Opinion by Rachel Held Evans, Special to CNN
(CNN) – This week we celebrate Christmas, and as a Christian, I want to say I’m sorry.
I’m sorry that this season has become about fights over manger scenes on public property, about complaining when clerks say, “Happy Holidays,” instead of “Merry Christmas,” about rampant commercialism and faux persecution.
I’m sorry that Christians in the United States can be so entitled when we’ve long enjoyed majority status, when we can be so blind to our own privilege.
It is ironic, really, because in the church calendar, the seasons of Advent and Christmas call us to reflect upon and celebrate what Christians believe was the most radical act of humility of all time – the incarnation.
Opinion by Chris Stedman, special to CNN
(CNN) - The “War on Christmas:” what — or who—is it good for?
In recent years, one organization, American Atheists, has claimed the mantle of prime atheist promoter of the tired “War on Christmas” narrative.
This year, they ushered in the season with an electronic billboard in New York City’s Times Square carrying the message: “Who needs Christ during Christmas? Nobody.” The word "Christ" is crossed out, just in case their message wasn't clear enough.
The American Atheists maintain that their latest entry in the annual “War on Christmas” saga is a message to other atheists that they are not alone.
In a recent Fox News appearance, American Atheists President Dave Silverman said, “The point that we’re trying to make is that there’s a whole bunch of people out there for whom religion is the worst part of Christmas, but they go to church anyways, and we’re here to tell them they don’t have to.”
While that intention is important and admirable, very few people—atheist or theist—seem to interpret the message as welcoming to anyone. Many of the responses I’ve seen have been vitriolic and disturbingly anti-atheist.
Opinion by Russell D. Moore, special to CNN
(CNN) – On my Christmas list of gifts to buy my evangelical friends, there's a little book of prayers.
This is less predictable than it may seem, since the prayers aren't from a celebrity evangelical preacher, but from a morbid, quirky Catholic who spent her short life with pet peacocks and wooden-leg-stealing Bible salesman stories.
But I think Flannery O'Connor's newly published "Prayer Journal" is exactly what Christians need, maybe especially at Christmas.
By Tara Kangarlou, CNN
(CNN)–Gold, red and green gift boxes decorated a large Christmas tree in a popular food court in the Islamic Republic’s bustling capital of Tehran. Nativity scenes of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus added color to the windows of shops across this lively city, a small symbol of the growing number of Iranians embracing the Christian holiday.
Iran has a population that is 98% Muslim, and the government is widely recognized for its repressive rulings, censorship and efforts to cut ties with the United States and the West, but more Iranians are openly celebrating Christmas and expressing their desires to be part of the global celebration.
On Christmas, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad released a statement praising Jesus as "the messenger of humanism and grace" and noted, "I believe that the sole way to save the man from severe moral, social and cultural crises is returning to the exalted teachings of the great messengers of God."
By Arielle Hawkins, CNN
Silver Spring, Maryland (CNN) - Guitars strummed and the cheerful voices of young and old sang “Feliz Navidad” as people in the streets cheered the birth of Christ with Spanish lyrics and upbeat rhythms in Oakview, a neighborhood in Silver Spring.
Though it wasn’t immediately apparent, these members of St. Camillus Church weren’t caroling, but were celebrating the Central American Catholic tradition of Las Posadas. The celebration comes just as the world celebrates the birth of Jesus on Tuesday.
The religious event commemorates the grueling journey of the Virgin Mary and Joseph as they traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem in search of a haven to give birth to their son. This year, St. Camillus celebrated the Christmas tradition Friday through Sunday.
The nativity story narrates how the Virgin Mary and her husband were turned away from inn after inn until a kind man allowed them to rest their heads in a barn. The word “posada” translates to “inn” or “lodging” in English.
By Stephen Walsh, CNN
Are there really angels among us? Lorna Byrne claims she’s been able to see angels since she was a child. The Irish-born author of the international best-seller “Angels in My Hair” says guardian angels watch over believers and nonbelievers alike all the time.
So what exactly is an angel? The word angel is derived from the Greek angelos, which means "messenger." The Hebrew word malak has the same meaning. Christian theology teaches that angels are pure spirits created by God who carry out his will on Earth.
Byrne told CNN’s Dana Bash that she sees a multitude of angels that only appear around Christmastime. Watch the video to hear her describe what they look like and hear her advice to skeptics.
What do you think? Are angels real? Leave your comments below.
By Amy Roberts, CNN
(CNN) - With Christmas comes Christmas trivia. Here's a look at the holiday by the numbers:
30.8 million – Real Christmas trees purchased in the United States in 2011.
16 - Percentage of real trees sold that were "cut-your own."
4.1% – Expected amount of increased holiday sales in the United States in 2012 over last year, according to the National Retail Federation.
586.1 billion – Amount of expected total sales, if they do increase by 4.1%.
Editor’s note: Adam C. English is author of "The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus: The True Life and Trials of St. Nicholas of Myra" (Baylor University Press, 2012) and associate professor of religion at Campbell University.
By Adam C. English, Special to CNN
Four years ago, I embarked on a quest to discover the truth about Santa Claus and the original St. Nicholas. My search took me many places, sending me finally across the Atlantic to Bari, on Italy’s Adriatic coast.
The old town of Bari is a brambly, medieval maze of streets and alleyways that cross and crisscross. It is said that the city was intentionally constructed in a topsy-turvy way so that anyone trying to raid it would get swallowed and lost in its labyrinth. If you keep wandering, though, eventually you pop out onto a plaza and see the Basilica di San Nicola.
And there, in a gray tomb, lies the “real” Santa Claus. The basilica housing that tomb dates to the 11th century. You can go into the basilica and pray, rest or just gawk, but the real show lies below.
By The CNN Belief Blog Editors
(CNN) - As shoppers scour malls and web portals looking for the perfect last-minute Christmas gift, we humbly present a few ideas of faithy kitsch.
The tradition of giving gifts at Christmas can be traced back to the birth of Jesus, who Christians say is the son of God, believed to have taken on full humanity to save the world from sin.
The Christmas narrative found in the Gospel of Matthew tells the story of three wise men from the East, who followed a star to visit Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus. When they found them, the men worshiped Jesus and presented gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
In lieu of such hard-to-find items, here are some wonderfully kitschy Christmas gifts:
The perfect gift for the budding tycoon who wants to start "In the Beginning." It's like Monopoly, but for church. Instead of going to jail, you go to meditate.
By Dan Merica, CNN
Washington (CNN) – The Christmas season is revealing a growing rift among American atheists when it comes to the question of how to deal with religion.
Some atheist activists are trying to seize the holidays as a time to build bridges with faith groups, while other active unbelievers increasingly see Christmas as a central front in the war on religious faith. With the dramatic growth of the nonreligious in the last few decades, more atheist leaders are emerging as spokespeople for atheism, but the Christmas rift speaks to growing disagreement over how atheists should treat religion.
On the religion-bashing side, there’s David Silverman, president of the group American Atheists, which raised one of its provocative trademark billboards in New York’s Times Square last week. “Keep the MERRY!” it says. “Dump the MYTH!”
The sign features a picture of a jolly Santa Clause and another of Jesus dying on the cross – a not-so-subtle attack on Christianity.
“Christianity stole Christmas in the first place and they don’t own the season, they don’t own the Christmas season,” Silverman said, pointing to pagan winter solstice celebrations that predated Jesus Christ. “When they say keep Christ in Christmas, they are actually saying put Christ back in Christmas.”
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.