As we approach the upcoming holiday season, take a moment to look around at cars and billboards for a special, yet simple message: “Keep Christ in Christmas.”
Catholic are used to saying “Merry Christmas,” but, for some, the awkwardness when greeting non-Christians during Christmastime may prompt the politically correct “Happy Holidays.” But should we, as Catholic Christians, be doing this so as not to offend or should we be carrying out our baptismal promise to go out and spread the good news of Jesus Christ?
I think this is what Bishop Robert Barron, the newly appointed auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles was precisely talking about as keynote speaker in late September at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. He said that each person is made in “imago Dei,” the image and likeness of God and as baptized Catholics, we need to take our faith into the world and not be cowered into what he calls a “prophetic silence.”
One way the local Catholic Church evangelizes the message that Jesus is the reason for the season is through the Christ in Christmas Committee in New Orleans’ annual billboard campaign.
“In excess of 60 billboards including the new electronic boards, especially in Ponchatoula and Hammond,” will be erected in 2015, said Stephen Hart, chairman since 2003 of the Christ in Christmas Committee. Most of the billboards will be near schools and neighborhoods within the New Orleans area in the parishes of Orleans, Jefferson, St. Tammany and St. Bernard.
Catholic schools and church parishes, businesses, individuals or groups of individuals sponsor the billboards, he said. Each one costs $400 to sponsor and has featured the familiar image of the Holy Family on a stained glass background since 2007.
Hart said he tries to get the billboards up the week after Thanksgiving, “typically, the first week of Advent.” They remain up throughout the month of December.
This year, there will be at least one Spanish billboard.
In addition to billboards, “Keep Christ in Christmas’ car magnets are sold at local Catholic bookstores such as West Bank Religious Supply House in Marrero, Mule’s and Pauline Books and Media in Metairie, the Catholic Bookstore in New Orleans and by Knights of Columbus members or the Council of Catholic School Cooperative Clubs and select Catholic school parent clubs.
Contest for students
The message is kept alive in the minds of students, parents and families also through the “Keep Christ in Christmas” essay, poetry and poster contest sponsored by the Council of Catholic School Cooperative Clubs, the Clarion Herald and the Office of Catholic Schools.
All students in third through 12th grade – whether in a Catholic or a public school (but attending religious education at a Catholic parish) – can participate. There are three age categories: grades 3-5; grades 6-8; and grades 9-12.
The criteria for each category: posters need be a white, 11- x 14-inch poster board, in black ink or dark or colored pencil; essays cannot exceed 300 words and are preferably typed or legibly written on one side of paper; poetry is not limited to word length, but must be typed or printed on one side of paper with a cover letter containing the student’s name, grade level and school. Details on entries are at ocs.arch-no.org.
Winning entries are due Nov. 6 at 3 p.m. Principals are to send entries of Catholic school students to the Office of Catholic Schools, 7887 Walmsley Ave., New Orleans, Louisiana 70118.
Details on how to submit entries from students enrolled in parish CCD classes can be obtained from Lisa Thriffiley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 296-3533.
Winners and their entries will appear in the Clarion Herald’s Dec. 19 issue at all parishes, Catholic elementary schools, select retailers or online at www.clarionherald.org.
Hart believes continuing to put up the billboard is important.
“I think it’s really important especially in this day of Christmas persecution and everything that is related to the church is bad,” he said. “We really need to remind people that the holidays is more than just Santa Claus and Christmas present. It is Jesus’ birth, It’s time to bring Christ back into our homes, our schools and in our communities.”
For more information or to send a tax-deductible donation, contact Hart at 615-1303 or mail him at Stephen Hart, chairman of the Christ in Christmas Committee, 123 Iroquois Dr., Abita Springs, LA 70420.
Christine Bordelon can be reached at email@example.com.