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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. JC

    Can't we just celebrate Christmas today? Why do we have to see the star of David instead of a manger. I don't understand why the media always tries to beat down Christians. Jews are 2% of the US population, 98% of the country is celebrating Christmas and the tail is wagging the dog. Please stop messing with Christmas!

    December 25, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • jenny

      All celebrate their religious holidays. what is different here!

      December 25, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  2. Dear Science from God

    "This is all an accident....by chance" Lol........... – NOTHING is moved without a MOVER.... a scientific fact

    We evolved from chimps, apes? Lol.... – No missing link found to date see below:

    Ardi anyone???

    Read more: http://www.upi.com/Science_News/2009/10/01/Study-Man-did-not-evolve-from-apes/UPI-40881254412291/#ixzz1hYije0TU

    Silly humans think they can explain the infinite while being finite....

    "My Kingdom is not of this world"

    December 25, 2011 at 10:14 am |
    • JohnR

      Another apologist here to share the mental darkness that if fundamentalist/evangelical belief.

      If all complex things require a creator, who created god?

      MANY fossil forms intermediate between humans and the ancestor to apes and humans!

      December 25, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • 3vix6

      Yes.. Silly humans.. who created the Bible and the stories in the Bible many years before they were canonized, many years before Jesus came on this earth. Those stories you see have been stolen from other religions and used to "create" Jesus. It was at a time when things in the universe could not be explained so easily, now that our scientific ambilities have grown tremendously, it's time to see how things really tick and possibly let Jesus have his place in Mythology on the Barnes and Noble bookshelf.

      How we just go and put stories that can't be proven and are generally wrong to areas of life that no one knows about is beyond me, it might not be beyond you though, but one day you'll get there.

      Oh and.. Sir, the missing link was found. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/05/090519-missing-link-found.html.

      Merry Christmas!! 🙂

      December 25, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • 3vix6

      One last thing, just so you know. UPI is owned by the Unitarian Church. You're blatantly misleading people by posting a link to their site to talk about Science, which is something that the Church has no authority in talking about.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      And yet you can't answer where did this mover come from? Just 'POOF' there he was? Your position is on equally shaky ground, but science at least logically makes no claim of knowledge of the unknown.
      Second we didn't evolve FROM apes...we ARE apes...that evolved from a common ancestor to the other apes.
      Sheesh...some people need to go back to school....or open a book that doesn't begin with "In the beginning..."

      December 25, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • 3vix6

      It's the damage created by having education taught to you from "Intelligent Design" books. The nerve of some of those books, they explain that the Grand Canyon was created by the Great Flood of Noah!!! There's no evidence to support that!

      There should be Surgeon General's warnings on those books.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  3. Cindy

    Merry Christmas, everybody!!!!! 🙂

    December 25, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • 3vix6

      Merry Christmas!! 🙂

      December 25, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  4. BL

    From an Eastern spiritual perspective Jesus is seen as a simple teacher of enlightenment; a Buddha for the West. Many believe his teaching were pure and direct, but like many Eastern faiths, became corrupted by dogma, ritual, hierarchy and mythology. His message is simple and incredibly non-dualistic: "I and my Father are one." Following Christ means becoming one with Christ and ultimately one with God and all creation. Merry Christmas to my Christian friends!

    December 25, 2011 at 10:11 am |
  5. animalfarm18

    Jesus isn't magical!! He is a fable, a myth. It is obvious that the creators of the gospel tale picked various themes and motifs from pre-Christian religions and myths, including and especially the Egyptian, and wove them together, using also the Jewish scriptures, to produce a unique version of the "mythos and ritual." In other words, the creators of the Christ myth did not simply take an already formed story, scratch out the name of Osiris or Horus and replace it with Jesus. They chose their motifs carefully, out of the most popular religious symbols, myths and rituals, making sure they fit to some degree with the Jewish "messianic scriptures," as they are termed, and created a new story that hundreds of millions since have been led to believe really and truly took place in history. Over the centuries, those who have clearly seen this development have asserted that this history is a fallacy imposed upon long pre-existing myths and rituals that have been reworked to result in the gospel story.

    December 25, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • GAW

      Cite your sources please. I need bibliographic reverences from reputable scholars (Scholars from Harvard, Yale, Oxford, Cambridge ect) No outdated texts from 1900 please or someone who published a book from some hole in the wall press or on a website from the far reaches of cyberspace.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • Wendell

      troll

      December 25, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • 3vix6

      I can speak up some sources..

