The Knights of Columbus 'Keep Christ in Christmas’

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In the past few weeks, while shopping or hustling for a bus on Beach 116th Street, or flocking to numerous meetings and holiday events at Knights of Columbus (KOfC) Rockaway Council on Beach 90th Street, many of you may have stopped and admired a quaint nativity scene with beautiful carved figures, depicting baby Jesus laying on a manger at the center, flanked on each side by his mother, Mary and her husband, Joseph. On the nativity scene (also known as crib or crèche) is inscribed the words, “Keep Christ In Christmas.” Well, according to KofC former Grand Knight Richie Knott, the crèche with the four words, “Keep Christ in Christmas,” is not just a fanciful holiday decoration, but for Knights worldwide, serves a higher purpose: “To promote the true spirit of Christmas in our homes, schools, parishes and communities.”

Founded in the U.S. in 1882, KofC is the world's largest Catholic fraternal service organization with more than 1.7 million members in 14,000 councils worldwide. In April of this year, Msgr. William F. Burke Rockaway Council #2672 Knights of Columbus, boasting a membership of 750 members strong, celebrated its 90th anniversary serving the Rockaway community.

According to Knott, the global Catholic fraternal order has led the “Keep Christ in Christmas” program since the early 1960s, and from the inception, the Rockaway Knights have zealously followed suit. “With this message, we’re trying to remind not just Catholics, but all Christians that Christmas is a religious holiday,” he said. “It's not about shopping or commercialism. By keeping Christ in Christmas, we're just underlining the first six letters in the word, ‘Christmas,’ which symbolizes the birth of Christ and our faith as believers.”

Originally organized by the Christian Mothers of Milwaukee, later known as Council of Catholic Women, in Milwaukee, Wis., the effort was originally known as “Put Christ Back into Christmas.” Following that effort, worldwide, the Knights of Columbus adopted the “Keep Christ in Christmas” program in the early 1960s, and have been actively promoting it ever since.

As part of the ‘Keep Christ in Christmas’ movement, councils worldwide hold a nativity scene lighting on the first Tuesday in December at 8 p.m. This year, just a few months ago, the Rockaway Knights experienced the loss of one of their dear brothers, Larry Kelly, who every year, constructed the beloved nativity scene, and had planned this year to rebuild, after it took a pounding after Sandy and years of subsequent use.

“Larry’s passing was such a blow to us. He was a dedicated active member, who wholeheartedly gave his all to our organization. He took great pride in constructing the crèche, and this Christmas season  has been a bit of a somber one without his presence,” Knott said.

However, another brother, Tom Elges, a born and raised Rockaway ‘boy,’ who has been with the Knights for the last 12 years and also member of the Ancient Order of the Hibernians, humbly stepped in to continue Larry’s work.

“This year was also especially tough for me, not just with Larry’s passing, but my two brothers also passed away. First, John Elges, a retired Long Beach volunteer fire captain and FDNY firefighter, who died on September 15 of 9/11-related cancer after a career with three bravery citations for searching for survivors at Ground Zero. Then, just less than a month after, my other brother, Robert, unexpectedly died. The Knights were a great support to me during this time, and are really a community-oriented organization. They don’t just take care of their own, but the entire Rockaway community. The amount of people from all walks of life that enter these doors every day is truly amazing.

“When Larry passed away, I wanted to continue his legacy of building the crèche. I’m a retired AT&T executive, but woodwork has always been a hobby of mine; and with fellow Knights brother, James Hurley, we got to work. We built the nativity scene outside the Knights’ home on Beach 90th and the one on Beach 116th, which is also sponsored by the organization. The message of ‘Keeping Christ in Christmas’ is significant because yes, we are faith-driven Catholics determined to make sure Christ is not exed out of Christmas, because after all, Jesus is the reason for the season. However, we are an organization that embraces everyone in the community,” Elges said.

Also to spread their faith and belief in keeping Christ in Christmas, for a mere $5, the Knights are distributing car magnet nativity scenes, with the aim of spreading the message. “We only charge $5 to offset the expenses of purchasing the magnets and supporting the Council’s future events. We would love to see the “Keep Christ in Christmas” nativity scene magnet on every car in Rockaway,” said Knights brother Mike Moran. It’s just about spreading what the true meaning of Christmas is all about.”

The Knights motto is Charity, Unity, Fraternity and Patriotism; and according to Knott, their logo’s colors, red, blue and white really emphasize their dedication to their patriotic mission as a Catholic organization dedicated to the community they serve.

For example in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, former Grand Knight Andy McCracken was instrumental in getting the Council’s doors open 45 days after the storm. “For two months day-in and day-out, Andy worked tirelessly to make sure we could open our doors and be a support to Rockaway. The Knights were a focal point for the restoration of the community in supporting various nonprofits, civic and youth organizations that loss their home bases after Sandy. The Knights has always been a behind-the-scenes organization, though we support numerous organizations and nonprofits throughout Rockaway, we never want public praise, just results showing that Rockaway continues to be strong, viable and community-minded.

“With our program to ‘Keep Christ in Christmas,’ we’re just trying to remind everyone that Christmas is not about shopping. It’s a day, we celebrate by giving gifts to each other because it is the day on which we celebrate the greatest gift of all: God’s gift of his son to the world,” Knott said.

To obtain a nativity scene car magnet and to learn more about the Knights of Columbus Rockaway Council, visit Facebook page: Knights of Columbus Rockaway Council 2672 or call: (718) 634-3699.

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