December 24th, 2011
10:00 PM ET

'What's Christmas without chopsticks?' How other faiths celebrate December 25th

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN) -
Two days before Christmas, Imam Mohamed Magid, the executive director at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, preached about Jesus at Friday prayers.

"We live in a country with a majority of Christians, where Christmas is a major holiday... It's a reminder we do believe in Jesus. Jesus' position in Islam is one of the highest prophets in Islam," Magid said, adding that Muslims view Jesus as a prophet on par with Abraham, Moses, Noah and Mohammad.

Often when he says the name of Mohammad or Jesus in conversation, Magid adds the Islamic honorific "Peace be upon him" after his name.

"Jesus is a unifying figure, unifying Muslims and Christians," he said. The Quran, the Islamic scriptures, makes specific mention of Jesus and of his mother Mary. "It's very interesting that there are many places where the prophet (Mohammad) is quoting Jesus."

Christmas has a way of bleeding into other faiths in America.  The Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ in a manger in Bethlehem 2000 some odd years ago is ubiquitous across the country, even if the American tradition has leaned away from the sacred and toward the secular.

Christmas at every corner can be somewhat problematic for those who are not in the estimated 246 million Christians living in the United States.  But for some faiths, the season brings reminders of their own traditions.

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Magid said Muslims believe many of the same things about Jesus that Christians do: Jesus was born of the virgin Mary, he lived a sinless life, he raised the dead, and he preformed miracles. He also said many Muslim scholars believe that Jesus will one day return to the earth, using the Christian vocabulary of "the Second Coming."

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"Certain aspects of our theology are different," he carefully notes, pointing specifically to incarnation, the Christian belief that Jesus was divine. Muslims are perhaps the most ardent monotheists in the world, making them at odds with Christians theologically over not only the Christian doctrine of incarnation, but also belief in the Trinity, that God the Father, the Holy Spirit and Jesus are three in one.

The All Dulles Area Muslim Society is one of the largest Muslim congregations in the country with ties to 5,000 families in the Washington area. Some of the families do put up a Christmas tree and exchange gifts, which one member suspects is often more about cultural assimilation than religious observance.

"I think Muslims, although they believe in Jesus, they give respect to this as a Christian holiday, so they don't pretend to celebrate this in a religious way," Magid said. "A Muslim would not expect a Christian to celebrate his holiday."

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At the Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery three hours north of San Francisco, there is a small Christmas tree set up near the statue of the Buddha.

"Normally we just have flowers, incense and candles, but now we have a tiny Christmas tree. It's really cute," Ajhan Yatiko, a monk in residence who is originally from Canada, said. "It's more like a traditional thing, respecting and appreciating the culture of where we live."

During the holidays, Yatiko said, "The senior monk might give a talk to the lay people which might draw parallels between the Christian faith and the Buddhist faith, as well as the differences, because I think both of those are important aspects of interfaith harmony.

"Sometimes in the West these days there's a kind of tendency to clump all the religions together and say, 'We're all climbing the same mountain,' and I think the intention there is nice. There's a harmonious intention there. But I think it's much nicer to say, 'Let's respect the differences and love and appreciate the differences of the other faiths," Yatiko said.

For the monks at Abhayagiri, life is spent in meditation, community, celibacy and work. They practice Buddhism in the Theravada tradition or the Thai Forest tradition. In their faith tradition, monks cannot handle money, grow their own food or trade, so they live entirely off of the generosity of others.

That means every half moon, about once a week, they head into town for alms rounds, where they walk around in their saffron robes with alms bowls to collect donations. The new moon this week fell on Christmas Eve.

"Everyone we see is going to be wishing us a Merry Christmas, and we'll be doing likewise," Yatiko said a few days before Christmas.

"We don't touch money and live a very simple lifestyle, so the Christmas tradition of exchanging gifts doesn't work so well for us," Yatiko said.

Yet Buddhists are called to live generously at every chance, be it in material things or spiritual ones, so at Christmastime the monks bring a truckload of fire wood and a fruit basket to a neighboring Ukrainian Catholic monastery.

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"We do have some rather revered traditions for Christmas Day," said Rabbi Rick Rheins.  "I'm not sure if it was Talmudic or not, to visit the movie theater followed by a Chinese dinner," joked Rheins referring the collection of ancient rabbi teaching called the Talmud.

"What's Christmas without chopsticks?" joked Rheins who is the head of Denver's Temple Sinai, a Reform congregation of about 1,100 families.

