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Billboard ladies keep Christ in Christmas

Published: Thu, November 20, 2008 @ 12:06 a.m.


CHRIST IN CHRISTMAS - Judi Hanna - Joanne Brown - Pat See and Linda Bennet - in front of the billboard on Mahoning Ave. in Youngstown.

By Linda M. Linonis

Five friends focus on spreading the message of Merry Christmas.

NILES — Friendship, faith and fortitude shared by five women add up to a powerful force.

The friends, all Christians, think it’s important to send a simple but potent message with the wish of Merry Christmas. The concept is meaningful during this season but the women hope it stays in people’s hearts year-round.

The Merry Christmas Billboard Ladies — Joanne Brown of Poland, Linda Bennett of Niles, Judi Hanna of Boardman, Laurie Kramer of Youngstown and Pat See of Canfield — are making a return engagement — just like Christmas.

They’re back in a bigger way than their initial foray last year in spreading the message of Merry Christmas. Their grass-roots effort has gained momentum mostly by word of mouth.

Last Christmas season the women raised $2,800 and paid for four billboards with the messages: “I miss hearing you say Merry Christmas” and “Why have you stopped saying Merry Christmas?” Both were signed, “Jesus.”

In 2008, the billboard ladies started with $1,600 in donations. In 2007 and 2008, the group collected just under $6,000 for billboards. The funds enabled them to pay for seven billboards this year with the messages: “I miss hearing you say Merry Christmas” and “It’s OK to say Merry Christmas.” Again, both signed “Jesus.”

Location and size determines the cost of billboards, which are red with white lettering. The messages are displayed from around Thanksgiving to Christmas.

Brown explained that President Ulysses S. Grant signed a congressional bill June 28, 1870, to make Dec. 25, which the bill noted was “commonly known as Christmas Day,” an official holiday. Brown pointed out this act of Congress didn’t make Dec. 25 a “happy holiday” and clearly identifies it as Christmas.

The women said the idea for the billboards evolved after each one had heard and seen one too many “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Bennett said Brown wondered aloud “what an individual could do” and the women came up with the idea to use billboards to spread their message.

“Holiday isn’t interchangeable with Christmas,” Brown said. “It’s Christmas tree, Christmas cookies, Christmas carols.”

Bennett pointed out that it’s rather ironic that there are “Christmas in July” events and advertisements, not “holiday in July.” The actual Christmas competes with happy holidays, she said.

More to the point, she noted, is a Christ-centered Christmas. “If Christ were here ... what would we say to him?” she wondered. “We would wish him happy birthday by saying Merry Christmas.”

Hanna pointed out the billboards and their messages are to “feed those poor in spirit.” She noted that “people want the day off, want the gifts” but are missing the reason for the season — the birth of Jesus.

“It’s not a secular holiday," Bennett added. “... as Christians we have a calling to follow God’s example ... he gave us his son. We need to take the Gospel message and help those less fortunate.”

The women said they don’t believe contributions for billboards take away from charitable donations. “We’ve gotten beautiful letters from people saying they were inspired by the messages,” See said, noting that these contributors often mention they were inspired to help the less fortunate. “The billboards remind people what Christmas is really about ... the gifts are secondary,” she said.

The women themselves marveled at the fact that the billboards have been funded mostly by small donations. Hanna said one person gave $1.50, which was what she could afford. “People donate because they support the message,” said See.

Last year, some 170 contributors — individuals and groups — donated toward the billboard cause. This year, a group of sixth- through eighth-graders who are members of Fellowship of Christian Athletes at South Range Middle School in Greenford donated $150. “They had a candy sale and wanted the money to go to the billboard campaign,” said Janice Stephenson, a parent and volunteer with FCA.

“FCA focuses on helping the community and empowering students to serve Christ,” Stephenson said. “The students thought the billboard idea was good.”

The women said they will continue the billboard project. They have spoken to church and civic groups about the effort. Their idea is spreading, as they’ve been contacted by a group in Albany, N.Y., that wants to use the concept.

Most of all, the five friends wish a Merry Christmas to the Mahoning Valley.

SEE ALSO:About the billboards.


1bob(1 comment)posted 6 years, 9 months ago

Why, oh why, does The Vindicator keep printing this story without interviewing any religious minorities? Obviously, Happy Holidays was adopted to make them feel comfortable. What exactly are these women trying to say? Our holiday is better? What a waste of money.

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2Stan(9923 comments)posted 6 years, 9 months ago

Once again we are celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ!


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3s_black(40 comments)posted 6 years, 9 months ago

“... as Christians we have a calling to follow God’s example ... he gave us his son. We need to take the Gospel message and help those less fortunate.”

And a billboard is how these women choose to help? It seems to me that the money might have been better spent in any number of philanthropic ways that might truly "help those less fortunate."

