It’s Christmastime, and while the holiday music plays you and I are hanging wreaths, lights, tinsel, and stockings—but why? What makes tinsel a Christmas tradition? Who first thought wreaths represented the season?
The stories behind some Christmas symbols are easy to guess, but others could surprise you.
An Orange in Your Stocking
Do you usually find fruit in the toe of your stocking on Christmas morning? This tradition dates back to the day of the real Saint Nicholas. Born in present-day Turkey, Saint Nicholas was a bishop who inherited a fortune that he used to help others in need.
In one story of his service, Saint Nicholas learned of a poor man who had three daughters. With no money to offer as dowries, the man feared his daughters could never get married. In the night, Saint Nicholas visited the house and tossed three sacks of gold down the chimney. Some of the gold landed in the girls’ stockings, which were hanging by the fire to dry. The oranges we give today symbolize the gold that was left by Saint Nicholas.
Boughs of Holly
With its bright red berries and green leaves, holly is a beautiful sight, but it’s sharp to the touch. To Christians, the sharp-toothed edges of the holly leaf are symbolic of the crown of thorns placed on Jesus Christ’s head before he was hung on the cross. The red berries are a reminder of the blood Jesus shed.
Tinsel on the Tree
Whether or not you are a fan of tinsel, you will likely agree that it’s better than the alternative in this legend. It tells of a poor family and their first Christmas tree. When Christmas Eve came, they still could not afford to decorate the tree. They went to bed with heavy hearts, and as they slept, spiders covered the tree in webs. Before the family woke, Father Christmas kindly turned the spider webs into silver, and by morning the poor family found it dazzling in the sunlight. The tinsel we hang on our trees is a symbol of that Christmas gift.
Both the shape and material of this holiday symbol hold significant meaning. Evergreen plants retain their green leaves or needles, regardless of the weather. They symbolize the life, light, and hope that continually shine—even in the dead of winter. The circular wreaths we shape them into are symbolic of God, who has no beginning and no end.
This plant’s connection to Christmas began in 16th-century Mexico. The story says that a child with no money was searching for a gift to bring to the church on Christmas Eve. She gathered weeds from the side of the road and placed them on the altar. Immediately, crimson flowers blossomed from the weeds. The star shape of the flower symbolizes the Star of Bethlehem, while its red color represents Jesus Christ’s sacrifice.
What is your favorite Christmas symbol, and what does it mean to you?
I’m going into my third Christmas after my mother’s passing from cancer. Sometimes I ask myself if I really know how to “deal with” these things called loss and grief very well. If “dealing with” loss during the holiday season means coping with my grief in a healthy, proactive way, the answer to that question sometimes is, “Yes,” but often is, “Not really.”
I’m grateful for the principles I’ve learned in the last three years from friends, family members, and helping professionals about living with grief and loss, especially during the holidays. I’ve come to realize that putting these principles into effect is a practice—a daily effort over time that has peaks and valleys, but ultimately moves upward.
Principle 1: It isn’t possible to shut out grief during the holidays. You have to make a place for it.
I feel like articles like this tend to promote band-aid solutions to “feel better” during difficult times. The truth is, the pain of separation from those we love will never go away during this life, and sometimes it just hurts. I’ve realized that over the past few years I’ve often run away from my pain or tried to shut it out. However, stifled pain doesn’t go away—it just builds up until it comes out, often at inconvenient times and places.
One of the best pieces of counsel I received from a friend whose father passed away was to create space for grief. Build time into your life to go to that place where you allow yourself to feel that pain, and it won’t pop up and surprise you as much. This can take the form of counseling appointments, rituals like a special candlelight vigil, or an evening in to write about your feelings. Creating this space is always important, but especially at high-emotion times such as the holidays.
Principle 2: Be willing to be present with circumstances as they are and create new traditions.
Tied up in grief is pain of separation and pain of unmet expectations. The separation I can’t control, but I can adjust my expectations of how holidays should go based on my present circumstances.
My kind stepmom and I recently had a conversation about allowing things to be as they are instead of clinging to expectations of how things used to be. I went home for Thanksgiving this year and had a much better experience. I let go of some of my expectations that things would be the same as they were before my mom’s passing as well as my assumption that my family should take the initiative in making sure I had a good time.
For Christmas, my goal is to create new traditions for myself to honor my mother and help myself have a positive experience. My friend who lost her dad said that her family always hangs a special ornament in her father’s honor on Christmas Eve. That idea rang true to me—instead of holding our pain inside, we honor the past while making our loved ones a part of our holiday celebrations moving forward.
Principle 3: Be kind to yourself and reach out for support from those you trust.
During the holidays, some days are going to be painful—perhaps for the rest of my life. Some days I do well, writing about my feelings and reaching out to friends for support, and some days I binge-watch Jane Austen movies and cry in my room. I’m learning how to honor my grief as part of my story without letting my pain drive everything I do. I’m practicing, and my process is okay. Having a friend who can hold space for me without judging, whom I can reach out to day or night, has been invaluable in my healing process, and for anyone going through a similar situation I would wish the same.
So how will the holidays go this year for me? Sometimes when people ask me how I’m doing after a particularly emotionally trying episode, I say, “I’m good.” And I mean it. Growing, refining processes are not always fun and often painful, but they are good. They make me kinder, softer, and more compassionate to others and to myself. They give me the opportunity to come to know myself and come to know God. For me as a Christian, that is what Christmas is all about—hope in Christ and His power to overcome all things.
Ariel Szuch is a word nerd, writer, and compulsive reader who finds purpose in a life of faith.
The first sign of fall isn’t an early sunset or the changing leaves…it’s the return of pumpkin spice lattes. In fact, it’s the return of pumpkin spiced anything! From scented candles to new Pinterest recipes you can easily find pumpkin sprinkled throughout hundreds of goodies, but did you know the pumpkin actually has some pretty deep meaning? Here are three things to remember while chowing down on your next pumpkin scone!
