Emily, left, and Abigail Lincke proceed out of First Congregational United Church of Christ on Monday. The candles were part of the church's Christmas Eve Candle Light Service.

Photo by Hans Hallgren

Emily, left, and Abigail Lincke proceed out of First Congregational United Church of Christ on Monday. The candles were part of the church's Christmas Eve Candle Light Service.

Reversing the 'Santa Claus scenario'

Church leaders: A time for celebrating, giving, fellowship

— What is the meaning of Christmas?

When asked this question, Bob Woods, First Congregational United Church of Christ pastor, paused.

Finally, he answered.

"I think it should be about giving to others," he said. "So many people are in need."

Wood's religious convictions stand behind him.

"Jesus gave us so much and continues to give us his very life," he said. "We're supposed to follow in his footsteps" and give.

Other local Christian leaders echoed similar thoughts, turning to their faith to support their views.

Amid the lights and tinsel, people often forget the season's meaning, they said.

"I think (Christmas) should be about celebrating - celebrating the birth of Christ," said Steve Wallace, Ridgeview Church of God pastor.

In his opinion, Dec. 25 sometimes is associated more with merchandising than celebration.

And, for him, that's a problem.

"It's a problem I think we can't change," he said. "I think commercialism takes a lot of the meaning away."

"There's a lot of stress, a lot of pressure," associated with the season, he added.

Woods agreed.

"We get caught up in the Santa Claus scenario : giving really expensive gifts to impress people," he said.

Instead, the holidays should focus peoples' attention on others - especially those in need, he said.

Instead of buying expensive gifts for friends and family, donate money for those gifts to charities instead, Woods suggested.

Christmas has become a secular holiday and, "in some ways, that's not wrong," he said.

Still, for Woods, the holiday holds a spiritual meaning.

"There's so much more. I wish people would understand how much Jesus gave them and try to give that back." Woods said.

While some spiritual leaders encourage generosity to counteract Christmas commercialism, Pastor Dale Martin and his congregation at Craig Mennonite Church choose a different path.

Martin and his congregation don't recognize the holidays - at least, not in the traditional sense.

Instead of exchanging gifts, attending Christmas church services and setting up Christmas trees, church members may share a meal together.

"We're not into the commercial part of Christmas," Martin said. "We use holidays (for) : fellowship."

In Martin's opinion, the spirit of Christmas is too large to be condensed into one day of the year.

"If people tried to live like Christ, we'd have something better than Christmas all year round," he said.

Yet, during the Christmas season, "there's a spirit of giving and sharing - that is good. I don't object to that," Martin said.

Neither does Parrish Terry, Church of Destiny pastor.

For Terry, the season should mean the same for Christians and individuals without religious convictions.

Christmas "is more about giving than taking," he said.

In Terry's opinion, the spirit of competition seems to have overshadowed the spirit of giving.

Christmas for some means "keeping up with the Joneses" and becoming distracted by the frenzied holiday pace, he said.

He believes the trend can be reversed.

People must "choose to change - choose to be different," he said. "I feel all change is self-motivated."

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