Church of England launches attack on "cult of Father Christmas"
After a study came out showing that only 8 percent of British children associate Christmas with religion or Jesus, Church of England leaders went into high gear. The result is the newly launched St. Nicholas Society. "We want St. Nicholas to replace Father Christmas as the face of Christmas," Jim Rosenthal, director of communication for the Worldwide Anglican Communion and founder of the society, told The Telegraph. "For centuries, St. Nicholas, who wore bishop's robes and carried a [crozier], was at the center of the celebration. He was the very reason why people gave gifts. We now feel it is time for Father Christmas to get out of his elf's costume and back into his religious robes." The society is emphasizing that it's not criticizing giftgiving and other commercial aspects of Christmasラit just wants people (especially kids) to know the Christian history of such traditions. George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury, has sent his blessing: "I applaud the notion of restoring the historical identity of the great gift-giver who was the bishop St Nicholas. He and his legend epitomize Christian sacrifice, generosity and compassion." (See more coverage of the campaign in South Africa's Independent newspaper.)

"You go to church at the thrift store?"
"Few people realize that the Salvation Army is an evangelical Protestant denomination of more than a million members in 107 countries, with its own creed, ordained clergy, seminaries and spiritual mission: 'To preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination,'" reports The Washington Post. An interesting statistic: of the 472,000 Americans who identify themselves as Salvationists, only 125,000 have signed the church's Articles of War (the Salvation Army's statement of faith and conduct code). The Post's article is a nice introduction, but for more depth, see our recent coverage of the church, Christian Reader's "Family Tree" article on the founding of the church, and Christian History's issue on founders William and Catherine Booth (issue 26). The article also doesn't note that the Salvation Army is undergoing a kind of identity crisis around the world. The new head of Canada's Salvation Army, Commissioner Bill Luttrell, tells The National Post that the denomination's militaristic structure "has made it overly bureaucratic and burdened by red tape." He's looking for ways to adapt the church to today's oh-so-speedy world.

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Catch part 2 of part 2 of the history of Christianity tonight, catch part 1 later
Weblog apologizes for not alerting readers to A&E's documentary, Christianity: The Second Millennium, which began last night and concludes tonight. (If it's any consolation, Weblog missed it too, but enjoyed 1998's Christianity: The First Thousand Years.) The New York Times criticized the show because "it doesn't fully grapple with are the overarching questions. Why this religion? Why did it take hold in so much of the world? And how is it that this fallibly human institution has endured, outlasting empires, despite 20 centuries of persecution (both inflicting and receiving), religious wars, schisms, plagues, assassinations, corruption, and social and intellectual upheaval?" But Times reviewer William McDonald does say that, "as strictly a survey of a historical phenomenon, [the documentary] does its job creditably, managing to be cogent and sweeping at the same time." The Christian Science Monitor, similarly notes that this "fascinating new documentary ... cruises through the second thousand years since Jesus' time in an all-too-brief four hours." Part one will repeat on Christmas Eve (set your VCRs.)

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