Christmas – opportunities of faith

Christmas – opportunities of faith

More people go to a church over the Christmas period than at any other time of the year. So, shouldn’t the churches use this opportunity to attract more church-going right through the year?

Some might call this a modern marketing opportunity. St Paul would call it evangelisation.

If I were a marketing consultant, I would advise maximising this opportunity for further audience expansion.

Taking the analogy further, the marketing consultant would ask: what can the Church, and the Faith, offer which isn’t available elsewhere?


The church, like the Rabbinical tradition which preceded it, was a teaching authority: but people look to the institutions of education for teaching.  They get their social policies from social workers and sociologists. They get their information, and sometimes their opinions, off social media and Google. They get their ceremony and ritual from sporting activities, or State occasions – although, in Ireland, State occasions are a little less lavish in ceremony than Britain or France.

They get their jokes and general entertainment from TV, comics and performance artistes.

What is it that the Church can provide which is not catered for elsewhere?

Faith and the Sacraments are a primary answer: but not everyone who attends Mass, or just visits a church over the Christmas period, has faith or is ready for the sacraments.

I would say that the USP (Unique Selling Points) to attract people into church are: peace, spirituality, a sense of the transcendental, community in harmony, beauty and music.

And a deep sense of continuity with what people have done for, literally, thousands of years.

Don’t, I would advise, allow the banal to be part of the church and faith experience. My late sister-in-law used to say that what turned her off most, in church, was a priest starting the the homily with – “As they said on the Late Late Show the other night…”

She wanted to be uplifted to something higher and better when she went to Mass, not given some faux-chummy chat about something entirely trivial.

It is a central tenet of marketing any product or service that you provide something that the competition – whatever the competition is – doesn’t have. Today, the competition is everything the raucous world can offer. Don’t compete with the raucous world, then: offer what is different.


The raucous world is full of novelty – “new” is the most used, and over-used world in the advertising business. So offer what isn’t new: what draws on the centuries’ beauty and wisdom.

It would be disrespectful to carry this analogy with marketing too far. Faith is not a selling-point. But the leaders of faith surely should see, in the full pews at Christmas, a chance for reaching out.


The Swedes are now calling Christmas ‘Winter Festival’ so as not to offend Muslims, or people of other faiths who do not celebrate Christmas. I’m sceptical that this will succeed. Banning Christmas goes against the grain.

In America, there has been a sustained effort to replace ‘Merry Christmas’ with ‘Happy Holidays’, but Christmas is too big, too meaningful to bring down by mere political correctness.

The American Catholic commentator Christopher Caldwell writes that Donald Trump promised to make Christmas more central to the country’s culture and urged using the expression ‘Merry Christmas’ in place of ‘Happy Holidays’. Mr Trump loves Christmas, apparently. “It’s about the only thing he’s sentimental about.”

Holidays, anyway, derive from ‘Holy Days’: it’s pretty hard to get away from the cultural roots of faith.


The sheer joy of a ‘treat’ remains special

Speaking of America, I find myself, illogically, nostalgic for a child’s Christmas that I never experienced. This was Christmas in New York in 1940, whither my late husband and his brother were evacuated during World War II.

He was just ten and came from an austere life in England, where schools were strict, food was plain, children were only rarely given treats for fear of being ‘spoilt’, and there was no such thing as fancy wrapping paper: a gift, when proffered, was packaged up in brown parcel paper.

In New York, he saw the giant image of Santa Claus over Macy’s store for the first time, heard ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ and ‘White Christmas’ for the first time, and was plied with gifts and toys by generous Americans, all wrapped up in this glittering decorative paper. Jewish Americans, mindful of what was happening in Europe, were particularly generous.

Christmas is about the Nativity, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is not really the point. But those Christmas entertainments which are routine and even jaded to our eyes and ears now were once fresh and excitingly new: it is only those who have 
not had ‘treats’ who can really experience what 
they mean.