      These pre-christian tales..

      Mithras, Horus, Osiris, Dionysus, Buddah, among many other stories that came before it. As I tell people, Jesus was not the first to walk on water, nor be raised or raise the dead. The pagan worship of the Winter Solstice (so aptly around this time of the year) is here for a reason. In their tradidtion the Sun dies for three days every year or is overtaken by darkness. They would celebrate when the Sun overtook the darkness and the days started becoming longer. Does it sound familiar? 3 days and then rising again? Easter was also celebrated long before it came into the Christian religion.

      Now, I gave you some great examples! Could you now please give me some examples of how Christianity is the one true religion and also undeniable evidence that Christ walked the earth? Preferably reasons/proof from outside the bible and from Jesus's era, between 5BC and 35CE.

      Even though this information is out there if you look for it and you weed through the apologists, you can find it, I still celebrate Christmas and have a great time! It's one of the best times of the year. Do I want it to go away? Of course not!

      December 25, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  6. LookAndSEE

    To those who know the Bible story and are curious of Christ Birth.

    Christ Sacrifice was in the Spring of the year(pass over).
    His ministry was 31/2 years so it's logical to think that it began in the fall of the year.
    Luke 3:23 Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli,
    According to Jewish law, a man can not be a Priest until he is thirty years old.
    Jesus hung up His carpenter's tools on His thirtieth B-day and headed to the river Jordan to see His cousin John who was Baptizing .

    December 25, 2011 at 10:07 am |
  7. W. Baez

    Amusing to hear some groups, especially Christians make remarks about other faiths. Christianity is Roman pagan worship mixed in with the original Jewish faith and follows and prays to three gods and multiple saints, believes in angels, devils and demons. Weird.

    December 25, 2011 at 10:07 am |
    • LookAndSEE

      Please understand, not all Christians celebrate Christmas! some of us know the Pagan history.
      Read the Bible, there's NOTHING pagan in the Book!

      December 25, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • Gene

      It' obvious that you do not understand Christianity.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:19 am |
    • sigmundfreud

      Reply to LookandSee: You tell us to read the Bible. Perhaps you should read more than the Bible. Like how the early Church took pagan holidays and transformed them into Christian holidays as a way of attracting converts.

      Look up the Feast of Saturnalia in ancient Rome. And then realize that shepherds would not be watching their flocks by night in the middle of winter!

      December 25, 2011 at 10:52 am |
  8. trex

    .........to the person posting as "GOD", your LACK of understanding, your UNenlightened way, has clouded your view of the true and LIVING GOD. GOD teaches love and tolerence, and it is only PEOPLE who misuse HIS name and usurp HIS teachings to better themselves through manipulation of HIS Word. THIS IS what causes your misunderstanding.

    December 25, 2011 at 10:06 am |
    • Abinadi

      Someone advised me that we should not feed the trolls and that is probably good advice. Just ignore him.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:33 am |
  9. Bebo

    We can see from the news this morning out of Nigeria how Muslims view Christianity

    December 25, 2011 at 10:05 am |
  10. GOD

    CLAIM TO BE ALL LOVING AND COMPASSIONATE... KILL BUNCH OF PEOPLE FOR NOT SMEARING BLOOD ON DOORS

    December 25, 2011 at 9:59 am |
    • animalfarm18

      LOL so true

      December 25, 2011 at 10:12 am |
  11. Abinadi

    Merry Christmas to all on this holy day and peace on earth and good will!

    December 25, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  12. Avi Shlomo

    It seems that Muslim have more in common with Christianity than Jews. The Rabbi is being a jerk for almost calling xmas as chopsticks day and very dismissive of the notion of Christianity.

    December 25, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • Beth

      How about when he said he encourages his congregation to go to work so their Christian neighbors can have the day off and that he thrills for his Christian friends? Was he being dismissive then?

      December 25, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • Abinadi

      The Muslims I have known were extremely upright and honorable people devoted to their wives and families, but I still worry about them. They seem to consider it an act of faith to kill innocent people whereas Christians consider it an act of faith to give their lives to save other people.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:04 am |
    • jsf12

      You saw the serious statement "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."
      But you decided the joke was more important, because the joke gave you more reason to criticize those different from you.
      So you are correct (and demonstrating) that for many in each religion "It seems that Muslim have more in common with Christianity than Jews."

