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.

CNN's Belief Blog – all the faith angles to the day's top stories

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."

Explain it to me: The Hajj

"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."

My Take: Why we're skipping the Christmas roast

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.

Sacred Spaces: Inside a Hindu temple

"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. Joshua

    Myth after Myth after Myth

    Jesus, Santa Claus, and the Easter Bunny.

    Non-Myths aka Truths

    1) Jesus was not a Christian. He taught and practiced Judaiism.

    2) Joshua aka Jesus, is the most celebrated Jew in the world!

    December 25, 2011 at 9:20 am |
    • Mark Taylor

      But Yeshua made bold claims that he fulfilled the Messianic prophesy of writers such as Isiah. So yeah, he honored Judaism but also claimed to fulfill its central covenant. You can't blow the guy off as a fairy tale or myth, there are more ancient manuscripts corroborating the guy's existence and deeds than there are for the Trojan War and the Trojan War is accepted as historical fact. You can call him crazy if you want to, but you can't just call him a nice guy, he claimed to be the Son of God. Do with that what you will and study to come to your own logical, factual conclusion but don't just throw here say around

      December 25, 2011 at 9:31 am |
  2. Rainer Braendlein

    God's Christmas present for us: He gives us forgiveness and the power to keep the law together as a unit and for free.

    The most striking difference between Christianity and other faiths like Catholicism:

    In contrast to other religions (of the law) Christians don't try to gain salvation by doing good deeds or keeping the law, but Christians follow Jesus (that comprises the fulfillment of the law by Christian love), because God loved them first.

    Jesus yet loved us, when we still were sinners or enemies of God. Despite our sinful state Jesus died for us. That means he gave us an extremly high advance of love, which we had not deserved at all, but punishment.

    Don't let us try to gain God's favour by good deeds, but let us do good deeds after God has given us his favour for free. That is the gosple of Jesus Christ.

    Christmas: God loved us first. God loves YOU now! Give Him an appropriate answer!

    The divine interpretation of the Old Testament law (Torah) is the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus (Matthew 5-7).

    Hence, the fulfillment of the law is love to God and the neighbour according to the Sermon on the Mount.

    December 25, 2011 at 9:20 am |
    • JohnR

      I don't see anything about eating shellfish or stoning unruly children in the sermon on the mount. Jesus was following a syncretic agenda. Yes, FOLLOWING it. Very little new oin what Jesus had to say.

      December 25, 2011 at 9:25 am |
  3. Truthz

    Hey! The People's Champions keep removing my posts. And there is no bad languagez in them!

    December 25, 2011 at 9:18 am |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      Santa Claus Reality

      • The moderators of this blog have set up a secret forbidden word filter which unfortunately not only will delete or put your comment in the dreaded “waiting for moderation” category but also will do the same to words having fragments of these words. For example, “t-it” is in the set but the filter will also pick up words like Hitt-ite, t-itle, beati-tude, practi-tioner and const-tution. Then there are words like “an-al” thereby flagging words like an-alysis and “c-um” flagging acc-umulate or doc-ument. And there is also “r-a-pe”, “a-pe” and “gra-pe”, “s-ex”, and “hom-ose-xual”. You would think that the moderators would have corrected this by now considering the number of times this has been commented on but they have not. To be safe, I typically add hyphens in any word that said filter might judge “of-fensive”.

      • Make sure the web address does not have any forbidden word or fragment.

      Sum Dude routinely updates the list of forbidden words/fragments.

      Two of the most filtered words are those containing the fragments “t-it” and “c-um”. To quickly check your comments for these fragments, click on “Edit” on the Tool Bar and then “Find” on the menu. Add a fragment (without hyphens) one at a time in the “Find” slot and the offending fragment will be highlighted in your comments before you hit the Post button. Hyphenate the fragment(s) and then hit Post. And remember more than one full web address will also gain a “Waiting for Moderation”.

