This December, Winnipegger Betty Bahr is driven to spread the greetings of the season, one vehicle at a time.
Bahr and her fellow members of the Catholic Women's League of St. Gerard's Roman Catholic Church in Elmwood are selling car magnets and decals featuring a line drawing of the nativity scene and the words "Keep Christ in Christmas."
"The reason for Christmas is because (Jesus) Christ was born," she explains. "The trend lately is to just celebrate it as a secular holiday."
Bahr first saw the 16-by-17-centimetre black-and-white magnets two years ago while visiting family in B.C. She purchased one for the family car, and now hundreds of local vehicles are sporting them, too.
Her group has already taken orders for 1,200 magnets from other Catholic parishes and sent information packages on the products to several other denominations.
Available in English or French, the magnets sell for $5. For the same price, Bahr also offers a typing-paper-sized sheet of three non-adhesive decals for car windows.
Travel the highways and byways of Canada this Christmas season and you'll likely see these magnets on passing vehicles, especially in the Maritime provinces, says Canadian distributor Dale Hofer (www.christischristmas.ca), who has sold 100,000 magnets since 2008.
"We're not preaching to anyone; just put the message on the back of your car," says Hofer, of Vernon, B.C., who imports the Chinese-made magnets and stickers from a Knights of Columbus group in Illinois. "We're making sure the message is not forgotten."
Touted as a fundraiser combined with silent evangelization, the Illinois group (www.kcnativitysets.com) has sold more than a million magnets since it came up with the idea in 2005. Each magnet costs less than $2 plus shipping, and they are sold in boxes of 200.
This kind of drive-by message likely has better results if the driver of the vehicle bearing it obeys the rules of the road and doesn't cut you off in traffic, suggests a communications professor at Canadian Mennonite University.
"What you do (behind the wheel) will be the cue as to how (others) interpret that religious identity," says David Balzer.
He wonders who exactly the message is intended for, since there's not one single entity dedicated to removing the story of Jesus Christ's birth from the Christmas narrative.
"It's not like anyone out there is trying to get rid of Christ in Christmas," says Balzer, adding even retailers benefit from the underlying theme of generosity in the nativity story.
Christmas historian and author Gerry Bowler isn't surprised the campaign to keep Christ in Christmas is led by Roman Catholics, who have a long tradition of rejecting the cultural aspect of the holiday.
"Santa was seen as taking away from the crèche," explains the University of Manitoba professor, referring to an incident in 1951 when Santa Claus was burned in effigy on the steps of the Catholic cathedral in Dijon, France. Church officials at the time called it a fight against the paganization of Christmas.
The author of a biography on Santa Claus and a Christmas encyclopedia says the message to keep Christ in Christmas may resonate most with people already marking the religious aspect of the season.
"I don't think it's so much an evangelical tool as to remind other people who are Christians where their priorities should be," says Bowler, now working on a book about the wars on Christmas over the centuries.
Despite that reminder, he doesn't feel guilty about enjoying the cultural parts of the holiday alongside the religious aspect of the season.
"There are all kinds of things I love about (Christmas) that are not central to the Christmas story, (like) the music, the liturgy."