The Squash of Abundance
Remember scanning the pumpkin patch looking for the biggest pumpkin you could find? Well the bigger is literally the better, since the pumpkin represents abundance and prosperity! The whole pumpkin represents the world we live in now, and is literally filled with blessings waiting to be granted. Each seed represents an opportunity available to you in this life, and with an average pumpkin having about 500 seeds you can literally count your blessings!
Instead of tossing out your pumpkin seeds after carving a ghoulish face, go ahead and count them up! A fun activity with the family could even include assigning a blessing to a seed and watching how big your pile grows! Sometimes we get caught up in our newest problem that we don’t recognize granted blessings and answered prayers.
I Dreamed a Dream
Along with representing blessings, pumpkin seeds also represent your dreams! Whether that’s a dream for your future or one crafted while getting a good night’s rest, each seed represents a possibility.
Have you ever dreamt about a pumpkin seed? When appearing in a dream the seeds are believed to be deeply connected to your spirit or soul, providing reassurance for a decision or goal you are pursuing. To dream of a whole pumpkin is to symbolize openness to new possibilities and encourage you to try new things!
If you’ve recently dreamt of either a pumpkin or its seeds, take a moment to reflect on its meaning. Our dreams often reflect our deep inner thoughts, which can unearth emotions we didn’t recognize before. Are you about to take a leap of faith? Have you recently made a big decision, but have begun second guessing? Trust your gut, and follow your faith.
I Heard It on the Pumpkin Vine
This one may sound obvious, but the vine of the pumpkin ties directly into friendship and connection. The pumpkin receives all its nutrients from the ground through the vine, and is a connection to the world from which it grows.
Much like the pumpkin, we gain our social and spiritual “nutrients” through the “vine” of friendship. Making a connection with another person is how we grow as individuals, find deeper meaning in our lives, and stay healthy and strong. Without a strong connection to others we begin to shrivel up and lose our connection to the world we live in.
From a spiritual sense, a weak “vine” or connection to our beliefs can weaken our faith and leave us lost. By strengthening our connection with our own spirituality we can better connect with the world around us and help others find their way.
As a writer, believer, and chronic Pinterest fail-er, Maddy believes that everyone has a unique message to share with the world, and enjoys finding new ways to strengthen her faith through different perspectives.
Today, millions of Sikhs (members of the fifth largest religion in the world) around the globe are celebrating Vaisakhi—a centuries-old tradition that commemorates the spring harvest in Punjab, the homeland of the Sikhs, and a deeply significant religious holiday. Since 1699, Vaisakhi has taken a special significance for Sikhs after the tenth Sikh spiritual teacher, Guru Gobind Singh, used the occasion to create a formal Sikh brotherhood called the Khalsa Panth.
Every year on Vaisakhi, Sikhs give thanks, renew their faith and commitment and celebrate their identity and reaffirm core values including community service, equality, and humility. Sikhs mark the occasion with family, friends and the community primarily by decorating and attending Gurdwaras, Sikh houses of worship. In the Gurdwara, Sikhs sing traditional hymns with their sangat, or community members, and afterwards partake in a simple, communal, vegetarian meal together.
Sikh Americans will share these festivities with the New York City community and celebrate Vaisakhi with the annual Sikh Day Parade next Saturday, April 23. Thousands of Sikhs from across the country will gather to celebrate the collective values and history that binds them together.
Many people are familiar with the story of Esther and her incredible faith, but did you realize that there is an entire Jewish holiday dedicated to honoring and celebrating her story? Purim is the celebration of Queen Esther and how she miraculously saved the Jewish people.
Esther, a humble Jewish girl, caught the eye of King Ahasuerus—who had just sentenced his previous wife to death for not following his orders—and soon became his new queen. Esther did not reveal her nationality to the king at this time. The current prime minister of the empire, Haman, was an anti-Semitic who sought the death of Mordecai, Esther’s cousin. Haman was angry that Mordecai refused to bow down to him and convinced the king to issue an extermination order against the Jews. The name Purim, or “lots,” came from Haman choosing the 13th day of Adar as the date of the extermination by doing a lottery.
Mordecai convinced all of the Jews to repent, fast and pray while Esther asked the king to join her for a feast. Approaching the king without being summoned was not allowed and if the king had been unhappy with Esther for doing this she could have been killed. With great faith, Esther revealed her Jewish heritage to the king during the feast and pleaded with the king to stop Haman’s plans. The king listened to Esther and instead of killing her, he had Haman killed and issued a new decree allowing the Jews the right to defend themselves.
Purim begins this year on the evening of March 23, and many Jews will participate in the following ways to commemorate the holiday.
Reading the book of Esther (the megilllah)
Jews head to their synagogue to hear the entire book of Esther, or the megilllah. The megilllah is read from a handwritten parchment scroll, using an age-old tune. The story should be listened to once on Purim night and again on Purim day. When Haman’s name is mentioned, noisemakers (graggers) are twirled and people stomp their feet to eradicate his evil name. Purim is the only time when there is a mitzvah (commandment) to make noise!
Send food to friends (Mishloach Manot)
Purim emphasizes the importance of community and friendship by sending food to friends. Observers are expected to send a package with at least two different ready-to-eat food items or beverages to at least one Jewish friend during the daylight hours of Purim. A traditional Jew might send “Haman’s pockets” or hamentaschen, which are triangular, fruit-filled cookies to represent Haman’s three-cornered hat. Men send to men and women to women. Gifts are usually delivered by a third party and children are also expected to send their own gifts to friends.
Giving to the needy (Matanot La’Evyonim)
Another one of Purim’s primary themes is Jewish unity, because the Jews were persecuted and saved together. Purim’s special emphasis is on supporting the less fortunate and observers are asked to give money or food to at least two needy people during the daylight hours of Purim. Even small children are asked to observe this mitzvah.