      And said moderators still have not solved the chronological placement of comments once the number of comments gets above about 100. They recently have taken to dividing the comments in batches of 50 or so, for some strange reason. Maybe they did this to solve the chronology problem only to make comment reviews beyond the tedious.
      Zeb’s alphabetical listing

      o “bad letter combinations / words to avoid if you want to get past the CNN “awaiting moderation” filter:
      Many, if not most, are buried within other words, so use your imagination.
      You can use dashes, spaces, or other characters to modify the “offending” letter combinations.
      ar-se…..as in Car-se, etc.
      co-ck…..as in co-ckatiel, co-ckatrice, co-ckleshell, co-ckles, lubco-ck, etc.
      co-on…..as in rac-oon, coc-oon, etc.
      cu-m……as in doc-ument, accu-mulate, circu-mnavigate, circu-mstances, cu-mbersome, cuc-umber, etc.
      cu-nt…..as in Scu-ntthorpe, a city in the UK famous for having problems with filters…!
      ef-fing…as in ef-fing filter
      ft-w……as in soft-ware, delft-ware, swift-water, etc.
      ho-mo…..as in ho-mo sapiens or ho-mose-xual, ho-mogenous, etc.
      ho-rny….as in tho-rny, etc.
      jacka-ss…yet “ass” is allowed by itself…..
      ja-p……as in j-apanese, ja-pan, j-ape, etc.
      koo-ch….as in koo-chie koo..!
      pi-s……as in pi-stol, lapi-s, pi-ssed, therapi-st, etc.
      pr-ick….as in pri-ckling, pri-ckles, etc.
      ra-pe…..as in scra-pe, tra-peze, gr-ape, thera-peutic, sara-pe, etc.
      se-x……as in Ess-ex, s-exual, etc.
      sh-@t…..but shat is okay – don’t use the @ symbol there.
      sp-ic…..as in disp-icable, hosp-ice, consp-icuous, susp-icious, sp-icule, sp-ice, etc.
      ti-t……as in const-itution, att-itude, ent-ities, alt-itude, beat-itude, etc.
      tw-at…..as in wristw-atch, nightw-atchman, etc.
      va-g……as in extrava-gant, va-gina, va-grant, va-gue, sava-ge, etc.
      who-re….as in who’re you kidding / don’t forget to put in that apostrophe!

      There are more, some of them considered “racist”, so do not assume that this list is complete.
      Allowed words / not blocked at all:
      raping (ra-pe is not ok)
      shat (sh-@t is not ok)

      The CNN / WordPress filter also filters your EMAIL address and NAME as well – so you might want to check those

      December 25, 2011 at 9:24 am |
  4. woodrow

    Christmas is about good cheer. Best not to over complicate the simplicity of that message. If you are enjoying yourself and spending time with your family then you are getting everything out of Christmas that was meant to be had.

    December 25, 2011 at 9:18 am |
  5. GAW

    I see Reality is back with his long drawn out copied and pasted posts. Yeahhh!!

    December 25, 2011 at 9:17 am |
    • Reality

      As a good student, you have read the reiterations of the "fems" of religion. Therefore the seeds have been planted in rich soil. Go therefore and preach the truth to all nations, reiterating as you go amongst the lost, bred, born and brainwashed souls of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism as Rational Thinking makes its triumphant return all because of you!!!!

      December 25, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  6. Truthz

    Naughty Naughty. Calling someone a fool is the samez as casting themz in to hellz

    December 25, 2011 at 9:15 am |
  7. hesus

    @ scole or ecoli...:)...

    December 25, 2011 at 9:14 am |
  8. hesus

    feliz navidad..

    December 25, 2011 at 9:10 am |
    • Mannycl

      feliz navidad para ti y tu familia

      December 25, 2011 at 9:18 am |
  9. code0111

    The writer, Eric Marrapodi did a very nice job. I understood by him that other cultures are supportive of Christians belief at this time of year. It has been around since before America was independent. And now it gets attacked. Possible more so than other religions.

    December 25, 2011 at 9:09 am |
    • john

      probably 95 pct of Americans celebrate Christmas. Most of the non Christians in America are from Christian families. In the past 50 years millions of people in the West have abandoned religion. Most still profess to be Christians, but only a minority of people in the West are practicing Christians. Nonetheless, most people have Christians in their family and come from a Christian background, so just as secular Jews celebrate Hannukah, secularized Christians celebrate Christmas and Easter.

      December 25, 2011 at 9:16 am |
  10. john

    Most non christians in North America, South America and Europe are merely secular people who come from Christian families but no longer believe in the faith they were raised in. They still celebrate their ancient Christian traditions because those traditions are the mainstream traditions of western culture. There are only about 6 million Jews in the United States, many of them are not religious jews. There are likewise only about 5 million muslims and maybe 5 million other faiths.