"We acknowledge the importance of this day for our Christian neighbors and for my Christian colleagues. And so we don't celebrate Christmas as Jews, but we do thrill for our Christian neighbors," he said. Rheins said the celebration of Hanukkah simultaneously at Christmastime this year will mean he won't be bringing in any Christmas metaphors into services on Friday and Saturday.

As for the Christmas Day itself, including the popcorn and chopsticks, he said, "We encourage our members to do special volunteer work to relieve our Christian neighbors of their responsibilities, whether it's at hospitals or emergency services, to give them the opportunity to spend this time with their family and celebrate this sacred day for them.

"Christians and Jews, especially over the last generation, have really worked so hard to build bridges, not just of tolerance, but also have generated true mutual respect and cooperation," he said. He cited working to fight hunger and poverty together. "These are the expressions of a society where the differences in religion and the expressions of one's faith are less divisive than they are enriching.

"I don't think that was the case a generation ago," Rheins said.

Christmas has a way of seeping into Hindu traditions, as well. At least the tree and presents part.  "Because of the children," Uma Mysorekar, the president of the Hindu Temple Society of North America said.

"The children say, 'Oh, there's a tree in my friend's house.  Why not in my house?' So they will get a small tree, a symbolic tree," Mysorekar said.

"We do look up to Jesus as one of the deities of Christianity," Mysorekar said.

At the Hindu Temple Society of North America in the Flushing area of Queens, New York, Christmas Day will be filled with worshipers coming in and out.  Unlike other faiths, Hindus do not have a set day for communal worship.  The temple is a key part of Hinduism for prayer, worship and offerings.  Christmas will be busier because of the three day weekend, Mysorekar guessed.

Their temple even had a holiday party for the children.

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"We have a holiday party for them, and we give them gifts and tell them what it's all about.  You know the Hindu festival of Diwali, it is more or less the same, where we give gifts and we meet with friends... So the custom is very easy to relate to."

During Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, lamps are lit in celebration of good triumphing over evil.

"Apart from the religious aspect of it - the concept, theme of Christmas - I think it's very much the same all over," she said.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Buddhism • Christianity • Christmas • Hinduism • Islam

soundoff (2,252 Responses)
  1. Gabriel

    Love your family.

    December 25, 2011 at 4:08 am |
    • Peace

      Islam teaches me to take care of my family, be well to my neighbors, honor my guests, and to be kind to my parents.

      December 25, 2011 at 4:16 am |
    • pontius

      God's plan of salvation of human kind is through Jesus Christ. Islam is a counterfeit introduced by God's enemy to make sure mankind doesn't accept that plan.

      December 25, 2011 at 4:16 am |
  2. Daleri Rileda

    Islam is not going to stand the test of authenticity.

    December 25, 2011 at 4:06 am |
    • Peace

      Some people will not believe even if you prove to thm the authenticity of Islam.

      December 25, 2011 at 4:13 am |
  3. American Vet

    @ commonsense ... you WISH America were insular ... the gov't has its fingers in every pie on the planet. What I want is for your moldy books about supernatural sky-daddies and messengers and prophets to be thrown out. Without your rosaries, prayer rugs, yamulkes and other assorted trinkets, we'd have far fewer differences in our lives, then we really would be at peace with our neighbors.

    December 25, 2011 at 4:06 am |
    • Daleri Rileda

      The mechanisms that function as ordered inside of us prove that we have a Maker because mechanisms never exist without having a maker.

      December 25, 2011 at 4:08 am |
    • Peace

      I am at peace (ALHAMDURILLAH-Thank God).

      I have neighbors that are non-Muslims

      December 25, 2011 at 4:12 am |
  4. American Vet

    your little friend Mohammed (may camel dung cover and stink up his rotting corpse for all eternity) was so turned on by a nine year old he just had to marry her– A NINE YEAR OLD!!!!! ... your 'prophet' is nothing more than a ped-o-phi-le .. and this is the guy you want to model YOUR life after????

    December 25, 2011 at 4:01 am |
    • Peace

      "And the servants of (Allah) Most Gracious are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say, "Peace!" (Quran: 25:63).

      December 25, 2011 at 4:04 am |
    • Daleri Rileda

      Peace is when everyone tells the truth that only our Maker is able to be our Savior because no one else can.

      December 25, 2011 at 4:10 am |
  5. Gabriel


    December 25, 2011 at 3:55 am |
    • Peace

      Did you know Gabriel is an angel who sent the message of God (Quran) to Mohammed

      December 25, 2011 at 4:02 am |
    • Gabriel

      Right ,the strenght and power of God .An archangel actually .

