FRANKLIN, Tenn. (AP) -- Gary and Terri Dixon used to feel tentative about buying Christmas presents with religious overtones. But in this uncertain holiday season, the ultimate gift of spiritual comfort for Christians -- the Bible -- suddenly seems perfect.
''People are more accepting,'' Gary Dixon said as the couple left the LifeWay Christian store in Franklin with two Bibles among their presents. ''Before Sept. 11, it was hard to give Bibles as gifts, but now the door is open.''
Other Americans have reached the same conclusion. Two of the nation's biggest Bible publishers say sales have soared nationally -- they expect record numbers if the spike holds through the end of the year.
Zondervan Corp. of Grand Rapids, Mich., one of the world's largest publishers of Bibles and Christian books, says sales jumped immediately after the terrorist attacks, then started to slow by early November.
But since the Thanksgiving weekend, their customers -- particularly Christian bookstores -- are reporting weekly sales as much as 40 percent higher than last year.
''I think Sept. 11 caused people to be more interested than ever in gifts that provide comfort, encouragement and making sense of all that's happening in the world,'' said Cris Doornbos, Zondervan's executive vice president of sales.
Nashville-based Thomas Nelson Publishing, the largest publisher of English-language Bibles, produced a red, white and blue ''Extreme Word'' youth Bible just after the terrorist attacks that has been popular with nontraditional and traditional Bible buyers alike.
The Bible has a blue spine, a red cover with white stars and a quote on the front from Psalm 33:12: ''Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.''
It includes prayers for the nation and its leaders, as well as Scriptures that offer hope in times of crisis, said Phil Stoner, a Thomas Nelson executive vice president.
''We're finding that young people are much more patriotic than the prior generation,'' Stoner said. ''They are very much interested in what's happening and what the Bible has to say about these events.''
Doornbos said Zondervan decided against publishing a special Bible after Sept. 11.
''We need to be responsible and didn't want to be opportunistic,'' he said. ''It was tough to wrestle with because we want to meet the needs.''
Mike Bayly, manager of the LifeWay store in Franklin, a prosperous Nashville bedroom community, can hardly keep enough Bibles in stock.
His store, one of 106 affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, sits on the main thoroughfare leading to one of the biggest malls in the Nashville area. On the day after Thanksgiving, his sales were six times higher than last year's.
''It caught our buyers unaware. In some cases, we have only one Bible on the shelf,'' he said.
In New York, Luis Ruiz, manager of the nonprofit American Bible Society's discount bookstore in lower Manhattan, said he's seen a remarkable increase in new customers.
''Everyone from reverends to laity have come in feeling that since Sept. 11, the only thing to give is the Bible, and its hope of eternal life,'' Ruiz said.
Many Bible buyers are looking for more modern translations than the King James version. New International or New Living versions are popular, as well as Bibles for children, teens and study, publishers and retailers say.
Bibles aren't the only big sellers. Other spiritual gifts are selling well, too, including books on prophecy, children's videos like ''The Prince of Egypt,'' even cookie-making kits that help illustrate Christmas stories.
''And anything that blends patriotism with faith is huge,'' said Les Dietzman, president of Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Family Christian Stores. He mentioned T-shirts with an outline of the United States superimposed on the words ''jesussaves'' and bracelets woven with the national motto: ''In God We Trust.''
The blending of patriotism and religion isn't limited to Christians, either. One of the big sellers for Hanukkah this year is a red-white-and-blue dreidel.
''I'm not sure that Hanukkah or Christmas has been tied before to being American and being proud of America,'' said Teri Brager of Scotts Valley, Calif., who co-owns the Jewish Family Celebrations Web site. ''This year it definitely is.''
On the Net:
Thomas Nelson: http://www.thomasnelson.com
Jewish Celebrations: http://www.judaicagiftstore.com
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