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Christmas Eve game poses divine dilemma for some fans
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The playoffs are approaching and December games usually determine if a football team will get the chance to compete for the Super Bowl. (Photo by Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images)
The Minnesota Vikings games against the Green Bay Packers is a big deal for football fans. The game could determine which team will be this year's NFC North division champion. But the game falls on Christmas Eve, the day when many churches hold services to mark the birthday of Jesus. The scheduling has caused some to juggle their Christmas Eve plans in order to accomodate their faith, families and love of football.

Minneapolis, Minn. — The Christmas holiday is one of the holiest times of the year for Christians. Late December can also be a treasured time for football fans. The playoffs are approaching and December games usually determine if a football team will get the chance to compete for the Super Bowl.

The match up between the Vikings and Packers is scheduled smack dab in the middle of the afternoon. And some football fans, like Boyd Ehlert, have had to make some minor adjustments to their plans.

Sometimes a Christian has to decide what their first loyalty is.
- Gerald Schlabach

"We were going to eat at six, but now we're going to eat at 6:30 to make sure everybody can make it," says Ehlert.

Ehlert is cutting hair in a St. Paul barbershop. He's a Vikings fan who thinks the Packers will win. Ehlert says his family doesn't attend Christmas Eve services, so they don't have any major scheduling problems. But he does want to make it easier on his house guests who are coming for dinner.

"Like I said, we just changed the dinner date a half an hour in case people are comfortable at home watching it, they won't have to rush," he says.

Andy Ihlenfeldt has different plans.

"I'll be cheering the game on in my parents living room in Milwaukee Wisconsin," he says.

Ihlenfeldt is getting his hair cut before he makes the trip to see his family. He says football isn't a big deal to him so he'll pull for the Packers with his folks. After the game they'll go to midnight mass at their church, so there will be no church-football conflicts. Nor will there be any conflicts among other visiting family members about what the main activity will be.

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Image Bishop Sally Dyck

"Everything revolves around the Packers when they're in Milwaukee," he says. "So I don't think anyone had any concerns, it's just what you do."

Many people, like Andy Ihlenfeldt will not have to pick between church and football. There are lots of churches that hold multiple services on Christmas Eve or hold midnight mass. But there are some churches have changed their schedules to accomodate church-goers who also want to watch the game.

And that is troubling to Gerald Schlabach.

"As a Christian, well, sometimes a Christian has to decide what their first loyalty is," he says.

Schlabach is a theology professor at the University of St. Thomas. He says missing a football game is a small sacrifice for one's faith -- others have suffered much more. But Schlabach admits sports are a religion for many people.

"It's one more skirmish in a long battle to keep Christmas a religious holiday," says Schlabach. "So, having to compete with all these other pressures, between office parties and television specials and the commericialization, the shopping, and sports is just one more thing."

Instead of fretting at the thought of fans staying away from church to go to the game, some church leaders have decided to bring the church to the fans.

"I think that it's an opportunity for us to share our faith on Christmas Eve," says Bishop Sally Dyck, head of the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. She and her husband will lead a group of Methodists in a chorus of Christmas carols outside the Metrodome. Dyck says they won't be proselytizing, nor will they be protesting - just a friendly reminder that the holiday is meant for more than sports.

"We hope that as we're down at the Metrodome people will walk by us and know that we're there just to spread good cheer," she says. "And if they want to stop and lend their voice, we'd be more than happy to have them join us."

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