      December 25, 2011 at 4:19 am |
    • Gabriel

      Also Gabriel was the bearer of the news to virgin Mary that she´d be the mother of Jesus.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
    • Gabriel

      And it´s really my name

      December 25, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
    • be careful

      Don't give out personal info on this site

      December 25, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
  6. No Peace

    There shall be no peace until Reason has won its final victory!

    December 25, 2011 at 3:53 am |
    • Peace

      What is wrong with using reson with religion?

      Islam encorages us to use our intellectual minds by pondering, thinking, wondering...etc

      In fact the first word revealed to Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) was "Read."

      December 25, 2011 at 3:57 am |
    • No Peace

      You're not using reason when you delude yourself and believe in things that don't exist!

      December 25, 2011 at 4:00 am |
    • Peace

      My Lord is the one who brings the sun from the East and makes it set in the West,

      Can you make it come out from the West and make it set in the Ease?

      December 25, 2011 at 4:08 am |
    • nepawoods

      You're not using reason when you assume, because you don't see the evidence something exists, that others don't. I can't explain to a blind person what the colors red, green and blue look like to me, but I know I have these experiences. Should the blind person assume I'm delusional?

      December 25, 2011 at 4:14 am |
    • Ray in Vegas

      If you do use reason ... most religion falls apart completely. It's either / or. Either you use intellectual inquiry to discover truths or you have those so-called truths dictated to you by others attempting to control you using a variety of means, incluing stone age and bronze age myths and texts. You can't have it both ways.

      December 25, 2011 at 4:15 am |
    • Peace

      I am using reason when I use my brain. Did you ever see your brain? If not, then how can you be sure there is one?

      December 25, 2011 at 4:18 am |
  7. Peace

    I am a Muslim and I say Peace.

    "Say O People of the Book come to an agreement between us and you: that we shall worship none but God and that we shall ascribe no partners to Him and that none of us shall take others for lords beside God [Quran 2:64].

    December 25, 2011 at 3:47 am |
    • Bill Gilman

      @Peace .... I say to you 'Peace' as well. I worship the God of Abraham and am a follower of The Book. Though I believe Jesus Christ to be Lord and Saviour of all, I believe we have more in common than we have differences. Peace to you, child of Abraham.

      December 25, 2011 at 8:04 am |
  8. Gabriel

    Merry Christmas !!!! Enjoy your families. Felíz Navidad !!!! Disfruten de sus familias.

    December 25, 2011 at 3:47 am |
  9. American Vet

    Hey .. RP ... no one ever thought ther eWAS a 'hell' until X-tianity reared its ugly head. Not the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Norse, native Americans .. no one. An afterlife .. sure they fell for that .. but not a place of eternal damnation. It's just a device used to instill fear amongst you sheep so you stay in line, and do what THEY say .. or else.

    December 25, 2011 at 3:43 am |
    • commonsense?!

      People like you make me ashamed I was raised a christian. You're disgusting ignorance wipes clean any credibility you may have gained by serving. Once INSULAR America and the rest of the world runs out of bigots like you and gets over the FEAR of other peoples cultures that spirals into hate, we will be at peace. You probably think your right too, calling others 'sheep'. That's the worst part. Can't wait until the generation of fools who are in charge of things finally passes and intelligence and COMMON SENSE can take over.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:54 am |
    • No Peace

      Thank you for your Allan Alda whine, commonsense. Now have a good cry and go to bed, you ectomorphic elf!

      December 25, 2011 at 3:57 am |
  10. American Vet

    and now the rag-headed sand-eating camel-f - ckers are posting all the Islam bullsh!t. Stop posting all this youtube garbage, and go back to the sand, or I'll volunteer again to go back and kill more of you. Quit trying to convert us. Your version of 'peace' would be when your pitiful little sect conquers and rules the planet and places everyone under a theocracy that subjigates women, uses a whip for what you think is blasphemy, and thinks an 'honor' killing is all fine and dandy.

    December 25, 2011 at 3:40 am |
  11. RP

    Atheists remind me of the kids standing in the water above the waterfall. Everybody was telling them to get out of the water, but they didn't because they didn't believe they were in danger. They slipped and fell to their deaths. Atheists feel safe because they don't believe there's a hell. I hope these atheists have better luck than these kids.

    December 25, 2011 at 3:38 am |
    • Michael

      You feel safe that Thor isn't God, We will see who is laughing as he brings his hammer down upon you.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:43 am |
    • racer x

      You remind me of a person who believes in a nonexistent superbeing called "God," which is precisely what you are.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:44 am |
    • Michael

      Your God was nailed to a cross, mine carried a hammer. Made the connection yet?