Prior to Purim, Jews will fast to commemorate Esther’s three day fast before approaching the king. During the Purim day, families gather and invite guests to enjoy a festive Purim meal. The meal begins before sundown and lasts into the evening. The tables are festive with nice tablecloths and candles. The family washes for bread (challah) and enjoys the meal with meat, wine, Jewish songs and words of the Torah.
The Jews also include special prayers on Purim that describe the Purim story and thank God for the redemption of their ancestors. The Torah is read in the morning and Exodus 17:8-16 is read, which describes the battles of Haman’s ancestral nation almost one thousand years before Purim occurred. Children often dress as Mordechai and Esther and participate in a masquerade party at the synagogue.
“And in every province, and in every city, whithersoever the king’s commandment and his decree came, the Jews had joy and gladness, a feast and a good day. And many of the people of the land became Jews; for the fear of the Jews fell upon them.” (Esther 8:17)
The holidays are a perfect time for staying in and watching a classic holiday movie. We can learn a lot about faith, family and love from our favorite holiday movies. Here are a few of our favorite life lessons:
How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Cindy Lou Who and the Grinch teach us that Christmas is not all about the gifts—we need to forget about the presents and learn how to enjoy the holiday season with our families and friends. Cindy Lou Who also teaches us an important lesson on including others and not being quick to judge!
Aside from Buddy the Elf teaching us how to get into the holiday spirit, Elf is about finding and accepting who you really are. We shouldn’t hide our passion and excitement for the things we love—we should embrace them.
The Santa Clause
What would you do if you were suddenly left with the task of being the new Father Christmas? The Santa Clause teaches us to embrace the trials life throws at us and how to get through them in a jolly manner.
We can learn from Home Alone that holidays really aren’t the holidays if you’re alone. Hold onto your families and friends tight and make sure you invite the older neighbors over too. You never know who needs your kindness this holiday season.
The Polar Express
From the perspective of a young boy, we learn that if you can keep the faith then the wonders of the world will never fade. We are taught to have an open heart and to be brave when faced with uncertainty and the reward will be great!
Miracle on 34th Street
Unhappiness and doubts turn into joyful smiles and a lot of faith in this classic movie! Even when the world is telling us something isn’t true, you just got to have some faith and then something magical can happen.
A Christmas Carol
Learn from Scrooge this season and embrace the magic of the holidays. We learn that we all can have a huge impact on people and if we take some time to be kind we can change lives!
The Holiday teaches us that love is always out there—but sometimes you have to go looking forward. Sometimes an unexpected twist can bring you the happiness you are looking for… you just have to have faith!
A Christmas Story
This classic comedy teaches us the importance of listening to your parents because you really might shoot your eye out one day! Have faith and listen to the words of advice from those around you.
It’s a Wonderful Life
What would the world be like without you in it? It’s a Wonderful Life truly teaches us how important we are to each other and how much one person or even an entire community can be richly rewarded through sacrifice and love.
By Karen R. Trifiletti, FaithCounts.com Contributor
I remember one holiday ten years ago, thinking “I’ll keep this simple and faith-focused.” Then I thought of the flute and the violin and the sewing machine and the new guinea pig that my children would love—along with a raft of stuff that was unnecessary and over-much.
I could feel the pull between wanting to offer love-laden gifts, fueling my girls’ talents—and over-indulging. How easy the world slips in, and holidays, or “holy days” are tainted by too many things. That year—though we had a warm time and felt and shared our love and God’s in many ways—I still wanted to take visqueen and duct tape and put it over the need-to-get-stuff basket forever.
Image Copyright Tim Pannell / Mint Images / Offset.com
I don’t think I’m alone. Many of us have had long lists of shopping items for holiday meals, lists of gifts for some holidays, spent time looking for inexpensive flights and special deals, the right décor, or known the overwhelming feeling of holiday craziness.
Certain stress, though, is self-inflicted and often revealing. It happens when we place things over people, stretch beyond our means or worry that our means are never enough, or strive to people-please rather than to genuinely serve or meet a need (see 2 Corinthians 3:5). What we crave most is connection, not things.Holidays are about people—not stuff. So it’s good to remind ourselves and “renew our minds” about what matters and what does not (see Romans 12). As we do, we will seek less to fill our minds and stockings with things that do not satisfy (Isaiah 55:2).
Here are 5 ideas that have spurred me on to focus more on people, not things, during the holidays—gems from my own and others’ experiences.
C.S. Lewis reminds us that “the future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.” And Kissinger said, teasing about over-planning, “There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.” We laugh. We relate. Sometimes we slip into a gear that is too high for too long. Psalms 31:14-15 reminds us of another pace, a pace set as we count on faith, trust in and rely on the Lord and look to Him in our plans to bless others and build lives, not just to create pandemonium: “I trusted in You, O Lord. You are my God. My times are in your hands.” With God in mind and allowing Him control, we may be less inclined to micromanage everything and to overdo to satisfy others rather than glorify Him through serving others.
2. Embrace imperfect
Sometimes we have rigid expectations that straight-jacket us, like Tigger in Pooh Party who loses joy as he fusses to over-orchestrate it. We can become so focused on “the schedule” and what we’re doing next (How will I get the turkey done at the same time as the casserole or the chairs out before the next set of guests arrive?) that we miss the party or are locked out by our emotional absence or sense of distraction. It can happen to all of us—but being aware and being present; allowing others to help; allowing messes in our tidy home; having children get in the kitchen and create a traditional family recipe; and making memories, can enable a closeness and focus on each other, rather than on externals and performances.
3. Think of the gifts you remember most
For me, it was the CD that my daughter and her friends created from a simple set of Christmas lyrics I’d written, or a piece of used furniture my son-in-law personally painted for me. Another was a small special notebook that another daughter wrote in each night for months, penning a thought from her day, and then wrapping and sharing it with me. That 3×5 notebook holds a kept place in my heart and my nightstand. Additionally, some of my fondest memories include sitting around the fire or lit-up-tree talking or playing word or picture games with family, reminiscing, having late night snacks and sitting around in our PJs.
