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. Johnny K.

    I'd like to add one more day: what terrible judgment this was by the editor(s) to put this blog post on the front page of a news site with the quote that is there... use of "problematic" killed any intentions meant by this article.

    December 25, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • JohnR

      The whole nation shuts down on a day that is not a recognized religious holiday for millions of people. See how that might be problematic?

      This is why I despair of any true justice within a political system dominated by Christians, so many of whom don't just refuse to see anything from any perspective but that which is totally familiar to them since childhood, but also don't even seem to have any conception of their being any other perspective.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:45 am |
  2. syslmod

    It seems that some christians can't wait to bash what the rabbi said in this article. What would you have him say?

    December 25, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • nirgles

      Part of the Christian tradition is to subjugate and kill Jews. I'm sure that is what they really want. Christians are narcissistic, myopic, boobs...for the most part.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • Beth

      It seems that some Christians find the fact that other people are not Christian, that non-Christians exist and that they were quoted in an article saying they don't celebreate Christmas is offensive. Doesn't make any sense. They take it as an attack if you don't believe what they believe. Not tolerant. Most Christians I know are very good, loving people and not like the trolls and hateful posters I have seen scattered in this comment section.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • nirgles

      Beth, you sound like a nice person.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • Beth

      Thank you, Nirgles.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:50 am |
  3. meghan

    wondering which Muslims scholars don't believe Isa (Jesus) to be the Messiah. it's a pretty basic Islamic concept...

    December 25, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • syslmod

      Read the article, they view him as a prophet not the messiah.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  4. The Equalizer

    I see the atheists are all out to wish us all a very merry xmas.....thanks you so much A** Holes.....Let it be and be more respectful to all, this is a holy day for the maority of us. We can do away with poictics for just one day out of a year....

    December 25, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • nirgles

      Is that what Jesus would have written?

      December 25, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • JohnR

      Have a Scintillating Solstice Season, Equalizer! And I look forward to more and more advances of secular humanism in the days to come!

      December 25, 2011 at 10:47 am |
  5. CHRISTmas is here.... wohooo!

    Happy Birthday JESUS CHRIST..... Merry Christmas everyone

    December 25, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • nirgles

      Happy birthday fake guy! We believe that, unlike any evidence we have ever seen, you will somehow come back to life! Our grandparents believed it too...and died with no evidence. Perhaps because this is all baloney handed down from generation to generation. Yes indeedy. Merry Make Believe!

      December 25, 2011 at 10:34 am |
  6. ThanktheEnlightenment

    Imagine there's no heaven
    It's easy if you try
    No hell below us
    Above us only sky
    Imagine all the people living for today

    Imagine there's no countries
    It isn't hard to do
    Nothing to kill or die for
    And no religion too
    Imagine all the people living life in peace

    You, you may say
    I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one
    I hope some day you'll join us
    And the world will be as one

    Imagine no possessions
    I wonder if you can
    No need for greed or hunger
    A brotherhood of man
    Imagine all the people sharing all the world

    You, you may say
    I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one
    I hope some day you'll join us
    And the world will live as one

    December 25, 2011 at 10:31 am |
  7. Jesus !!


    December 25, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • nirgles

      Nope...not a christian country...just a country filled with christians. Many of them idiots.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • Beth

      You sound very selfish and do not sound like you are displaying any of the very positive things Jesus suposedly preached. Would Jesus have said what you are saying? Really? I'm glad I know really kind, generous, loving Christians and that they are not all anything like you.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • BL

      There are many Christians, but few who follow the teachings of Christ.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • nirgles

      oh beth...I didn't mean to offend. No need to start yet another inquisition! The history of Christianity is vile and brutal. In the name of cheese its? Time to grow up and cast off the fairy tales.

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

      Nigles, I wan't replying to you but to the original post.

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

    Christians can be a lot of fun when they are not having an inquisition! Christmas day – hocus pocus time!

    December 25, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  9. scole


    real God one up....

    December 25, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • JohnR

      Because the almighty creator of the universe doesn't squash someone like a bug for hurting his tender feelings with insults, that makes the almighty wonder boy gracious? Yeesh.

      In any event, a better account would be: Some guy flings insults at the Christian concept of god of cnn's belief blog on Christmas morning to annoy the Christians and god, who doesn't exist, does nothing about it because there is nothing a non-existent being can do.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:52 am |
  10. chief rain in the face

    Christianity was a real blessing for the Native Americans. Jesus, kiss my grits!

    December 25, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • nirgles

      Plenty of innocents killed in the name of christianity. Hypocrisy is everywhere. It's the theme of Christmas! Merry Hypocrisy!

      December 25, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  11. Clifford S

    Muslims celebrate Christmas by bombing Christians while they are having Christmas Services

    December 25, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  12. Johnny K.

