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The time has come yet again for end-of-year reflections and lots and lots of lists. And so I revisited the many stories I wrote in the past year to find the ones that best reflect the themes of 2022 (and make me most proud of myself.)
To no one’s surprise, several of the articles that stuck out to me were about the Supreme Court. In the past 12 months, the court has issued a dizzying array of consequential rulings and heard some of the most memorable religion cases I’ve ever covered.
I also had the pleasure this year of writing about important survey research, including a look at the “state of faith” in the United States sponsored by the Deseret News. I really love working on stories that begin with a pile of interesting numbers and broaden to include insights from scholars who are closely watching long-term religion trends.
But my absolute favorite story I wrote this year isn’t focused on legal proceedings or new research. Instead, it’s about politics, relationships and one faith leader’s advice on how — and why — to keep the peace.
Without further ado, here are my favorite stories I wrote in 2022:
- The state of faith
- Does religious freedom law give you a right to an abortion?
- A praying football coach makes his case
- Americans distrust religious objectors. But they don’t want them fired
- The Supreme Court came together on religion this term. Then, it fell apart
- What Russell Moore taught me about arguing with my husband
Fresh off the press
Term of the week: Hotei
Hotei is a Japanese god who has much in common with Santa Claus. So much, in fact, that some refer to him as the Japanese Santa.
Megan Bryson, an associate professor of religious studies for the University of Tennessee, wrote about Hotei earlier this month for The Conversation in a piece that examines how big moments in a country’s history (like the American presence in Japan during WWII) can shift its religious practices. Since WWII, Japan has not just embraced Christmas celebrations, but also adjusted old ideas about Hotei’s appearance and habits, she wrote.
“Accounts of Christmas in Japan often emphasize Hotei’s role as Japanese Santa Claus, and describe Hotei with eyes on the back of his head so that he, like Santa, can constantly observe children to determine whether they truly deserve presents,” Bryson said.
To be clear, most Japanese families still do think of Santa and Hotei as distinct beings. But that doesn’t stop some Christmas revelers from dressing up statues of Hotei in a big white beard and Santa hat each December, according to Bryson.
What I’m reading ...
Ever wondered how Advent calendars got so popular — and so commercialized? NPR pulled together an excellent history lesson on the calendars earlier this month.
Just as the market for Advent calendars is expanding, so too is the market for Hanukkah goods in United States stores. Retailers like Target are now stocking entire aisles with products tied to the Jewish holiday, instead of just putting a few items on end-cap displays, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Last week, President Joe Biden signed a bill offering federal legal protection to same-sex and interracial couples into law. My colleague Tad Walch wrote about the faith leaders and groups that took part in the signing ceremony, including two prominent leaders from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Odds and ends
Don’t miss The New York Times’ annual “faces quiz.”
I’m taking next week off from writing this newsletter to focus on enjoying Christmas weekend with family and friends. I look forward to reconnecting with all of you in the new year. Happy holidays!