December is here and so are holiday story assignments. Have you decided what to write about yet? These suggestions will help you bring unique angles to your holiday coverage.
1. Ask about holiday accessories
Some of the best holiday stories start with a simple question: Where did you get that?
Try interviewing people about the origin of their menorah, Nativity set or other piece of holiday decor. Often, their answers will reveal touching family memories and help you explain religious teachings.
- Read “From dinosaurs to precious heirlooms, Sonoma County menorahs come in all shapes and sizes” from the Sonoma Index-Tribune on Dec. 3, 2018.
- Read “For Hanukkah, Jewish Tennesseans share the stories behind their menorahs” from the Tennessean on Dec. 1, 2018.
- Read “A precious holiday family heirloom tells the story of generations” from The Boston Globe on Nov. 23, 2018.
- Read “In Manatee County, Nativity scenes have special meaning to Christian families” from the Bradenton Herald on Dec. 23, 2016.
- Read “For the Love of Stuff” from The Atlantic on Dec. 10, 2014.
Eugene Halton is a professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame, where he studies social theory, materialism and consumption. He is the co-author of The Meaning of Things, which explores the significance of household possessions.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs is president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the central body of Reform Judaism in North America.
Colleen McDannell is a professor of religious studies and history at the University of Utah. She is the author of Sister Saints: Mormon Women Since the End of Polygamy and Material Christianity: Religion and Popular Culture in America.
2. Dive into the data
Survey results inspire articles throughout the year, so why should December be any different? Organizations like Pew Research Center and PRRI have a rich collection of holiday-related research.
Potential data-driven stories include a look at the relative popularity of Hanukkah compared with other Jewish holidays or Christmas’ transition from a mostly religious to mostly cultural celebration.
- Read “Survey Finds Americans Want More Christ This Christmas” from LifeWay Research on Dec. 11, 2018.
- Read “Christmas Another Sign Partisan Divide Extends to Culture” from Morning Consult on Nov. 28, 2018.
- Read “Personal Importance of Hanukkah Varies by Denomination among Jewish Americans” from PRRI on Dec. 15, 2017.
- Read “Americans Say Religious Aspects of Christmas Are Declining in Public Life” from Pew Research Center on Dec. 12, 2017.
- Read “Christmas also celebrated by many non-Christians” from Pew Research Center on Dec. 23, 2013.
- Listen to “Is Kwanzaa Still A Thing?” from NPR on Dec. 28, 2012.
Dianne Ashton is a professor of religion and American studies at Rowan University in Glassboro, N.J. She is the author of Hanukkah in America: A History.
Ellen Davis is the senior vice president for research and strategic initiatives for the National Retail Federation, which studies spending related to winter holidays.
Robert P. Jones
Robert P. Jones is CEO of Public Religion Research Institute, or PRRI.
Keith A. Mayes
Keith A. Mayes is a professor of African-American history at the University of Minnesota. He studies the significance and appeal of black holidays, including Kwanzaa.
Gregory A. Smith
Gregory A. Smith is the associate director of research at the Pew Research Center. He’s an expert on religion in America. Arrange interviews through Anna Schiller.
3. Turn on the Hallmark Channel
Like singing carols or decorating cookies, watching sappy Christmas movies is a festive way to spend a December evening. It’s also a potential source of professional inspiration, since many Christmas movies have religious undertones.
As holiday movies spread from the Hallmark Channel to Netflix, consider writing about what these films have to do with faith. And watch for new Hanukkah movies in 2019.
- Read “Hallmark, Famous for Christmas Movies, Plans Two Hanukkah Features” from Forbes on Nov. 29, 2018.
- Read “How Hallmark took over your TV every Christmas” from Vox on Dec. 14, 2017.
- Read “The Evangelism of Cheesy Christmas Movies” from Juicy Ecumenism, a blog run by the Institute on Religion and Democracy, on Nov. 27, 2017.
D.L. Mayfield is a writer and author who covers refugees, Christian theology and other ethical issues. She published a reflection on Hallmark movies in Christianity Today in 2015.
Brett McCracken is a senior editor for The Gospel Coalition and expert on Christian culture and entertainment. He previously reviewed movies for Christianity Today.
Michelle Vicary is the executive vice president for programming and network publicity for Crown Media, the Hallmark Channel’s parent company. Contact her through the network’s public relations team.
Alissa Wilkinson is a writer, professor and film critic. She covers film and culture for Vox and teaches at The King’s College in New York City. Contact her through her website.
4. Look for interfaith families and friendships
December is a big month for interfaith families and organizations. It brings opportunities for religious groups to partner on service projects and potential stress for parents trying to keep their kids connected to multiple faiths.
Let this interfaith energy guide your creative juices. You could write about Jews and Muslims spending Christmas Day together or families lighting Advent and Hanukkah candles on the same night.
- Read “Hanukkah or Christmas? Interfaith families navigate how to raise their children” from The Arizona Republic on Dec. 7, 2018.