    "Christmas at every corner can be somewhat problematic..." - please explain this. Christians are exercising their freedom of religion (at the worst), and generally the holiday is the most accessible one out there for others to share in the traditions (e.g. of gift exchange). How or why can this be *problematic* to others? What a disgusting statement this was to put on the front page of CNN on Christmas Day, regardless of the article's actually content.

    December 25, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • idjit

      spoken like a tea bagger! Think about someone else's perspective...

      December 25, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • Beth

      Becausee not everyone is Christian. Look around your town today. There is Christmas everywhere. There is no lack of Christmas out there. We are only saying that sometimes it is too much. We aren't thinking that Christmas will ever not dominate this season in America. Clearly it does and this will continue. We just would like a *little* space for us, the non-Christians. In my case I'm Jewish and I appreciate seeing a little nod to Hanukkah. I can't tell you what it means to my child to see a little dreidel or menorah among the 99% of decorations that are Christmas-themed.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • Johnny K.

      The holiday doesn't impose on the lives of anyone, except maybe the business owners who are getting more business during this season.. what a terrible thing.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • Johnny K.

      "Because not everyone is Christian" does not make it problematic– because you're in the minority not celebrating does not make it problematic at all by nature; any problem created is self-imposed.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:41 am |
    • Beth

      But it is problematic sometimes for non-Christians. We enjoy the positive part of this holiday season and we (our family) enjoys looking at Christmas displays, etc, but sometimes some people do try to shove Christianity down our throats, particularly at this time of year. My son got taught in public school that Jesus is the son of god by a teacher who called Jesus the christ. This is nothing but problematic (and illegal). The school choir perfomed all religious Christmas carols with words that are directly opposed to our religious beliefs. We do not believe Jesus was the messiah. Imagine if your child had to sign a song declaring Jesus was not the son of god. You would not like it. We don't want our children singing that Jesus is the lord in *public school*. There is a giant nativity scene on a public green near here without any other religious symbols anywhere. That's problematic. Yes, have your holiday. 99% of the holiday displays are Christmas related. is that not enough for you? What is the problem for you to teach people to share 1% of space with the non-Christians who make up 20% of the USA?

      December 25, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  13. Trekkie33

    What a great article! There is no "right"or "wrong" religion, I don't care what anyone says. We are all children of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit and will be loved regardless of our cultural beliefs while here on earth. Happy Holidays, Everyone!

    December 25, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • hippiekenny

      Right on ! Peace on earth, good will towards men is a universal theme

      December 25, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  14. NoMoreLabels

    Wishing Everyone cheerful holidays and great health

    December 25, 2011 at 10:22 am |
  15. DCani

    There are many varieties of Buddhism, just as there are of Christians (Episcopals, Methodists, etc). In the lives of many Buddhists , Jesus is honored as a great Bodhisattva, a great teacher of wisdom and compassion, who gave his life to help others. The Dalai Lama has actually been invited by Christians to teach, and constantly urges all of us to honor
    the faiths of others, and learn from one another, and exist in harmony, for the general good. Merry Christmas, from a Buddhist friend!

    December 25, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  16. Jesus

    America is 80% Christian so I could care less what other religions think about Christmas. CNN is a horrible news station. Why do we in this country accommodate every other religion but our own? Why is the the first page? Maybe CNN's Jewish owners are trying to push their religion down our throats?

    December 25, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • JohnR

      Christianity isn't accommodated? Bwahahaha!!! Another silly Christian with a persecution complex!

      December 25, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • hairymary

      Jesus is a moron.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • syslmod

      The govt of the USA is 0% christian, 0% jewish, 0%muslim. That's how it was intended, thank G_d

      December 25, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • Peikovianii

      I'm sure the Sanhedrin is after you personally because you're special.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • Sharon

      CNN owned by Jews? Your ignorance is rife with stereotypes. Have you ever heard of Ted Turner? Maybe instead of spewing inaccuracies and hate, you should research your facts first.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • Jasmine

      "Why do we in this country accommodate every other religion but our own?"

      Wow another hyper-privileged Christian complaining that the USA is not yet an authoritarian theocracy.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • Beth

      Exactly, Jasmine. Word to poster 'Jesus', the Jewish religion is not evangelical. Unlike some sects of Christians we do not try to convert others or get others to practice our religion. We just want a tiny bit of space for our religion and to not be Chrisitan during this season. People like you are apparently offended that any non-Chrisitans even exist.

      December 25, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  17. BigJohn4USA

    Can you do an article "How civilized world views muslims at Ramadaan"?

    December 25, 2011 at 10:18 am |
  18. Bebo

    Muslims in predominately Christian countries don't need armed soldiers outside their churches to protect them from suicide bombers.

