12/10/2012 03:52 pm ET Updated Feb 09, 2013

Holy Days and Holidays: What Do You Believe?

Four days in a row marked diverse holidays and holy days: Dec. 6, St. Nicholas Day; Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, 71 years since the attack and the U.S. entry into WW II; Dec. 8, the beginning of Hanukkah at sunset; Dec. 9, the Second Sunday in Advent. In this pluralistic society amid many traditions, people might ask themselves, "What do I believe?" Behind the decorations, "In whom or in what do I trust above all things?"

Years ago, when our oldest son, Mark, was only 3 ½, a woman in a shopping mall abruptly approached and loudly said right in his face, "Have you been good?" Was she assuming he feared if he were bad he would receive coal rather than a gift from St. Nicholas for Christmas? We were trying to teach Mark the unconditional love of a gracious God. What would he believe?

How do we remember Pearl Harbor Day? Some remember that actual day. Others have only heard about it. War intrudes in the midst of holidays. What do we believe about bombs? And war? And veterans? And a path toward global peace today?

Hanukkah, "Festival of Lights," celebrates the miracle that the oil for the Jewish menorah, only enough for one day, lasted for eight. In what do people believe today? In the gifts given? In the miracles? In the God of miracles?

Advent Sundays prepare for the coming of Christ. During Advent's time of waiting, who is this Jesus in whom people believe? When our youngest son, Kirk, was 7, his turn to select a daily Scripture to read for evening devotions fell on Christmas Eve. He picked the long chapters 18-19 from John's Gospel on Christ's suffering, sentencing and death. Had Kirk made a mistake? But we listened. Somehow he believed, even then, you can't have the baby Jesus without Good Friday and Easter.

That's not to say this should not be a season of joy, even fun! However, centering on one's basic beliefs helps focus gift-buying. Even Santa is put in perspective.

Middle son, Joel, now a grown man, teaches public high school music. He, of course, doesn't proclaim or teach a religion, but he invites students in the midst of the music, to quietly consider their own beliefs. "Where do you place your trust? What do you believe about the world? About each other? About poor people? About....?"

By avoiding distractions and resisting that stress, going deeper into one's beliefs can guide our devotion and our actions.