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4Stan(9923 comments)posted 6 years, 9 months ago

God Bless the ladies for displaying for all to see that Jesus Christ is indeed still celebrated. Even the very young grasp the meaning of Christmas. The birth of Christ is still very much in vogue and many parts of the world still celebrates this joyful event.

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5paulydel(1474 comments)posted 6 years, 9 months ago

December 25th is Christmas not anthing else. If you don't believe in Christmas then got work that day, don't collect holiday pay. The United States was formed as one nation under GOD not anything else. If you have another holiday celebrate it but don't try tearing down the Christmas season. MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL and thank you ladies for reminding us about the CHRISTMAS SPIRIT.

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6s_black(40 comments)posted 6 years, 9 months ago

I admire the women's passion, but I don't believe that the hand of Christ is at work in spending $6000 on signs. If these women wanted to "help others," they could have used the money to provide meals, energy assistance, help with medical bills; even scholarships for theology school would have been better. Spending $6000 on signs is grossly wasteful, especially during a time when people are hurting in real ways. That is the issue, not whether or not one works on Christmas, not why or by whom our nation was founded, or "anything else." It is not "tearing down the season" to point out that purchasing billboard space is not the same as real, true, compassionate giving...you know, the kind Christ called for.

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7SRGIII(1 comment)posted 6 years, 9 months ago

I don't believe that you can read this message and see a campaign against any mionrity faith. GOD bless them all for having faith. I do see this as a promotion of JESUS Christ in Christmas, which is a wonderful expression.

There are alway going to be poor people regardless of efforts to eliminate that condition. What have you done to eliminate economic conditions for the poor today?

These ladies are creating a ground swell to put JESUS back in Christmas, and I wish them tremendous success. Let's make room in our hearts, in our minds and with our voices.


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8s_black(40 comments)posted 6 years, 9 months ago

Promote Christ in Christmas through deeds, not billboards.

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9Maite(47 comments)posted 6 years, 9 months ago

I would like to shed a different slant on this whole discussion.
I am English and to me, Happy Holiday means nothing more than a wish that I shall enjoy my annual vacation.
This is an issue of language.
In England we don't use the term Holiday at all, to mean a Christian celebration.
I can understand why the US would use that term to avoid using obvious specifics to non-religious sectors of society.
But I want to ask, using this same argument: Do you guys ever refer to Diwali as Holiday???
Over here, we call it Diwali. We therefore are acknowledging that those who celebrate it, have a specific name for their festival.
Why therefore should it be so sensitive an issue to those who do not celebrate OUR religious festival of Christmas, to have to say the word itself??

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10MBZ(2 comments)posted 6 years, 8 months ago

$6000 could have bought a LOT of food for a local food bank.

If you want to do good, do good quietly and help your fellow man. This $6,000 only feeds the advertising corporation these women paid.

$6000 could have fed MANY families.

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11dmets(575 comments)posted 6 years, 8 months ago

I love the billboard!!! This time of year has and always will be the celebration of the birth of Jesus! Hey I do respect other religions' special days. I do not complain about them and throw a fit. If someone was to wish me a Happy Hanukkah, I would say thank you, and say it back. Am I jewish? No, but there is no harm in wishing it to someone. As for you all who think that the money could feed many families, yes it could, but I think the reason is very well represented. It might just inspire people to go out and donate or voluteer to help others. To give, which is the a meaning of Christmas, along with many others.

Merry Christmas to Evreyone!!!!

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12qzpm0s(1 comment)posted 6 years, 8 months ago

I love the billboards! There are many people in this country that are spending millions to silence the Christian people. They spend millions in court costs to remove any Christian symbols like Navitity Scenes, Crosses, etc. The Christian people want our freedom of religion that this great country was founded on and we are fast becoming the minority. We can not keep silent.

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13Kayro(1 comment)posted 6 years, 8 months ago

Kudos to the ladies!

Put up the Billboards AND help those in need. It isn't hard to do both!

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14soccerjeepgirl(1 comment)posted 6 years, 8 months ago

I think this gesture is very sweet. Sure there are other and different ways to put Christ in Christmas, but this is a good deed with good intentions. If donating to those in need is your idea of helping, do it! There is no goodwill in criticism. I can say that in the very least even if you disagree with the message, it does give us food for thought - "What can I do to make a positive impact?" Regardless of your belief, or lack thereof, in God, I would say most of us want to make a difference. Merry Christmas!

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15s_black(40 comments)posted 6 years, 8 months ago

These signs don't remind or encourage us to "make a positive impact." They don't say, "remember to donate to charitable organizations," or even "visit your local house of worship." If they did, then an argument could be made for their helpfulness to the community. Right now, they are the spiritual equivalent of hanging a "Steelers Country" banner.

