Vanderbilt experts can speak about Christmas, Kwanzaa

What would Jesus think about drive to ‘save’ Christmas?

Christians looking to “save” Christmas from creeping secular humanism by threatening lawsuits should give some thought to what the central figure of the holiday would make of the controversy, says John Thatamanil, assistant professor of theology at Vanderbilt Divinity School. “The latest offender is Walmart,” Thatamanil said. “Their offense is not that they pay their workers so poorly that the company provides new employees with paperwork needed to go on the public dole. What has really riled up fundamentalists is that some Walmart stores have adopted ‘Happy Holidays’ rather than the pious proclamation of ‘Merry Christmas.’ Thatamanil believes this stance is a colossal misunderstanding of the message of Jesus. “One wonders what the good Jewish boy whose birthday is the cause of all this ruckus would make of this hyper-Christian piety,” Thatamanil said. “What would the one who danced and mourned with prostitutes, lepers, the naked, the starving and the imprisoned – the powerless of his time – make of his sanctimonious followers who fastidiously observe the day of his birth and would coerce everyone else to do likewise and yet neglect the poor while doling out tax breaks for the uberrich, support those who launch unilateral wars, build secret prisons, and openly advocate for the freedom to torture.”

John Thatamanil is an expert in comparative theology, Hindu-Christian and Buddhist-Christian dialog and the theology of Paul Tillich. He teaches often at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Chapel. To interview Thatamanil, call 615-322-2706 or email him:

Kwanzaa important to African-American communities

Kwanzaa has grown to become an important annual celebration to African-American families since its inception in 1966, says Frank Dobson, director of the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center at Vanderbilt University. “It is important because it serves to reinforce and reaffirm the cultural roots of African Americans while also articulating their need to preserve key principles of family and community, such as unity and faith,” Dobson said. Kwanzaa, celebrated from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, is based on the first harvest celebrations in Africa, from which it takes its name. Kwanzaa is derived from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza,” which means “first fruits” in Swahili.

Frank Dobson is a writer and poet who is working to make the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center a center for student support, cultural programming and community outreach. To interview Dobson, call 615-322-2706 or email him:

Media contact: Jim Patterson, (615) 322-2706

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