Reflecting on the memories that have meant the most to you and that have reflected faith, hope, and love can light up your life during the holidays and can help you deflect the messages of the media and the commercialism around the holidays. We’re either impacted by the Word, which moves us to lift and stirs our faith, or by the world, which strives to weigh us down and dilute our faith by pushing our fleeting want button.
4. Give purposeful and time-centered gifts
When the holiday involves gifting, reconsider giving things that can influence a person’s character, forward their life purpose and gifts, and not that satisfy yourself or eliminate old gifts in your recycle stash. People can feel the spirit behind our giving. A subscription to an interest magazine, tickets to a special event that will be long-remembered, setting up a time to have dinner together or providing a certificate for teaching your loved one or friend a skill you have, can personalize a gift and replace the last-minute desperate search for that tawdry plastic-laden gizmo that doesn’t fit on the kitchen counter or in the cabinet anyway. Gift-giving doesn’t need to take on a life of its own—it exists to reflect our love and the love of the Source of all love.
A Cornell psychologist and consumer researcher, Thomas Gilovich, says that new things are exciting to us at first, but then the novelty soon wanes. So rather than buying the latest model car, or newest tech gadget, he suggests we know more happiness spending money on experiences like attending concerts, engaging in in-or-outdoor recreational activities, conversation, developing a new skill, or sight-seeing. “Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods,” says Gilovich. He adds: “You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless, they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.” Giving experiences is a way to invest in the future of your relationship with someone. Consider ways you can do so this holiday season.
5. Consider the less fortunate
For those who love giving, considering the less fortunate is a daily affair. Yet the holidays provide additional opportunities to render special service to those who might be lonely or disadvantaged. As KidsHealth.org records,
A group of friends in a Vermont snowboard squad like to go to their local homeless shelterand give the homeless a day to remember. They begin preparing at the start of the snow season by asking people who come to the mountain to bring old winter gear like jackets, boots, gloves, and hats. Then the group visits the shelter to distribute the gear — along with a little extra. Says Jay, 18, one of the organizers, “‘We tell them, ‘Now you guys are coming with us and we’re going to teach you how to ski or snowboard all day for free.’” It’s awesome to know that we are able to take their minds off the stress in their lives for one day.
Observe and seek out your own ways of serving and giving to those who need comfort, strength, or relief consistently, including during the holiday season. It helps to match your gifts and talents with a need in your community. You can also choose a fund to donate to as a gift to those in need.
Serving others diminishes our own need to want more ourselves. Happiness expert and University of Illinois psychology professor, Ed Diener, said, “Materialism can lead to chronic feelings of dissatisfaction. It is open-ended and goes on forever—we can always want more, which is usually not true of others goals such as friendship.”
Perhaps each of these ideas can help us engage a different mindset in relationship to giving, material things, holidays, and happiness. One spiritual leader says it succinctly: True happiness comes only by making others happy.” With that in mind, and our hearts full of abundance and gratitude for the gifts of life and hope given us by our Creator, we can reach out to serve with real holiday spirit.
As another holiday season comes upon us and life seems to speed up in a frenzy of party planning and gift buying, take a few minutes to slow down and remember the real reason that makes this season so joyful.
We teamed up with two talented a cappella groups, BYU Vocal Point and BYU Noteworthy, to create a beautiful reminder that we hope inspires people of all denominations to look inward and reflect on the value of faith in their own lives this holiday season. Watch as the young girl in the music video decides to “come,” as the faithful are encouraged to do. Let us all celebrate the journey of faith we make.
The holiday is just beginning and you have yet to taste a single latke or sing a verse of “O Hanukkah.” Faith Counts shines a light on the Jewish Festival of Lights with this refresher course.
Starting from the Top
The top with four sides: the dreidel. A catchy tune and traditional toy, it has serious history. Custom has it Jews in ancient times pretended to play the dreidel when they were actually studying the Torah to throw off their captors, who had forbidden the holy book.
Looking to take the dreidel for a spin? Learn how to play.
Back to the Maccabees’ Miracle
But let’s take a step back—two thousand years back—to how Hanukkah started. Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version:
When the Seleucids had taken over Jerusalem and its temple, forcing the Jews to worship their Greek gods, a band of faithfuls known as the Maccabees revolted and reclaimed the city. Within temple walls once more, they discovered only a dollop of oil, enough to keep sacred lamps burning for one day. But the lamps burned strong for eight days, long enough to produce more oil and to spark the tradition of Hanukkah, a time to celebrate the overcoming of odds and and to give thanks for miracles big and small.
The curvy candelabrum known as the Hanukkah menorah holds nine candles—one for each of the miraculous nights the temple oil lasted, plus the shamash, used to light the others and as a spare. On each night of the festival of lights a new branch is lit and a blessing recited.
Menorahs are typically placed near windows so passersby can admire the glow—except, perhaps, when size is an issue. The world’s largest menorah in Brooklyn weighs in at 4,000 pounds and is 32-feet—or approximately 768 latkes—tall.
Like a Donut Full of Jelly
Celebrants of Hanukkah fry foods in oil in memory of the temple miracle—and because it tastes delicious. No fasting on this holiday.
Round as the o in oil is the sufganiyot—a donut filled with jelly or custard and dusted with powdered sugar. Go ahead, try out a recipe or two. No one’s counting calories here.
You Say Latke, I Say Potato Pancake
For the gluten-free faithful, there’s also the latke. Like the donut, the potato-made pancake is fried in oil. Make yours sweet or savory: top off with applesauce or sour cream. Or taste the rainbow of the rainbow latke.
However you spell it, the name comes from the Hebrew חֲנֻכָּה—which translates to “dedication” or “establishing” (referring to the Jerusalem temple). Variants include Hanukkah, Chanukah, Channuka, and even Hanuka. For those of us who never won a spelling bee, we can play it safe with “Festival of Lights” or “Feast of Dedication.”
