It's Christmas Day: So what's the story?

Pick up the newspaper on a typical Christmas morning and you know that certain items are sure to be inside.

The local copy desk will have managed to get an early dateline story out of Rome, complete with whatever quotations the pope's sermon included that have anything to do with politics or the peace process in the Middle East. It's usually best to just read the sermon for yourself.

You also know that there will be a report and a photo about conditions in Bethlehem. Conditions there are almost always somewhat more bleak, or somewhat less bleak than the year before. Bleak is measured in terms of police and-or tourists.

This is particularly interesting to me, since I attend an Eastern Orthodox parish that is about 70 percent Arab. Our church has members from Bethlehem and Jerusalem, part of the great exodus of Christians out of the Holy Land. I was particularly struck, this year, by the Los Angeles Times report by Laura King. It had all of the usual political themes that one expects to see in a religion story from that part of the world. Here is a sample:

Most of the celebrants were local Palestinians, including throngs of young Muslim men and boys seeking any excuse for a night out from one of the city's grim Palestinian refugee camps. The few foreign tourists were mostly organized church groups, rather than the travelers who could commonly be found venturing to the West Bank on their own in the years before the second intifada, or uprising, broke out in September 2000.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestine Liberation Organization chief who is favored to win the Palestinian Authority's Jan. 9 presidential election, attended midnight Mass in the chapel adjoining the nearly 1,500-year-old Church of the Nativity, in what aides said was a message of interfaith solidarity.

Now note, if you will, an interesting point in that last paragraph. The story covers the politically colored events in the chapel next door to the ancient church. If you have been to Bethlehem, then you know that this means that the reporter covered the Roman Catholic services in the rather modern Franciscan sanctuary that adjoins the ancient sanctuary of the Church of the Nativity (shown in photo). Let's hope that when Christmas arrives on the Julian calendar on Jan. 7, at least a few reporters visit the ancient church for the Orthodox rites there -- even if those rites are not as politically symbolic. We'll have to see. Or perhaps we will not see, if major U.S. media fail to cover it.

Meanwhile, back to the main theme of this post. Another staple of Christmas Day newspapers is the glowing human interest story about nice people doing nice things. There will be photo packages on volunteer Santas and short accounts of volunteers helping people out in a wide variety of ways. These are the "good news" stories that consultants tell news executives that readers what to see and, every now and then, editors assign them and get them into the main pages. If GetReligion readers see any fine examples of this genre today, please leave us a comment or two.

One of my local newspapers -- the South Florida Sun-Sentinel -- led page one with a nice-people story of this kind, only with a twist.

Veteran religion reporter James D. Davis (a friend of this blog), came up with a Christmas feature that I have to admit I have never seen before. He focused his feature story -- entitled "A Newly Found Faith" -- on individuals who are seeing Christmas 2004 through a unique lens. He found people who had been converted to Christian faith in the previous year and asked them how this affected the Christmas season. The stories of these converts are not spectacular. Most, it seems, are built on quiet changes over time. But it is still clear that these lives changed and, thus, in subtle ways, Christmas changed.

However, the copy desk at the Sun-Sentinel appears to have made one major online mistake. They misplaced Davis' prologue -- which explains what the these stories are all about. Imagine that. They forgot to include his lead on the body text of his story.

So here it is. Read the lead and then you can go read this rather unique set of Christmas stories:

In a way, Christmas is always the same: a bright, joyous tide of gifts, colors, carols, festive foods. And also, of course, a rushed, stressful time; a commercial polyglot; a TV season of black and white feel-good movies from yesteryear. Yet today, it will be different for some people in South Florida: new Christians.

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