Articles

Knights Promote True Meaning of Christmas Holiday

Tony Slagle, Texas State Council Historian

“Keep Christ in Christmas.”  To the faithful, that sentiment is one that is easily understood. Celebrating the birth of Jesus is “the Reason for the Season!” Yet every year, it seems that “reason” is under attack.

Both from the overt commercialism of the season, and from protests by the more secular forces in our society. As Catholics, and as Knights, it is our obligation to remind those around us of the true meaning of Christmas. For more than 60 years, our Order has led the “Keep Christ in Christmas” campaign as a way to put that obligation into concrete action by being a positive voice in our national cultural life.

While the “Keep Christ in Christmas” program has been an integral part of the Order’s outreach over the last several decades, the movement to reinforce the Christian aspect of the holiday has very humble beginnings. The movement was started in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in 1949 by the Christian Mothers of Milwaukee, later known as the Council of Catholic Women and was driven by a concern that the religious meaning of the season was being lost.  Originally known as the “Put Christ Back into Christmas” movement, what began as primarily a Catholic movement took hold quickly and spread to other Christian denominations, inspiring many civic leaders to also embrace the message.   

The growth of the movement surprised many of its secular detractors especially as it gained national attention.  The United Press Syndicate reported in an article published nationwide in 1956 that the movement had rapidly expanded to all 48 states (Hawaii and Alaska having not yet joined the Union), and even moved into Mexico and Canada.  Joining the effort, the Knights of Columbus adopted the “Keep Christ in Christmas” program in the early 1960s, and have been actively promoting it ever since. Over the years, the Order’s outreach with this initiative has expanded to include yard signs, billboards, auto magnets, Christmas cards, and “Keep Christ in Christmas” public service announcements, running annually since the 1980s.  Most recently in 2014, the Order instituted the “Keep Christ in Christmas” poster contest, which allows young people to utilize their creative talents to express the true spiritual meaning of Christmas.

But that is not the full story of the Knights of Columbus’ diligent efforts to ensure the religious significance of the Christmas season is not lost. In early 1990s, a Knights of Columbus council in Trumbull, Connecticut sought to erect a nativity crèche on the Town Hall Green. They were initially given permission to do so, only to be later denied the right to do so. The council, aided by Becket Fund for Religious Liberty in Washington, D.C., sought relief in the courts to allow the crèche to be displayed. Eventually the case went before the U.S. Supreme Court. The appeal to the Supreme Court was a success and the Knights were permitted to display their crèche on the Town Hall Green.  The Trumbull crèche became a national test case, and the Knights’ victory at the Supreme Court allowed groups to display nativity scenes at Christmas on public property throughout the United States.

In 2010 at the 15th anniversary of the of the Trumbull nativity display, longtime Trumbull resident Patricia Bell explained that she was happy that the Knights fought to display the crèche.  “It shows the true meaning of Christmas,” Bell stated. “Without the birth of Jesus there would be no Christmas.”

Supreme Knight Carl Anderson summed up the rationale for the Order’s longstanding commitment to keeping Christ in Christmas in words that echo those of Ms. Bell:  "In the midst of an increasingly materialistic and secular society, it is all too easy to lose sight of what Christmas really means. We give gifts to each other because it is the day on which we celebrate the ultimate gift: the Christ child, the savior of mankind.”  

Our Order’s continued commitment to “Keep Christ in Christmas” ensures that we do not lose sight of the true meaning of the season. And we keep Christ in Christmas not just through our public displays of nativity scenes, banners, magnets, and signs but also, and most importantly, through our actions and deeds during the Christmas season. It is through all of those acts of charity and compassion that we remind everybody (not just Christians) that Christmas is a religious holiday. And that message is important to both Christians and non-Christians alike.  As Supreme Knight Anderson explains, "Even those who do not share the Christian faith can and do appreciate the message of peace and hope that this Christian holiday – holy day – brings to the world. It is a message that the world needs now more than ever."


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