Like Christmas, the first day of Hanukkah falls on the 25th—but of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar, which is based on a 353 to 385–day year, depending on sun and moon cycles. The holiday hops between November and December to those watching the Gregorian calendar. In 2013, the start of Hanukkah fell on Thanksgiving, resulting in a gloriously rare Thanksgivukkah. Celebrations included menurkeys—turkey-shaped menorahs—and the pardoning of a kosher turkey by a rabbi in Long Island.
Earlier this month we asked you to complete the sentence, “I’m grateful for my faith because…” We loved reading through all of your responses! Here are 50 of the more than 240 responses to the question. As you reflect on the many things you’re thankful for this Thanksgiving, consider these reasons to be thankful for faith:
Without my faith life would have no meaning. -Cheryl N.
My faith will carry me through the hardest times. -Mike P.
It brings me closer to God and gives me strength. -Candice I.
Without my faith I couldn’t make it day to day and couldn’t make it through the tough times. -Joyce D.
Because Faith is all I have. -Ti’Alice Y.
Faith gives me strength to keep going – Debra L.
Jesus has brought me through all of my trials. -Michael D.
Life would be hopeless. -Carol C.
I can always hold on to it. -Gail C.
It gets me through problems. -Andrea B
It brings me peace in good times AND bad. -Deonna T.
It’s what gets me by. -Julia S.
It gives me strength and helps me thru each day,we walk by faith not by sight! -Shirley G.
I have good people in my life. -Carla F.
It carries me thru the troubling times in life. -Dolores K.
It showed me a way when it looked like there was no way. -Ricarda B.
It helps me get through the rough patches. -Melissa B.
It’s my life source. -Alexis W.
It never fails me! -Tomika A.
It fills me up with hope and understanding! -Amber R.
It gives me stability. -Patricia S.
It is everything. -Sheri M.
God is awesome. -CJ G.
I would be lost without it. – Melissa C.
I’m truly blessed. -Christina B.
It gives me peace in my heart- LJ T.
His wonderful blessings. -Jennifer L.
It is my refuge and my salvation. -Teresa S.
Without it I would be nothing. -Turk R.
It is what carries me. -Jacqueline W.
It makes me a better person and life richer. -Austin J.
Without faith we wouldn’t find ourselves. -Maria A.
I’m alive. -Osi S.
I couldn’t face some of the things in my life if I didn’t have faith in God. -Joyce P.
It is my only way to get through my day … by faith and faith alone. -Pauline M.
It gives me comfort. -Dorothy W.
God listens and heals. -Prem P.
It keeps me going! -Jenny D.
Through faith all things are possible. -Jane Y.
It’s always there for me!! -Pam D.
It allows me to keep on going when I feel like throwing in the towel! -Tay S.
It helps me get stronger, more positive. -Gabriel G.
It had been a difficult two months since my husband and I moved from Salt Lake City to Boston for graduate school. Although we had saved meticulously, our expenses were twice what we anticipated. We also found out that my four-month pregnancy was considered extremely high risk, and the doctors called me in every week for blood tests and extensive procedures. Chances were high that I would have to deliver prematurely or risk serious health consequences.
While my husband put in long hours for an accelerated graduate degree, I remained unemployed despite a strong resume and numerous applications for positions. We were living in one of the top-five most expensive cities in the nation and had to make do with only my meager freelance salary.
Things were beginning to look up, though. We were adjusting to our hectic schedule and making do with cheap pasta and potato dinners. We were relishing the joyous details of our lives—like a warm cup of tea on a New England autumn evening.
Then I received news that my oldest brother had taken his own life, one week before his birthday and two weeks before Thanksgiving. Nobody in my family knew the extent of his mental and physical illness because he had resisted our efforts to reach out. His passing shook my family to its core, especially my parents. The whirlwind of his funeral left us in shocked grief, and we knew that the pathway to healing would be long and arduous.
With the holiday of thankfulness approaching, I had no idea how I could face the heavy burdens of my personal and professional life without caving. However, as I began to take stock of my life, I also felt a deeper sense of gratitude to and connection with God. Because I was desperate for comfort and relief, I could more easily recognize God’s hand guiding my life. This expanded my vision from focusing on everything that was going wrong to recognizing how much God was sustaining me in small but significant ways.
Here’s what I learned:
1.Be grateful for poverty. Making the cents stretch helped to feel grateful for the smallest blessings that I had taken for granted before. Desperate for a treat of some kind, my husband and I went to the grocery store one night and found hot chocolate on the discount shelves. We savored every sip. Being strapped for cash also gave us the chance to benefit from the kindness and generosity of others.
2.Be grateful for health. When I found out that my pregnancy could be life-threatening, I began to treasure every moment. I no longer took my breath or my heartbeat for granted. Every time I went to the doctor and came away with a clean blood test, I would listen to the rhythm of my heartbeat all the way home from the hospital. I was so grateful just to be alive and to have another day with the people I loved most.
3. Be grateful for learning. Although I couldn’t find full-time work, my freelance work allowed me to expand my perspective and increase my initiative. I had to work harder to earn projects that would provide for my family, and I was forced to develop expertise in unfamiliar situations. When I looked back on this work experience, I was amazed at how much I had grown professionally.
4. Be grateful for friends and family. As difficult as my brother’s death was, my family took it as a signal to draw closer together and express love and appreciation for one another. We learned that it is always worth it to show love, even when it can be hard.
5. Be grateful for God. Although God allowed me to carry these burdens, He never left me comfortless. He showed up in the details—whether in a much needed paycheck, through a generous family member, or in quiet moments of grief or serenity. God makes it possible for us to have peace, even in the darkest times. And that truly is a blessing that deserves our deepest gratitude.
The holidays are all about giving thanks and sharing—sharing a plate of cookies with a neighbor, sharing your home for a turkey dinner and even sharing your faith with those around you. Sharing what you believe with your friends, neighbors and even family can often feel awkward. After all, you don’t want to preach, just share what’s important to you. Here are five ways to share your faith more easily this holiday season.
