back to Top

In Charlotte, N.C., Bishop Begley Council 770 hosts a Christmas party and members bring gifts to the students with intellectual and/or physical disabilities who board at Holy Angels School, run by the Benedictine nuns at Belmont Abbey College.

“The Knights are very moved by this. They look forward to it every year and want to be part of it,” said Grand Knight Ray Maxson. “That’s why we have our organization, so we can gather together as Christian Catholic men and do charitable things for people who need it.”

Members of St. Anastasia Council 5911 in Douglaston, N.Y., collect toys and clothing for the Richmond Hill Outreach Program, a shelter for homeless families. They also bring a turkey dinner for each family, and offer a dinner to anyone in the community who needs one for Thanksgiving or Christmas, said Past Grand Knight Frederick Bedell.

Knights on Parade Back to Top

Infant Jesus of Prague Council 11667 in Kilmarnock, Va., participates each year in the town’s Christmas parade, and in 2005 won first prize for best float. The council used an old boat, tened it Mary and Joseph, and assembled a live Nativity scene on the boat with “lots of kids from Bethlehem,” said Grand Knight Wes Werling. The boat bore banners reading, “The Fisher of Men is Born,” and “Keep Christ in Christmas.” Knights from St. George Assembly provided an honor guard, marching alongside.

Each year, the Knights make up the largest parade contingent that displays a religious theme. Werling said it’s important to promote the “Keep Christ in Christmas” message or else people get “ho hum about it.”

“If you don’t keep the word out there, the other camp takes over, so we do get it out in the public eye as much as we can,” he said.

Cards for Christ Back to Top

Council 11667 also participates in the Knights’ “Keep Christ in Christmas — Send Religious Christmas Cards” program that was started in 1989 by Roanoke (Va.) Council 562. Past Grand Knight Bob Canfield and his wife, Virginia, head up the program, which is now administered by the Virginia State Council and operates in 35 states.

The state council introduced a pilot project in the Richmond and Arlington dioceses to sell religious Christmas cards and donate the proceeds to vocations programs.

“I thought they might be having the same problem we were; it was hard to locate a religious Christmas card. So we initiated our own program through the Knights of Columbus,” said Canfield.

Since the program began, 15 million cards have been distributed and more than $3 million has been raised through parishes and councils for vocations and other charitable programs.

“I think that’s a great accomplishment on the part of the volunteers in the Knights of Columbus who help coordinate this, and it’s great to work with these people,” Canfield said. “This is what Christmas is about.”

The program has grown beyond expectations, with cards in six different languages now reaching international audiences. Canfield said a mother from Ireland wrote last year to say that after receiving one of the cards, she refocused her attention on the real meaning of Christmas.

“She was speaking for thousands of others doing the same thing. We get numerous phone calls in the months after Christmas through our 800 number [1-800-722-5032]. Ninety-nine percent of the feelings are wholeheartedly positive,” said Canfield.

The program also provides religious cards and stamps to those in prison who want to send them to family and friends, to military personnel overseas, and personalized cards for priests, bishops or anyone else who sends out Christmas cards in large quantities. For more information visit www.Christis

Reason for the Season Back to Top

A man of action, Tom Kolenberg took up hammer and nail to counter the decline of crèche displays in his Connecticut community. After watching a television news report about a group protesting the banning of a Nativity scene on town property, Kolenberg, past grand knight of St. Augustine Council 41 in Stamford, worked for hours in his garage to fashion a stable and illuminated crèche figures. He placed the set on his front lawn just as the sun was setting, turned on the lights and watched his 5-year-old niece run to the scene, saying, “Happy birthday, Jesus!” He was on the right track.

Soon neighbors were asking Kolenberg to create a crèche for their lawns, and a new business, Reason for the Season, was born. Kolenberg and his partner now contract with a Pennsylvania woodshop to create the crèches, which are then shipped from a New Jersey warehouse. All profits are donated to Church charities, Kolenberg said. Nonprofit organizations, such as K of C councils, may sign up for a program whereby they receive $25 for every crèche they sell (

“Our mission is simply to keep Christ in Christmas and extend to every Christian family the opportunity to celebrate the birth of our Lord by displaying in their front yard a depiction of his birth,” Kolenberg said.

Barb Ernster is a writer and editorial consultant from Fridley, Minn.