- Read “St. Louis Jews, Muslims give back, bridge faiths and make friends on Christmas” from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Dec. 26, 2017.
- Read “‘Merry Chrismukkah:’ How Delaware’s interfaith families celebrate the holidays” from The News Journal in Wilmington on Dec. 14, 2017.
- Read “One-in-Five U.S. Adults Were Raised in Interfaith Homes” from Pew Research Center on Oct. 26, 2016.
- Read “Mitzvah Day brings interfaith cheer to needy families” from the Detroit Free Press on Dec. 25, 2015.
Bryan Conyer serves as schools program education officer for the Jewish Christian Muslim Association of Australia, which addresses religious intolerance. Contact him through Ginette Everest, the organization’s executive officer.
Linda Feldman is the director of family education for the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Phoenix, which offers courses for interfaith couples.
Susan Katz Miller
Susan Katz Miller is an author and journalist who has written widely about multiple religious belonging. Her book, Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family, was published in 2013.
Simone Bloom Nathan
Simone Bloom Nathan is the author of Eight Candles and a Tree, a children’s book for interfaith families.
Eboo Patel is the founder and president of Interfaith America, a Chicago-based international nonprofit that focuses on encouraging interfaith dialogue. Request an interview through Teri Simon at Interfaith America.
Catriona Robertson is the director of Christian Muslim Forum, a London-based interfaith organization aimed at healing divides between Christian and Muslim faith communities.
5. Explore the winter solstice
You might think to write about the pagan and Wiccan communities around Halloween, but what about December? Members of these groups often mark the winter solstice with social gatherings and ritual ceremonies.
If you mostly write about Christians, Muslims and Jews, the winter solstice is a chance to increase your readers’ religious literacy.
- Read “Mead, merrymaking and miserable weather: How to do the winter solstice” from BBC on Dec. 7, 2018.
- Read “13 Fascinating Winter Solstice Traditions Around the World” from Reader’s Digest on Dec. 6, 2018.
- Read “The U.S. witch population has seen an astronomical rise” from Quartzy on Oct. 4, 2018.
- Read “Blessed winter solstice” from The Wild Hunt, a website of pagan news and commentary, on Dec. 21, 2017.
- Read “Pagans party as winter solstice brings hope” from The Sydney Morning Herald on June 21, 2009.
Helen A. Berger
Helen A. Berger is a sociologist at Brandeis University. She studies gender and new religions, with a focus on paganism and witchcraft.
Heather Greene is a writer and editor who covers religion, art and the occult. She is the author of Lights, Camera, Witchcraft: A Critical History of Witches in American Film and Television. Contact her through her website.
Jason Mankey is a pagan writer and lecturer. He writes a blog on paganism for Patheos, exploring related rituals, history and holidays.
6. Think about the theme of generosity
Holiday stories can be about more than a single ritual or event. You can also explore the themes of the season, including generosity.
Choosing to write about generosity can take you in several directions. For example, you could analyze whether the new tax law will decrease charitable donations or how parents can raise kids to associate Christmas with more than presents.
- Read “No room at the inn: UK homeless charities turn away Christmas volunteers” from The Guardian on Dec. 10, 2018.
- Read “Want to raise generous kids? Here’s how” from The Washington Post on Nov. 27, 2018.
- Read “Charities brace for giving plunge in wake of new tax law” from Politico on Feb. 9, 2018.
Claire Bonham is the strategic lead for volunteering for The Salvation Army United Kingdom.
Neal Denton is the chief government affairs officer for the YMCA. He previously served as the senior vice president for government relations and strategic partnerships for the American National Red Cross.
Lucas Swanepoel is the vice president for social policy for Catholic Charities USA. Contact him through Patricia Cole.
7. Consider secular celebrations
Most religious “nones” celebrate Christmas. Around 7 in 10 say they view the holiday as more cultural than religious, according to Pew Research Center.
However, some nonreligious folks do put their own spin on the holiday season. Atheist and humanist organizations have promoted special events like the Secular Solstice or Newtonmas.
- Read “More People Are Celebrating Christmas Without Religion” from HuffPost on Dec. 14, 2017.
- Read “How do atheists celebrate Christmas?” from CNN on Dec. 14, 2015.
- Read “Secular Solstice: Doing good for goodness’ sake” from Religion News Service on Dec. 16, 2014.
- Read “On Dec. 25, atheists celebrate a different birthday” from Religion News Service on Dec. 16, 2011.
Andrew Copson is chief executive of Humanists UK, an organization that supports the nonreligious community and advocates for human rights. Based in London, he speaks regularly about freedom of religion or belief.
Kathleen A. Green
Kathleen A. Green is the executive director of the Yale Humanist Community. Yale Humanists worked with the city of New Haven to add a humanist monument to the group of religious symbols displayed downtown each December.
Michael Shermer is a noted atheist, the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine and executive director of the Skeptics Society. He has written several books, including How We Believe: Science, Skepticism and the Search for God and Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design.
Roy Speckhardt is executive director of the American Humanist Association, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., that works on behalf of the nontheistic community.