    December 25, 2011 at 9:08 am |
  11. scole

    To Hesus and all of the idiots like him- take your own advice and shut your irreverent filthy moron mouth. It amazes me how people go out of their way to comment about something they supposedly "hate' and be disrespectful about something they know nothing about. Be on with your hell bound way, but leave Christ, the Bible and anything associated with Him out of your mouth, that is until one day on bended knee you confess him as Lord- and believe me you will. Remember this day!!

    December 25, 2011 at 9:08 am |
    • JohnR

      Hate to break the news to you, scole, but the first amendment has not been repealed!

      December 25, 2011 at 9:14 am |
    • ...........

      What ? You didn't get the iPod you asked for ? What a grouch. You certainly are the epitome of a joyful loving Christian today. Why would anyone want your so-called faith ? Now go to your room, until you can talk nice.

      December 25, 2011 at 9:14 am |
    • endrace&religion

      Scole – simply put the ignorance over where religion came still rings true today as it has for many thousands of years. The only real truth is we are all the same and until such time that people as a whole understand this fact we will continue to divide and kill over fantasy.

      December 25, 2011 at 9:23 am |
    • Rick

      scole: some people are happier in slavery. enjoy your bended knee

      December 25, 2011 at 9:34 am |
  12. Anon

    Hate to post on these sites because of all the trolls. But how about everyone just enjoy the holidays with family and/or friends. I'm sick and tired of people posting these "quotes" from different religious texts and/or books trying to prove or disprove. You atheists/agnostics, I'm sick and tired of you the most! You are no better than the religious zealots who try to push the fear of God(or whatever higher being you believe in) into people. Yes, I'm Christian, but my faith is between me and my God. I don't spout biblical verse or get preachy with everybody. My religion is personal and I like to keep it that way. You don't believe in God or a higher being, that's your freedom of religion. I respect that and I respect your choice. I don't respect it when you start laughing at people calling them "myth" believers. Do me a favor and keep it to yourself. You're only looking like an A** otherwise.

    December 25, 2011 at 9:08 am |
    • ...........

      Your're so sick of it, but here you are, preaching at everyone about not preaching. Alrighty then.

      December 25, 2011 at 9:17 am |
  13. Reality

    Christmas, the embellished story of the birth of a simple, preacher man named Jesus.

    As per most contemporary NT exegetes, his parents were Mary and Joseph although some say Jesus was a mamzer, the result of a pre-marital relationship between Mary and a Roman soldier.

    Jesus was not born in Bethlehem at least the one we are familiar with and there were no pretty wingie thingies singing from on high, no slaughter of the innocents by Herod, no visiting wise men and no escape to Egypt.

    Conclusion: the holyday of Christmas is historically a non-event. Ditto for the Feast of the Magi and the solemnity of Mary aka New Years day.

    "Kwanzaa, which will be celebrated for the 44th time in 2009, was established by Dr. Maulana Karenga. The seven-day festival (December 26 – January 1) is secular, not religious, and aims to strengthen African cultural ident-ity and community values while providing a spiritual alternative to the commercialism of Christmas."

    Chanukah (Hanukkah)

    "Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, is one of the most joyous times of the Jewish year. The reason for the celebration is twofold (both dating back to c. 165 BCE): the miraculous military victory of the small, ill-equipped Jewish army over the ruling Greek Syrians, who had banned the Jewish religion and desecrated the Temple; and the miracle of the small cruse of consecrated oil, which burned for eight days in the Temple's menorah instead of just one."
    "Originally a minor holiday, it has become more lavishly celebrated as a result of its proximity to Christmas."
    Some candles burn for weeks so the menorah "miracle" is hardly miraculous.

    Rabbi Wolpe can probably give us his take on the historical validity of Hanukkah.

    December 25, 2011 at 9:05 am |
    • Me

      You forgot about "Christians" taking this time of year away from the Pagans and claiming this is Jesus's birthday. Pagan's celebrated this time of year as the "Winter Solstice", which is mentioned very quickly, but mostly about Jesus, who was born to a virgin, IMO, why Joseph didn't accuse her of doing anything is beyond me. THAT'S why it's difficult to believe, that this "person" was born this way and there is no stories-until recently-about his life before he died. For our sins. Which there are so many of I'm sure he's feeling ripped off.

