Views of those who preach, give, receive
To a volunteer at a food pantry, the holiday is a time he feels like a biblical shepherd to a flock.
To the homeless man benefiting from that volunteer's generosity, Christmas is, he hopes, the end of a difficult time and the start of a better path.
The holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ - its name was derived by combining 'Christ' and 'Mass' - has different meanings to everyone.
Four people - a young Catholic priest, the lead pastor of an independent nondenominational church, a food pantry volunteer and a homeless man- were each asked what Christmas means to them.
The man without a home
Robert Richardson loves the New Horizons for New Hampshire homeless shelter. But he hates it when he has to use it. On Wednesday, he found himself homeless, 'again,' he said, after the breakup of a relationship.
'Being down and out right now, it's a little rough,' Richardson said. 'But hopefully, I'll get my (stuff) together and be out of here as soon as possible.'
Richardson, originally from Dexter, Maine, is unemployed and, for now, is relying on services such as New Horizons.
'Basically, it's just survival and learning how to live day by day and struggling to find something to eat,' he said. 'With no cash in your pocket, it's not easy.'
His mother and sister live in Bangor, Maine, but the $100 round-trip bus ticket is too much for him to afford, he said.
'I sure would like to be home with family, that's for sure,' he said. 'But we do talk on the phone. They know where I am and that I'm OK.'
He said he is looking for work. He said he has worked as a machinist, a painter and a roofer.
'I'm sure the economy will pick up. It can't get no worse,' he said. 'I don't think, for myself, it can get much worse. It can only get better from here.'
Richardson will spend Christmas eating a free breakfast at Milly's Tavern in Manchester, then have a free dinner at New Horizons. He plans to stay at the shelter for the rest of the day.
Buddy Kimball has volunteered at the New Horizons for New Hampshire food pantry since he retired 12 years ago.
'Christmas means a lot,' he said. 'I see how (the needy) are so appreciative.'
Kimball said he believes God showed him to New Horizons after a disease forced him to retire. When the pantry is at its busiest, he said, he compares himself to a prominent biblical figure who led an enslaved people out of Egypt into freedom.
'When they all come in with their carts, seeing them, I feel like Moses,' he said.
Kimball said he will continue his volunteer work, especially during the Christmas season.
'It's a good cause, and it feels good in my heart,' he said.
Christmas is busy, really busy, for Ron Kastens.
As the lead pastor for CrossWay Christian Church in Nashua, the sermon he will deliver at 10:30 a.m. on Christmas will be the last of five services the church will host Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
But in the midst of that hectic schedule, the Kastenses will have time together as a family on Christmas morning, he said.
'We spend time together as a family. We have breakfast and read the Christmas story,' which is found in Luke, Chapter 2, verses 1 through 20, he said.
Kastens said Christmas, for him, is a time when Christians are given a constant reminder that Christianity is about the person Christ was, rather than the theological aspect of the religion.
'For a Christian, it gives you an opportunity and perhaps forces you to remember that the center of our faith is not a purpose or a philosophical ideal but a person,' Kastens said. 'It is easy to forget, I guess, that the faith centers on the person of Christ.'
Kastens said he also urges his congregation to focus on giving, but not necessarily gift giving. He said the church has a mission in a slum in Nairobi, Kenya, and that he often purchases monthly sponsorships of children living there as gifts for some family members.
'So we do that instead of getting another sweater they don't need,' he said. 'It's just another way to remind ourselves that Christmas is about more than just buying a bunch of stuff and wrapping it up.'
The young priest
The Rev. Paul Boudreau thinks many people might be surprised by some of the things a priest does for Christmas.
Those things include shopping for gifts at the last minute, wrapping them and hoping friends and family like them.
'People just don't think about that,' Boudreau said. 'But priests, we do the same things anyone else does.'
Boudreau, who has been a priest for four years and recently took over as pastor at St. Joseph Parish in Belmont, said he is looking forward to his first Christmas as the head of a church. His duties include celebrating Masses until midnight Christmas Eve, followed by a Mass on Christmas morning.
He said he believes Christmas is a time to remember that God's gift to the world came not in the form of a fireball or bolt of lightning or something grandiose.
'What's so beautiful is the way He did it,' Boudreau said. 'He comes to us as a little baby. It's humbling that God would do that for us.'
Boudreau said the meaning of Christmas is the same for Paul Boudreau the priest as it is for Paul Boudreau the person.
'It's the same on a personal and professional level,' he said. 'This is my life.'
He said he believes Christmas is when Christians can remember that the search for God is reversed in a way.
During Christmas, 'it's like it was God pursuing man,' he said.
Boudreau, who as a pastor now lives in a 'place of my own,' said he will, for the first time, host his family for Christmas.
'It'll be nice,' he said.