(ARA) - When Jesus was born in Bethlehem over 2000
years ago, he was lauded as the long-expected Prince of Peace. Yet
there was no peace; tumultuous events were occurring at the time and
soon his parents were forced to flee the region under death threats
from King Herod.
For many in this country -- a country so accustomed to
peace -- Christmas and the familiar "Peace on Earth" greeting are taking
on a different perspective in light of the tumultuous events of Sept.
11. Military mobilization, economic uncertainty, job layoffs in the
airline industry, the new war on terrorism, and the devastating loss of
more than 6,000 loved ones will certainly impact Christmas this year.
Yet Dr. Harvey Martin, professor of Christian education at Northwestern
College in Saint Paul, Minn., believes this may be the Christmas when
American families shift their focus away from materialism and toward the
true spirit of Christmas -- the gift of love.
"We have seen a sudden paradigm shift since Sept. 11," Martin says.
"Before that day, we felt secure here in America. We had a mindset of
pop culture and consumerism. But now we've been jolted into reassessing
our priorities. There's a new recognition of patriotism. There's unity
and willingness to reach out and help one another."
Danette Wilfahrt, a counselor at Northwestern College, agrees. "We are
at an incredible time when events and circumstances are forcing us to
seek comfort in a higher power, which has not been a part of our culture
in quite some time. Americans are very independent, but the terrorist
attacks have caused us to become interdependent -- we realize we need
each other. Suddenly life is more than possessions."
Many families around the country have been touched by the attacks, and
as a result, Americans are looking at family in a different way.
"Kissing a loved one goodbye in the morning is no longer routine because
we realize how easily we can lose someone," Martin says. "There's
renewed affection for family and friends."
Martin observes that the terrorist attacks and the weeks following have
taught this country to give with love. "We realize it's more important
to meet others' needs, such as food, clothing and comfort. This year,
many children will celebrate Christmas without one or both parents, so
toys will not comfort them. But building relationships and giving time
will help fill the void."
Martin and Wilfahrt encourage families to focus on one another this
holiday season instead of the material and often-extravagant trappings
of Christmas. "Build relationships among your family, neighbors,
co-workers and friends," Martin suggests. "Make it your gift to do
something nice for each person every week -- a gift that lasts all year,
not just a couple weeks until it wears out, breaks, or becomes boring."
Instead of the usual supportive detachment such as doing things for
children, parents need to do things with them, Martin says. "This
country is realizing that the best gift is yourself and your time." He
suggests parents and other family members should make it a point to
attend their children's holiday programs at schools, churches and
Perhaps the best thing you can ask people this Christmas is not "What do
you want for Christmas?" but "You know what I like about you?" This
tells them that you pay attention to them, observe them, and that they
have made a positive impact on you, Martin explains. Such personal input
encourages people, and encouragement is much needed at Christmas when
depression and suicide rates increase; and this year depression may be
even more profound.
"Focus on the less fortunate; they are all around us -- those who lost
loved ones, those encountering tough economic times," Wilfahrt adds.
Giving to local or national relief agencies is taking on added
significance and impact this year.
Martin suggests giving children money that they can in turn give to
relief agencies of their choosing. "Children learn the very special gift
of giving with love. In return, it makes children feel they make a
difference, which instills self-confidence as well as teaches life's
priorities," he says.
Wilfahrt believes that this Christmas more people will realize what
"wealth" they actually have -- family, friends, homes, faith -- and will
be grateful, she says. "We actually have received some gifts from the
tragedies of Sept. 11 -- a return to God, unity as a nation and among
political parties, the preciousness of life and patriotism."