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16dmets(575 comments)posted 6 years, 8 months ago

I think these are very important signs. You obviously do not get the point.(Requesting fly by) How many places and people instead of putting Christmas, put x-mas. That is a huge problem, because Jesus Christ is the meaning and raeson for Christmas. The holiday has become very commercialized, and the true meaning of Christmas has been lose along the way. The retailers are out to make huge money. I hosently would rather just be with my family, then receive any gift. That would be my gift. I do donate to the food drives, toys for tots, a giving tree, and the red kennels for the Salvation Army at almost every store. You see I think many people do get the message, and it can mean many different things to different people, it is all in how each individual interpretes the messages on the signs.

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17s_black(40 comments)posted 6 years, 8 months ago

You're right, dmets, I don't get the point of the signs, but I do respect your opinion. I've read many of your posts, and you seem to make thoughtful comments. I agree with the point of commercialization, but isn't spending $6000 to advertise Jesus also a kind of commercialization?

I don't blame the "billboard ladies;" this kind of misguided approach to spirituality is too much a part of the current culture. I do believe the ladies had good intentions, but I also believe that they, like so many others, have been led to believe that saying one is Christian as loudly as possible equals spreading the good word. It doesn't. Talk is meaningless without action. These billboards are just talk and expensive talk at that.

I do believe strongly that these signs don't follow the teachings of Christ as I understand them, however, I will not comment further.

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18George412(161 comments)posted 6 years, 8 months ago

When I saw that mets and black were commenting here, I thought I'd check it out. Mets, I have to agree with black on this one. 6K? Wow? That money could have stopped people from losing their homes. Foreclosure rates, unemployment are high right now. "Misguided" is a good word for it.

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19dmets(575 comments)posted 6 years, 8 months ago

I think one billboard in a different location every year would be a good thing. They do get tons of donations for them. As we can see they do get to put up more each year. I mean they can do one billboard and use the rest of the money for food, clothes, and other things. The amount of money is crazy. I think the company should have given them a deal or donated one billbaord site so they can put the money to different uses. I do see black point on it too. He is very insightful, but I do think some good will come out of it.

Merry Christmas! It's the giving time of year. Actually we should give all year round!

Peace & Love

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20KCIC(1 comment)posted 6 years, 8 months ago

Keeping Christ in Christmas is so important to me that we started a non profit organization to promote it. We feel that secularist have attempted to “high jack” CHRISTMAS. Our motto is, “When did “happy holidays” ever die for OUR sins?” The constitution is under attack, OUR freedom of free speech is under attack and OUR first amendment rights are slowly being taken away by the progressive secular movement. Secularist promote the “left’s” agenda and want us all to be tolerant, but they HATE us, those of us who believe that Jesus died for our sins and that CHRISTMAS is, and should be, a celebration of our lord and saviors birth.Please visit us at: www.keepingchristinchristmas.net

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21kimmiecoo(1 comment)posted 6 years, 8 months ago

Ladies I applaud you all. It doesnt' matter what you have spent on the billboards it's not an issue. The issue is MERRY CHRISTMAS. The fact is people who are "offended" by this are nothing more than scared of Christ. What is there to fear unless you don't know him personally. We in america have used these words for hundreds of years why change it now? The thing is regardless of what they spent, JESUS took his life for us and that is all they are promoting, so there! Have a MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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22ckalbfleisch(1 comment)posted 6 years, 8 months ago

To the Merry Christmas ladies - I say, "Good for you!!" Keep Christ in Christmas. Jesus would want it that way. Keep up your good works. There is nothing more important then getting people thinking about the Christ.

For those that think Jesus is tolerant, I submit he is not. He says "I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the father except through me". (John 14:6). Jesus is not tolerant. He says he is the only way.

For those that think that the money could have been better spent on other things, I ask you, "what have you done?"

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23Fellowpatriot(1 comment)posted 5 years, 8 months ago

KCIC, you have a great start on the truth. The secular-progressives want to remove each and every moral fiber that exists in our country so we look to the government for our existence, not God. Government wants God out of our lives so they can rule. They want everyone to do whatever "makes them feel good" (humanism); therefore, following the scriptures would bring judgment to their actions and the government believes we should be non-judgmental and tolerate every person's beliefs, actions, and opinions (political correctness); no matter the cost to our country's moral decline. If people have no morals, no spiritual guidance, no sense of right and wrong, there are no consequences and that is how the secular-progressives want it so they can have absolute control. This is a spiritual battle going on behind the scenes but being played out in front of our very eyes. We have a judgment day coming and you are either with God or against God. We cannot keep murdering babies, promoting gay marriages, throw marriage and family values away and expect God to bless our country. We are getting exactly what we allowed to happen. Having said all the above, I applaud the ladies and their efforts. Our country has to get back to the standards on which we were founded. If a billboard here and there helps in any way, good. So what that they spent the money. . .how many HUGE churches with gyms, kitchens, etc., are being built instead of supporting the needy? Do you worship at one? Do you need all that or just a church pew to worship God? Think about it. If you want to criticize these ladies, look around and there is plenty to go around for other organizations. If anything and everything isn't done and done quickly, you will no longer have any religious freedoms, except maybe the choice of being a Muslim or dying.

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