1. Let people know what you are thankful for
Whether it’s during a football game or around the dinner table, find opportunities to share what you are thankful for. Tell your loved ones how grateful you are to have them and for everything they do for you. Being thankful is not only an outward expression of faith, but it will also help you be more aware of the blessings in your life.
2. Share inspirational and faith-related stories on social media
Use your social media influence to share your beliefs by “reposting” faith-related stories or even tweeting about your own faith experiences. You can also use social media to express what you are grateful for and to inspire others to do the same. Keep these short and personal to you. Don’t tell others what they need to feel or know, just share your own experiences.
3. Invite friends and family to attend worship services with you
Inviting your loved ones to your worship events may seem intimidating, but if there is a special musical event or holiday worship service coming up then that could be the perfect time. Make sure they feel comfortable attending and make it clear that you are inviting them so they can enjoy uplifting activities during the holidays, not to convince them to follow your faith.
4. Display your faith through your actions
One of the best ways to share your beliefs is through your actions. When you are kind and caring to others, everyone can feel and see your inner faith. Look for big and small service activities to set a good example for your friends and family. Suggesting and then organizing a trip with friends to the local food bank, shelter, park clean-up, etc. is a great way to share the feelings true service brings.
5. Ask your loved ones about their beliefs
The best way to get comfortable with sharing your faith with friends and family is to ask about their faith first. You can better understand people when you understand their beliefs. By learning about your loved ones’ faith you will be able to find some things you may have in common and you will be able to talk more openly about faith in the future.
Sharing what you believe is not always easy but you can have a great influence on others when you do. “The more we share, the more we have.” –Leonard Nimoy
With the Fourth of July this weekend, we wanted to share some of our favorite quotes from past U.S. presidents and leaders on freedom, faith, and believing we can become better than we are now.
Which quote is your favorite? Tell us in the comments.
“Where liberty dwells, there is my country.” – Benjamin Franklin
“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing.” – Abraham Lincoln
“This, then, is the state of the union: free and restless, growing and full of hope. So it was in the beginning. So it shall always be, while God is willing, and we are strong enough to keep the faith.” – Lyndon B. Johnson
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams
“We must dare to be great; and we must realize that greatness is the fruit of toil and sacrifice and high courage.” – Theodore Roosevelt
“America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.” – Harry S. Truman
“Life is never easy. There is work to be done and obligations to be met — obligations to truth, to justice, and to liberty.” – John F. Kennedy
“Freedom is the open window through which pours the sunlight of the human spirit and human dignity.” – Herbert Hoover
Freedom has its life in the hearts, the actions, the spirit of men and so it must be daily earned and refreshed – else like a flower cut from its life-giving roots, it will wither and die. – Dwight D. Eisenhower
“In the truest sense, freedom cannot be bestowed; it must be achieved.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
“Our greatest happiness does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed us, but is always the result of a good conscience, good health, occupation and freedom in all just pursuits.” – Thomas Jefferson
Last week we asked you to complete the sentence, “My mom has strengthened my faith by…” We loved reading through all of your responses. Don’t forget to wish your mom “Happy Mother’s Day” and thank her for helping you become the person you are today.
Jill – My mom always asks us, “Have you prayed about it?” when we share something we’re struggling to understand or overcome. The tone here is critical, hers is always one of love and wanting us to find answers as well as building confidence in us. Such a humble and good woman.
Katie M. – ALWAYS reminding me who I am and what I have the wonderful potential to become. She’s always there for me.
Rae Jean S. – She’s strengthened my faith cause she’s ALWAYS been strong with her faith and has never wavered in front of me and my brothers and sisters. She’s been such a great example for us to follow! Even when my father died in 2010, she’s stayed strong. In fact, she’s been so much more determined to do what is right. She’s amazing and I love her!
Kay Lee E. – Staying true to the church and always teaching us about the gospel and the things that are right. :)
Katie H. – Teaching me how to pray!
Vichhaka – Enduring child abuse, surviving genocide, and loving her children unconditionally.
Anissa T. – My mom has strengthened me by telling me to give whatever I am going through to God. My mom has been my rock because I am doing chemotherapy because I had stage four colon cancer, but they got it all so to keep it from coming back I am doing six months of treatment, two treatments a month. My mom has been there for every treatment and telling me I can do it because I am a fighter. This is how my mom strengthens me with the help of the Lord.
Kira H.– Taking me to church since birth!
Juanita T.– By EXAMPLE, by showing her faith and love in God!
Zaneta F.– My mom is a fighter and she’s strong. She taught us to be respectful, strong, to have dignity and integrity. Also to understand that WE ARE JUST AS GOOD AS OTHERS.
Briley S.– Everything and trusting in the Lord.
Kimberly L.– Taking me to church every Sunday.
B-Smoove BC – Always being there for me and raising me to be close to God.
Moody Blues Alaska – Never leaving me and not [being] upset with me.
Cara V. – Always reminding me two wrongs do not make a right. She also repeatedly said, “you don’t answer for what the other person does, just what you do.”
Carol R. – Living her life for the Lord. Trusting him in all things. Everything she taught us was prefaced with, “the Bible says.” She was amazing!
Trish S. – Being with me for about 6 months during my illness!! She is sooooooo AMAZING!!! GOD has Blessed her with determination!! SHE GIVES ME GREAT REASONS TO BE FAITHFUL!! SHE IS A STRONG WOMAN STILL @ ALMOST 70!!! I LOVE YOU MOM!!!!!
Amy H. – Mum took all 8 of her rebellious kids to church and encouraged and stood by an inactive husband for 11 years, with no support. She never gave up.
Rodney B. – Living her Faith!!
Sue K. – Living her faith each and every day.
Cindy L. – My mom & I went to church & Sunday school when I was in grade school. My mother also helped with vacation bible school every summer. She was a very loving, giving, & helpful person.
Monique H. – Being the strongest woman I know to survive 3 deaths of the closest people to her heart and still keeping the rest of us together….love u soooo much.