    December 25, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • BigJohn4USA

      You are correct sir.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  19. 2cents

    Who cares? This is our holiday and this great nation happens to be a nation founded by Christians. I am sure the other faiths could care less about how we view their holidays and traditions. CNN is a joke of a news source if this is how they lead the morning news, so biased. The land was taken essentially from our native peoples and we owe them respect based on some of the mistakes of our fore fathers, but other than that, I could care less about what other faiths think of our traditions. Jesus taught compassion and not division, this is a universal truth. Compassion for ones fellow man and pride in ones tradition leads to peaceful coexistence. If any religion preaches anything differently, including sects of Christianity, it should be ignored. Peace and love to all, and to all a merry Christmas, after all we are just celebrating the birthday of a great man who taught peace and the love of one's friends AND enemies, we could all learn from that regardless of who we think that man is from a religious perspective.

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

      @2cents: except that your country was NOT founded by Christians.
      Leave it up to a dumb mcmerican not to know his own history! lol!
      p.s. - Jesus wasn't american.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • Beth

      I think your post is a contraditon and also shows you didn't read the article. If you want to have peace you may want to at the least want to know a little bit about other people's faith. We, non-Christians know tons about your religion because it is so out there everywhere. In general Christians do not know even the most basic things about other religions. This article gives you a tiny bit of information about this but you somehow are choosing to think this is offensive to you and your religion and that you will have peace by not letting yourself learn anything about other religions and insisting yours is the one true religion. People will be more peaceful if they learn to coexist and be at the least tolerant if not respectful of others. Your post doesn't sound loving and lacks the Christian spirit you profess to have.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • 2cents

      @ all small minded people, if a religion doesn't teach compassion for ones fellow man I am not interested in it, sorry. I feel sorry for you if you think my viewpoint is controversial. Nor do I care about your viewpoint if it is hateful. go on and be miserable, and I will still wish you a merry christmas. I will still wish peace for you and your families. I don't have any obligation to learn from anyone else's religion, but contrary to your points of view I have happened to devote a lot of study to various religions and I believe those that teach compassion and peace are guiding us to a better future. THe founding fathers of the united states were christians, if you need a history book to figure that out, you probably couldn't read it anyway.

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

      @2cents: "THe founding fathers of the united states were christians"

      The 1796 Tripoli Treaty written by President George Washington CLEARLY states: "not in any sense founded on the Christian religion".

      You can choose to ignore that FACT and believe your FICTION.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:54 am |
    • 2cents

      @ fact_over_fiction – Yes, because he had the good sense to separate church from state and the compassion to accept others beliefs. A true Christian he was. so nice try. If other countries would follow those brilliant ideas, the world would be a better place. today is our holiday, and we will celebrate. You sound like a sad man, i hope you find peace today.

      December 25, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • Beth

      2cent–where is your compassion? You come off as lacking compassion for any non-Christians and being very ethnocentric. No one is trying to convert you. THe artilce is sayiing things as innocent as the fact that Jesus is part of Islam and tells you Muslim's poinit of view on Christmas along with the fact that the Buddhists in the article respect Christmas even if it isn't their holiday and ditto the Jewish people in the article. It would be nice for Christians to know even this tiny bit of info about others they share this country with. The non-Chrisitians here sure know a lot about your religion because it is everywhere. People would get along better if everyone learned at least the basics about others. YOu think you are going to have peace by ignoring that non-everyone is Christian and forcing your way on others.

      December 25, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • 2cents

      @ Beth, why are you so worried about what I think or know, why don't you worry about having a good day today! Does your religion teach compassion? if so, I think it is valid and support your right to believe in it. I believe that buddhism is the most valid form of worship because it concentrates on the here and now, on compassion and present happiness if you must know the truth. But honestly, I could care less about what others think of Christmas, nor do I care if they choose to educate themselves or not. I worry about me, I worry about how I treat people. And I try to treat them with respect, does your religion have a problem with that?

      December 25, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • Beth

      As a non-Christian, your posts do not feel respectful. I fyou go back and read them you might see this lack of respect. Yes, my religion teachers love, compassion and charity.

      December 25, 2011 at 11:15 am |
    • 2cents

      @ Beth, do you need my validation to feel respected? I have seen so many hateful, vile posts today. I hardly think mine is disrespectful. and no where near the hateful spew I see on this blog. Signing off and merry christmas to you, may you find peace and happiness today, if you feel disrespected, read more carefully, I do not have anything against you. be proud of yourself, then the world can be proud of you.

      December 25, 2011 at 11:21 am |
  20. Dan

    "Hey, how'd you spend your Christmas?"

    "Oh, just spent all morning arguing on a CNN comment thread."

    December 25, 2011 at 10:16 am |
    • BigJohn4USA

      good idea

      December 25, 2011 at 10:18 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.