      December 25, 2011 at 10:06 am |
  13. hairymary

    The Christmas fantasy...when will we grow up?

    December 25, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  14. GOD

    CREATE FOSSILS... TROLL SCIENTISTS

    December 25, 2011 at 9:57 am |
    • LookAndSEE

      Can u tell me about a fossil that is in transition from 1 species to another?

      December 25, 2011 at 10:31 am |
  15. GOD

    BILLIONS AND BILLIONS OF PRAYERS FOR PEACE... IGNORE

    December 25, 2011 at 9:56 am |
    • LookAndSEE

      Remember the situation described in the Bible for the last days!
      Mat 24:12 And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.
      If u think it's bad now, just wait till tomorrow.
      There will be No peace until the return of the Prince of Peace.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:28 am |
  16. fred

    Who really gives a shiite about how other people view Christmas?? The overwhelming majority of Americans celebrate Christmas. If you are one of the extreme minority that doesn't, then too bad. It will be over in 1 day. But the "holiday" has a name and it is Christmas. The customary greeting is Merry Christmas.

    December 25, 2011 at 9:56 am |
    • hairymary

      Merry Idiotic Belief System

      December 25, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • JohnR

      Have a Scintillating Solstice Season, fred!

      December 25, 2011 at 10:31 am |
  17. GOD

    OLD TESTAMENT: KILL MILLIONS WITH PLAGUES AND FLOODS... NEW TESTAMENT: FRESH OUT OF ANGER MANAGEMENT AND FRONTAL LOBOTOMY

    December 25, 2011 at 9:56 am |
    • jb

      Sounds like someone got a lump of coal in their Christmas stocking.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:08 am |
  18. Valentina

    With all due respect, without Jesus Christ, his birth and Christianity and the catholic mass to commemorate the birth of Jesus ... the CHRIST-mas, we wouldn't even have a Christmas holiday. Please let us Christians celebrate our holiday the way we allow others to celebrate theirs, such as Kwaanza, Hannukkah, Ramadhan etc. I am not offended by other religious holidays that are not Christian, just leave our holiday alone, and allow us to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior.

    December 25, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • Beth

      That isn't the point of the article. Did you read it? Jesus is part of Islam and knowing this is intersting. They view Jesus differently than Chrsitians which is very interesting, too. Jesus isn't part of Judaism so Jews have our own traditions on this day. Chinese food and movies are a common way for a lot of Jews to spend Christmas. The Buddhists in the article were generous people who put up symbolic small trees to be respectful of the majority culture, etc. The article wasn't trying to change Christmas for Christians or criticizing Christians in any way. The article was about how other faiths see this day. Some see it as important to their religions and many do not. It would probably be a good thing to know since not every single person on Earth or even in the USA is Christian. It isn't that anyone wants you to change other than to acknowledge we also are here, too.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:06 am |
    • sigmundfreud

      Ah, Valentina: What exactly do you think you are celebrating.

      December 25th is derived from the ancient Roman feast of "Sol Invictus" – the undefeated sun. It was the Roman of the winter solstice, when the sun started to return and the days started to get longer. It was also known as the Feast of the Saturnalia, which we still use in English to describe a rowdy holiday.

      The early Christian Church took over the Saturnalia (and many other pagan feasts) as a way of attracting converts. What do you think Hallowe'en and All Saints Day represent, to say nothing of Easter?

      Hint: winter solstice – festival of lights – all faiths.

      So have a great Christmas, and remember that whenever Christ was born, it was not on December 25th. So enjoy your Winter Solstice holiday.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • jsf12

      Your choice of Kwaanza and Hannukkah destroys what little merit there might have been in your message. Those holidays have been elevated in the USA only because they are near Christmas. So your phrase "the way we allow others to celebrate theirs" would really mean you should forget about Christmas and figure out which saint's day happens to fall nearest Yom Kippur and celebrate that as your major holiday.
      So please enjoy your holiday, but please stop forcing your holiday onto those who don't believe in it.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  19. GOD

    MAKE HUMANS, MAKE APPLES, MAKE HUMANS EAT APPLES... DON'T EAT APPLES!!!

    December 25, 2011 at 9:54 am |
  20. +

    I see the bigots are out in force today.

    December 25, 2011 at 9:53 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.