      December 25, 2011 at 3:44 am |
    • Ray in Vegas

      Michael .. shut up. Like you believe in the Norse religion. Give me a break! You are an atheist and you know it ... so take that hammer and shove it up your ...

      December 25, 2011 at 6:06 am |
  12. Dan J

    Why is this front page news today? Can't Christmas just be Christmas for one day? Is it really necessary to bring up Islam during Christmas and Hannukah? Can't it wait?

    December 25, 2011 at 3:38 am |
    • Peace

      I understand your point that why can't you just have nothing to do with Islam?

      Islam is a universal religion, a religion which was sent to ALL of mankind, and is cmplete, and is involved in all aspects of life.

      As a Muslim I like things to be clear about Islam.
      Thanks CNN!

      December 25, 2011 at 3:44 am |
    • Georges

      Guess you didn't read the article.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:51 am |
  13. Gay Muhammed

    Did you know that Muhammed sucked his way through the Arab world? That's how he converted his male followers: They were "sucked into it."

    December 25, 2011 at 3:38 am |
    • Peace

      "And the servants of (Allah) Most Gracious are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say, "Peace!" ((Quran: 25:63))

      December 25, 2011 at 3:41 am |
    • Gay Muhammed

      "And the ugly, pigfaced Arabs believe in ALLAH, because they are primitive and mentally retarded." (Quran 31:42)

      December 25, 2011 at 3:47 am |
    • commonsense?!

      what an ignorant fool. a troll even. your hate towardes muslim faith is simply your lack of understanding, or willingness to understand. you are a piggish american christian, and the world will evolve out of you one day 😀 im psyched

      December 25, 2011 at 4:08 am |
  14. AdmrlAckbar

    AKA how CNN continues to cash in on holiday polarized belief web traffic money by placing these articles in the center of the page!

    December 25, 2011 at 3:33 am |
  15. TruePeace


    December 25, 2011 at 3:33 am |
  16. Peace

    Islam: Peace

    December 25, 2011 at 3:31 am |
    • Gay Muhammed

      Islam: Primitive monkey religion.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:35 am |
    • Peace


      December 25, 2011 at 3:36 am |
    • Gay Muhammed

      Muhammed sucked monkeybutt.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:38 am |
    • Peace

      "And the servants of (Allah) Most Gracious are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say, "Peace!" (Quran: 25:63)

      December 25, 2011 at 3:40 am |
    • Gay Muhammed

      Muslims are humiliated by Jews around the world. It's funny!

      December 25, 2011 at 3:49 am |
    • Gabriel

      Peace, to all of you !

      December 25, 2011 at 3:50 am |
  17. Billy

    Jesus was a Saint in his time. He is not coming back. At least he did not did in the last 2000 years. So is God unfair? Certainly NO!! Else he is not God. Jesus was a Saint => Messenger of the God. Does it mean there was no other messenger? Well there has to be others in the last 2000 years. We need to open the eyes and look for them. Jesus is not coming back but God does send other Messengers into this planet. God is just CANNOT be unfair !!

    December 25, 2011 at 3:29 am |
  18. racer x

    Without religion every day can be special. We don't have to pretend anymore, people!

    December 25, 2011 at 3:28 am |
    • Ray in Vegas

      I keep thinking the same thing, racer x, but it seems most humans are wired to believe what the masses believe, and especially what their parents believe ... it seems like a losing battle. I've struggled with this within my own family. I think it's just downright scary for people to believe that there isn't some benevolent, all knowing, all powerful force always looking out for them .. and that after they die (which is very scary and the older we all get, the more we are aware of our mortality), they just cease to exist and their bodies become food for worms, insects and bacteria.

      December 25, 2011 at 6:01 am |
  19. veggiedude

    In Islam, Jesus is viewed as a vegan (yes, he did not even eat fish) because of his stance on non-violence. I believe the Dead Sea Scroll had this view of him too. I just don't understand why right wingers say they love Jesus, when he obviously was the biggest liberal ever to walk the Earth.

    December 25, 2011 at 3:27 am |
    • AdmrlAckbar

      and drink of his blood and eat of his flesh?.. well following your unsupported train of logic =)

      December 25, 2011 at 3:34 am |
  20. Zach

    More than anything, what I appreciate about this article is the sense of tolerance and unification it perpetuates. We live in a messed up world and have some serious differences that a simple holiday season will not overcome, but like this article shows, we can respect other faiths (or even atheism) and live together happily (at least culturally, economically we are screwed).

    December 25, 2011 at 3:26 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.