We may call it the holiday season, but the big event is Christmas. And although T-shirts and posters remind us that “Jesus is the reason for the season,” it’s a fact that while Christianity is still the majority religion in the United States, a growing number of people are what pollsters call “religiously unaffiliated” — but still celebrate Christmas.

Even among religious Christians, the holiday is celebrated in different ways. Traditions, gift-giving and the pleasure of getting together with family and friends are mixed in with many pressures (especially with added concerns about COVID-19).

So, we asked faith leaders in the community how they encourage people to keep their faith during the holiday season — and their advice as we enter this busy season. Some responses have been abbreviated and edited for space.

Monsignor Perry Kavookjian

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church, Bakersfield

After almost two years of COVID protocols and restrictions, people may be feeling a little uncertain or stressed about getting into this holiday season. Try not to become worried or anxious. Take your time entering into the season.

Some churches observe Advent as a time of personal prayer and spiritual preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. These four weeks of Advent can help us remain calm and focused in the midst of the noise and hectic pace of secular society.

Remember, nothing is as important as our spiritual health. If we take care of our spiritual selves during this time, Christmas will arrive with its gifts of peace and joy.

The Rev. Luis Rodriguez

Priest-in-charge, St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Bakersfield

As we move towards the holiday season, I am sure many will be thinking of all that was not possible last year, and the temptation will be to compensate for the “good times lost.”

However, if I were to give advice for this holiday season, it would be for folks to do less than they intend, but that what they do, they do intentionally. I would encourage them to invest in activities that foster deep relationship and community, rather than return to the pre-pandemic busyness the holidays always entailed. Don’t plan for every minute, but let the empty spaces of time be where you allow beauty and wonder to surprise you.

If I were to give one piece of advice for the coming holidays, it would be this: “Do less, celebrate more.”

Lead Pastor Mike Osthimer

Calvary Chapel, Bakersfield

The word “Immanuel” means “God with us” and Christmas communicates the mystery of the incarnation when God came into this world as a baby and lived and walked among us.

The best way we can live our faith during the holidays is to try to slow the pace instead of getting caught up in the hustle and bustle that wears on us. Instead of giving monetary gifts, I encourage people to consider giving the gift of oneself to the benefit of others.

Look for opportunities to share and show God’s love to the world. To let your light so shine before men that they see your good works and in turn glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Pastor Chris Frost

Mountain Bible Church, Tehachapi

If you listen closely to Christmas carols, they sing about death, fear, sadness, discouragement and longing. They talk about waiting for salvation, revelation and a brighter future.

Unfortunately, we live in a world of pandemics and sickness and death. Christmas awakens in us that longing for the complete riddance of these painful things. We look forward to that day in hope and faith. When our hope is realized, we won’t need hope anymore. When our faith becomes sight, we won’t need faith anymore. The only virtue that will live on in Christ’s eternal and earthly kingdom is love — the most important virtue in this life and the next.

I hope we all listen closely to the Christmas songs this year and let them comfort us as we comfort others with the truth in them.

Pastor Angelo Frazier

RiverLakes Community Church, Bakersfield

Coming from the faith community, and happening to be Christian, conventions that are centered in God will help me through any season. Having solid convictions in God doesn't ensure things will go well, but does mean you will have a healthy perspective.

As a pastor and chaplain, I’ve spent more time than normal visiting people in the hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic. I try to be a vessel of communication for people, to help when they feel helpless, to come alongside and oftentimes say nothing — to be next to them, waiting and listening. There are no words that can take away grief.

The pandemic has made getting together difficult, but we were created by God to love God and love others. Taking one of those out of the equation is not a good idea. Rejoice always!