January 1st, 2013
12:38 PM ET
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."
December 24th, 2012
10:44 PM ET
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.
December 24th, 2012
11:23 AM ET
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.
December 24th, 2012
01:51 AM ET
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%.FULL STORY
December 22nd, 2012
10:00 PM ET
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.
December 21st, 2012
04:11 PM ET
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.
December 20th, 2012
06:00 AM ET
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!”
“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.”
November 26th, 2012
04:27 PM ET
By Paul Courson, CNN
Washington (CNN) – The official Christmas tree of the U.S. Capitol arrived Monday and will be illuminated at a ceremony on December 4.
Dozens of tourists, Capitol Hill staffers and news crews watched the tree's arrival along with Stephen Ayers, the Capitol architect. "My job is to officially accept the Capitol Christmas Tree on behalf of the Congress," he said.
U.S. Capitol crews using a crane hoisted the 73-foot Englemann spruce from a flatbed truck and prepared it for display on the West Lawn.
Once the tree is mounted, U.S. Capitol workers will place ornaments crafted and donated by Coloradans and will string energy-conserving LED-type lights on it.Read the full story about the Capitol Christmas tree
December 26th, 2011
12:23 AM ET
By the CNN Wire Staff
Vatican City (CNN) - Pope Benedict XVI prayed for peace in Syria, reconciliation in Myanmar, and comfort in flood-stricken Thailand and the Philippines in his annual Christmas message "To the City and the World" on Sunday.
Addressing a packed St. Peter's Square on a glorious sunny day, the pope pleaded with God to "bring an end to the violence in Syria, where so much blood has already been shed."
More than 5,000 people have died in Syria since President Bashar al-Assad began a brutal crackdown in mid-March on anti-government protesters calling for his ouster, the United Nations said earlier this month.
In his Christmas morning speech, Benedict also urged the international community to help those suffering hunger and insecurity in the Horn of Africa, a reference to famine and violence in Somalia and Kenya.FULL STORY
December 26th, 2011
12:19 AM ET
By the CNN Wire Staff
Jos, Nigeria (CNN) – A string of bombs struck churches in five Nigerian cities Sunday, leaving dozens dead and wounded on the holiday, authorities and witnesses said.
The blasts mark the second holiday season that bombs have hit Christian houses of worship in the west African nation. In a statement issued late Sunday, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan called the bombings "a dastardly act that must attract the rebuke of all peace-loving Nigerians."
"These acts of violence against innocent citizens are an unwarranted affront on our collective safety and freedom," Jonathan said. "Nigerians must stand as one to condemn them."
Bombs targeted churches across the country, hitting the cities of Madalla, Jos, Kano, and Damaturu and Gadaka, said journalist Hassan John, who witnessed the carnage in Jos. The death toll in Madalla alone was 18, including two people reported dead overnight at a nearby hospital, Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency spokesman Yushau Shuaib told CNN.FULL STORY
About this blog
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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.