7 story ideas for a holiday-filled December

"Creative Playthings" wooden nativity set on display at The Children's Museum of Indianapolis (Courtesy of Daniel Schwen/Creative Commons)

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.

Related readings

Potential sources

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.

Related readings

Potential sources

  • Dianne Ashton

    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

    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.

Related readings

Potential sources

  • D.L. Mayfield

    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

    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

    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

    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.

Related readings

Potential sources

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.

Related readings

Potential sources

  • 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

    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

    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.

Related readings

Potential sources

  • Claire Bonham

    Claire Bonham is the strategic lead for volunteering for The Salvation Army United Kingdom.

  • Neal Denton

    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

    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.

Related readings

  • Andrew Copson

    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

    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

    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.