      December 25, 2011 at 9:12 am |
    • code0111

      Quick Dose of Reality, in my view.
      The First Commandment,
      Do not put no other gods before me, for I am a jealous God. – Only God can save us
      Second Commandment,
      Do not use my name in vain – Only the name of Jesus is used world round in vain.

      Do you need more proof?

      December 25, 2011 at 9:14 am |
    • ...........

      OMG. There's your "more proof".

      December 25, 2011 at 9:19 am |
    • code0111

      I guess none will be given to and evil and wicked generation.

      December 25, 2011 at 9:22 am |
  14. Erika

    "Preformed" miracles? Great editing CNN.

    December 25, 2011 at 9:02 am |
    • cyberCMDR

      Miracles were preformed back then, since Christianity borrowed so many stories and themes from other religions.

      December 25, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • Erika

      That's great! HA HA HA.

      December 25, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  15. Agha Ata (USA)

    The question is . . . how Christians viewed Jesus 300 years ago?

    December 25, 2011 at 9:02 am |
    • JohnR

      Well, I can tell you how the Puritans, who briefly held sway in England and who played a big role in founding colonial America viewed Christmas: they banned it, because they knew it was a pagan holiday! And they were right about the paganism but, as usual, were wrong about banning it.

      December 25, 2011 at 9:07 am |
  16. Susanna M Russell

    The part of the country where Christ was born is & always very cold & snowing in December. If you read the story about the birth it states that the shepherds had their flocks out in the fields at the time of Christ birth. This Christmas holiday states that Christ was born on Dec.25. Helllo! Wake Up! No shepherd in his right mind would have his animals out in the snow & rain. It would be wise to investigate what you are celebrating.

    December 25, 2011 at 9:00 am |
    • hesus


      December 25, 2011 at 9:06 am |
    • john

      Whether Christianity is true or not has nothing to do with when Christmas is. No Christian ever claimed that the bible said Jesus was born on december 25th. The bible does not say december 25th. The church chose the date of December 25th to Christianize the popular winter solstice in ancient Europe. There is no groundbreaking revelation there. It is basic history. It does not matter what day Jesus was born. There is no church doctrine stating that to be Christian one must believe that Jesus was born on December 25th. It is just the day the church chose. St Patrick probably wasn't born on March 17th either. The church just chose that date to celebrate him.

      December 25, 2011 at 9:13 am |
    • Mannycl

      It's called tradition.

      December 25, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • Santy Claus ... see I DO exist, you faithless bunch of unbelievers

      Also as Dr. Bart Ehrman has shown in his books, Luke says Jesus was born while Herod was king, and Cyrineaus was governor of Syria. Herod died about a decade before Cyrineaus was made governor. Oopsy. Also Matthew, in doing the lineage says specifically, and directly " And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.". Now either Joseph WAS the father, or he was NOT the father. (Sorry Maury, no intention to punk your show).

      December 25, 2011 at 9:36 am |
  17. john

    While this article headline states that there are 246 million Christians in the US it is very misleading. It gives the impression that there are tens of millions of Americans following non christian faiths. There are not. Most of the 55 million non Christians are just lapsed or secular former Christians coming from families that have a Christian heritage and have Christian family members. For example my brother is agnostic but he celebrates Christmas and Easter and comes to all the church baptisms, funerals, weddings within our largely Catholic-Christian family. He is counted as one of the 55 million non christians even though he was raised Catholic, is surrounded by Catholic-Christianity and probably finds himself in a Catholic church several times a year.

    December 25, 2011 at 8:59 am |
  18. gliese42

    Merry Christmas to Helo

    December 25, 2011 at 8:58 am |
  19. hesus

    @ bible is garbage...1 word is enough for a wise man!..."SHUT UP"

    December 25, 2011 at 8:58 am |
    • JohnR

      "shut up" Hmmm. Looks like two words to me!

      December 25, 2011 at 9:28 am |
  20. Rambo

    Who's Jesus?

    December 25, 2011 at 8:54 am |
    • hesus

      AH..UR DUMB!!!

      December 25, 2011 at 9:01 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.