Jacqueline R. – Teaching me that JESUS LOVES ME NO MATTER WHAT!
Rocio C. – Introducing me to my hope, my Love, my Savior Jesus Christ.
Avril G. – She always said I must trust God first. To be truthful, honest, kind and be respectful of others. Love each other.
Tomika A. – Teaching me the word of God at home and taking me to church!
Trina W. – Being a strong woman no matter what life throws at her she made it!
Tim M. – Her example.
Gloria S. – By watching her life in good times and bad and how she always told me just pray and put your faith in the Lord, he will see you through!
Alisha M. – She raised all 7 of her children in church and always said, “when all else fails, pray.”
Carol A. – Living her faith.
Gloria M. – Being strong amidst many surgeries, broken bones, men that didn’t treat her well, fighting to stay alive, knowing that GOD still has a purpose for her life! She is an inspiration to me and I Love her with All my Heart.
Diann E. – Teaching me to treat all people the way you want to be treated because you don’t know who are God’s Angels.
Wanda S. – Going to church every single week, through even the hardest times. Oh, and daily living what she believes…..
Polly E. – Teaching us from the start about Jesus Christ and praying with us kids. She taught us never to blame God when things aren’t going good or when tragedy strikes. She taught us to pray and trust he who loves us.
Melinda B. – Living her faith.
Travis M. – Teaching me the word of God and raising me up to believe in Christ, the burial and resurrection of his son.
Patricia B. – My mother was a Christian and loved her family the way Jesus loved. She took us to church and encouraged us to live for Jesus. Love you mom for teaching me God’s ways.
Tamala J. – Always being a good mother, keeping a roof over my head, giving me lights to see, and keeping me from [being] around jealous[y], envy, and evil people.
Donna G. – Bringing us up to have morals, to have respect, not only for ourselves, but for others. By having these things instilled in us while growing up, our faith was strengthened accordingly. I cannot count the blessings I have had during my lifetime. I am truly grateful.
Joe T. – Being! If you knew my momma, you would say “enough said!”
Kayla J. – Teaching me to pray to our kind loving Father in Heaven.
Robert R. – In every way – even after death!!! I remember all she taught me!!
Deborah J. – By being strong.
Judith W.– She always called on the Lord.
Patsie B.– She taught me patience, and to be strong in faith; that you may not see it NOW, but God is working it out. So true!
Kathy O. – Following her faith with conviction and grace!!
Ann R. – Living [her faith] and encouraging it for me.
Dorothy A. – Teaching and loving me.
Jessica H. – By showing me her [faith].
Leanna D. – Acting out a strong relationship with the Lord daily ????
Tanya P. – Reminding me to count my blessings in the midst of struggles and showing me how to find peace in the midst.
How has YOUR mom helped strengthen your faith? Tell us in the comments!
As the Jewish college student organization Hillel International explains on hillel.org, “Passover is the most celebrated Jewish holiday throughout the world, commemorating the Israelites’ exodus from a life of slavery in Egypt to freedom. On the first two nights of Passover, many Jews hold a seder (literally ‘order’), consisting of a series of readings and rituals, and we retell the Passover story. The seder is an annual Jewish ritual in which groups of people—families, friends, communities, and even groups of strangers—gather for a time of reflective conversation about freedom.”
The seder encompasses 15 steps laid out plainly in the Haggadah, the text read during the ceremonial meal.
Despite the seeming meticulousness of the steps, within the text modern Jews find room for improvisation, discussion and adaptation. And though the ritual varies by both geography and time period, themes of freedom, gratitude and faith permeate.
T.K. Stark, a 30-year-old Jew living in Salt Lake City, UT, says his experience with the seder may be different from the more Orthodox interpretations, but the focus and feelings it evokes are universal.
While they follow the order of the seder he says they modify it a little. “We have a shorter version,” he laughs.
This sort of personalization is built into the structure of the Haggadah, says Josh Lipman, in his last year of college at the University of Utah. “Every traditional seder has its own spin.” The point isn’t just to follow the rote steps but to “use the Haggadah as a basis for conversation. Following it is in essence to stray from it,“ he adds.
Despite alterations, the emphasis remains the same: the deliverance of the Israelite slaves and its modern day parallels. These parallels can be made with broad strokes, “really anywhere that you feel or someone at the table feels empowered to start a conversation,” Lipman says.
Stark has participated in seder discussions ranging from overcoming personal bondage to societal issues like human trafficking.
For Lipman, the adaptability of the text helps bolster his belief. “The seder in many ways encapsulates what Judaism is about—in critical thinking and asking hard questions and not necessarily finding the answer. And for me that’s really important.”
The ritual as found in the Haggadah goes back centuries, but the seder as followed in Biblical times varied in marked ways, all centered around the historical Jews’ most sacred space.
Were you to find yourself roaming the streets of Jerusalem on the first day of Passover around the first century C.E., you may be drawn in with crowds pushing towards the centerpiece of city and faith—the temple. Faithful Jews from all across Israel streamed into the Holy City carrying an unblemished lamb to offer God. The sacrificial offerings were slaughtered en masse by priests and lay Jews alike in the Outer Alter while men and women gathered in the grand courtyard to worship and celebrate amidst joyful sounds of prayer and song. The whole city was alight with a “feeling of sacred joy,” says Maeera Shreiber, Chair of the Cross Cultural Jewish Studies Initiative at the University of Utah.
Only after the completion of the main festival were the offerings taken to homes and smaller communities. You’d still find matzot (unleavened bread) and bitter herbs and hear of the miracles of the deliverance from Egypt, you’d still sip wine and munch on the sacrificial lamb and avoid leavened bread, but it would not follow the stricter rigors or full symbolism of the modern worship.
The change has its roots in 70 C.E. After a rebellion and a lengthy siege, Jews watched as Roman legions set their priceless temple ablaze and dismantled it brick by brick. “A lot of what happened in Judaism is trauma of the loss of the temple,” Shreiber says. ”The big question is how are we going to go forward in the wake of this loss that was the pulse of our identity?” Some might have guessed it would have shattered the religion, but the Jews adapted. The rabbis shifted the focus away from temple ritual and over the next centuries worked to formalize belief, tradition and symbology, including writing scripts like those found in the Haggadah.
The modern seder may not take place in a holy temple, but it has been adapted and expanded to, as Shreiber says, “make it a lived experience.”
St. Patrick’s Day has come to be known for many as a time to wear green clothing, to feast on corned beef and cabbage, and to put green food coloring in practically everything. But what and who are we celebrating? Who was the man—the Saint—that inspired St. Patrick’s Day?
Although St. Patrick is Ireland’s patron saint, he wasn’t even Irish. Accounts vary but he was born somewhere in the British Isles, around the 4th century, to Roman parents. His given name was Maewyn Succat.
As a teen, Patrick was captured by pirates, taken to Ireland and sold as a slave to herd and tend sheep. During his six years of captivity, Patrick turned to God and became deeply devoted to Christianity. At the age of 20, Patrick had a dream from God telling him to leave Ireland by going to the coast where he would find a ship waiting to sail to Britain. Acting on his dream, Patrick ran away from his master and travelled 200 miles to a port where he convinced some sailors to let him board their ship. He was finally able to make his way back to Britain where he was reunited with his family.
After returning to Britain, Patrick went to France where he studied and entered the priesthood, and adopted the name Patrick. In another dream Patrick saw the children of Pagan Ireland reaching out their hands to him. He became increasingly determined to return to Ireland to free the Irish from their pagan ways by converting them to Christianity.
Patrick returned to Ireland and spent the next 40 years preaching, converting, and abolishing paganism. He and his disciples are responsible for converting all of Ireland to Christianity.
After years of living in poverty and enduring much suffering, St. Patrick died on March 17 at Saul, Downpatrick, where he had built the first church in Ireland.
St. Patrick has never been formally canonized by a Pope, but many Christian churches declare that he is a Saint in Heaven.
Test your St. Patrick’s Day knowledge with this quiz:
Today is Ash Wednesday, a day that marks the beginning of Lent, a Christian season of humility leading up to Easter.
When you pass some of your Christian neighbors on the street, you may notice that they are wearing an outward symbol of their faith — a cross of ashes drawn on their forehead.
So what exactly is Ash Wednesday and why is it significant to Christians around the world? Here are three things you need to know.
What is Ash Wednesday?
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, a time for penance and fasting. During the Lenten season, people resolve to do better and to be better. The days of Lent are meant to reflect Christ’s forty-day fast and resistance to temptation in the wilderness. Christians today voluntarily surrender something — a favorite food item, or maybe a not-so-great habit — as a small token of suffering in recognition of Christ’s suffering for mankind.
Ash Wednesday is also the day after Shrove Tuesday, a day meant for penitence in preparation for Lent, but which has now become a popular, secular day known as Mardis Gras, or “Fat Tuesday” — a sort of feast-before-the-fast celebration.
The last week of Lent is called Holy Week. These holy days represent important events in Christ’s life leading up to his death on Good Friday. Christians celebrate Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday, an event that gives them great hope. On Palm Sunday, one week before Easter, Christians remember when Jesus of Nazareth entered Jerusalem and crowds gave him a kingly welcome. This reminds believers how fleeting earthly honors can be.
Why do people wear ashes?
At the Ash Wednesday service, the priest draws a cross on believers’ foreheads while he recites the words, “Thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.” This is called the imposition of ashes.
The ashes are actually from palm branches that were saved from the previous year’s Palm Sunday service.
The ash mark reminds believers of a solemn truth: Life is temporary, and everyone will eventually face death. Such a serious day draws people around the world to reflect on this truth.
How do people find faith as they acknowledge one of the starkest truths of human existence?
Lent is meant to be a dark time, but people endure the deprivation because they have hope in the resurrection. Christians find hope in Christ’s example — his life, ministry, and death.
This faith is a deep source of comfort, and Ash Wednesday uniquely highlights how people can find light in the darkness.
What do the leaders of the United States have to say about faith?
No matter their individual religious persuasions, the 44 presidents of the United States have tried in good faith to serve the American people. Many of these men have expressed their views on the importance of faith. Today we’re taking a look back at some of their remarkable words.
“I have often expressed my sentiments, that every man, conducting himself as a good citizen, and being accountable to God alone for his religious opinions, ought to be protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience.”
To the General Committee, Representing the United Baptist Churches in Virginia, May, 1789
“But I must submit all my hopes and fears to an overruling Providence, in which unfashionable as the faith may be, I firmly believe.”
Letter to Abigail Adams, July 3, 1776
“I trust that the whole course of my life has proved me a sincere friend to religious as well as civil liberty.”
To the Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church at New London, Connecticut, February 4, 1809
“Nevertheless, amid the greatest difficulties of my Administration, when I could not see any other resort, I would place my whole reliance on God, knowing that all would go well, and that He would decide for the right.”
Remarks to Baltimore Presbyterian Synod, October 24, 1863
John F. Kennedy
“We cannot depend solely on our material wealth, on our military might, or on an intellectual skill or physical courage to see us safely through the seas that we must sail in the months and years to come. Along with all of these we need faith. We need the faith which our first settlers crossed the sea to carve out a state in the wilderness.”
Remarks at the 11th Annual Presidential Prayer Breakfast, February 7, 1963
“If we ever forget that we are a nation under one God, then we will be a nation gone under.”
Remarks at an Ecumenical Prayer Breakfast in Dallas, Texas, August 23, 1984
“We are Christians and Jews, Muslims and Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs, atheists and agnostics. Our religious diversity enriches our cultural fabric.”
A Proclamation on Religious Freedom Day, 2014
Learn about the religious affiliations of all 44 presidents here.
Which quote is your favorite? Tell us in the comments.