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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. 2cents

    @ fact_over_fiction Jesus was a jewish man from palestine, he had a much bigger mind than you and a much deeper seated view of compassion. he would forgive your hatefulness and ignorance, as will I today.

    December 25, 2011 at 10:48 am |
  2. Peikovianii

    Christmas is a good day for 100 million Hindus with nuclear weapons to tear across Central Asia corn holing everything they find, and pouring Gau Jal on what remains. Jai Hind.

    December 25, 2011 at 10:47 am |
  3. jon

    Notice most other religions all have a reference to Jesus...you can't say the same for Buddah or Muhammad

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

      Jesus didn't travel to India so why should he get a mention in Buddhism? If there was one true belief why are there so many of them? Face it, Jesus was just a man who just happen to do some very good things. Same as the Buddha.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • gremlinus

      Well considering that Islam is the youngest religion, that makes sense. It would be like saying, you see pictures of the older brothers at the birth of the younger ones, but not vice verse. I don't know much about Buddhism, so can't comment there. Jesus does NOT appear in the original (well the oldest ones we know of) Jewish texts though, for much the same reason.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • Rick

      most other religions? outside of judaism and islam, what other religions reference jesus?

      December 25, 2011 at 10:58 am |
    • Beth

      Actually, most other religions do not contain Jesus. Islam does but Judaism and Buddhism do not. The buddhists in the article symbolically do things to honor the majority reliigion in this country on Christmas but Jesus is not in Buddhist religious texts and is not in Hindu religious texts. There are hundreds of religions in the world and Jesus is apparently in about 3, Christianity, Islam and B'hai.

      December 25, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • DCani

      Buddhism pre-dates Christianity. The historical Buddha
      lived approximately 2,600 years ago, 600 years before
      the birth of Chirst.

      December 25, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  4. Jay in Florida

    Christmas can be problematic if you are not a Christian??? Why? Do we stone to death people who refuse to accept Christ? No we don't. CNN is completely anti-Christian. To put it in another perspective, I am not muslim and I certainly don't have a problem with Ramadan. CNN is the most poisonous anti-christian source of reading in the whole goddam world.

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

      Seems like the Catholics and Protestants did just that over in merry old England not to long ago. Christians certainly are not above the fray when it comes to violence against people who don't believe as they do.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:53 am |
  5. Beth

    You are wrong, Johnny, about Christmas not being imposed on others. My son had it shoved in his face at school. He was reequired to sing religious Christmas carols with lyrics that are the opposite of our religion. He had teachers teach him Jesus was 'the christ' (illegal in public school). He has a school where every decoration is Christmas related–where teachers had students write letters to santa saying what they want for Christmas, not realizing that not everyone is Christina. I have 'friends' who have tried to convert me, sometimes somewhat aggressively, who dismiss my religion. A nearby town has a chresh that has figures twice human size on its town green with no other symbols of any other holidays or even secular Christmas. That's shoving religion down people's throats and others don't appreciate it. I personally enjoy Christmas music in stores, appreciate when people wish me a "Merry Christmas" even though it isn't my holiday, love seeing lights, Christmas decorations, etc but it does sometimes cross the line to shoving religion down other's throats. YOu might talk with Jewish and other non-Chrisitan friends and ask them their experience. If you were the religios minority you would not appreciate another religion being forced on you, I'm sure.

    December 25, 2011 at 10:45 am |
    • jon

      The point he is making remains Chistians don't stone or blow up people that believe something different...Islam does

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

      Google Christians killing witch children Africa.

      You fail at research...

      December 25, 2011 at 10:52 am |
  6. Chris

    I have always found it odd the people who supposedly believe in Jesus Christ the most are also some of the most intolerant and insensitive people around.

    December 25, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • jon

      Really??? Do you see Christians strpping on suicide vests and blowing up people...that would seem to be a bit more intolerant than your exagerated comments

      December 25, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • Lulz

      Just because Christians did it so much that they got tired of having crusades and inquisitions doesn't make you any better than "reformed" child molesters...

      December 25, 2011 at 10:51 am |
  7. muhammad

    Kill Women Who Are Not Virgins On Their Wedding Night

    But if this charge is true (that she wasn't a virgin on her wedding night), and evidence of the girls virginity is not found, they shall bring the girl to the entrance of her fathers house and there her townsman shall stone her to death, because she committed a crime against Israel by her unchasteness in her father's house. Thus shall you purge the evil from your midst. (Deuteronomy 22:20-21 NAB

    December 25, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • scottros

      Yes, and they moved on from that 3,000 years ago, unlike some of your friends.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:46 am |
  8. Merry holy Christmas

    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 10:41 am |
    • Lulz

      Most so called christians are impostors...

      December 25, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • gremlinus

      This is on the front page because it has the highest number of hits. That's how the CNN page works.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:45 am |
    • Rick

      you could care less? meaning you care some?

      December 25, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  9. Hanukkah = ANTI-Christmasa

    Jews teach their children to hate Christmas and won't take them to any malls so they don't get jealous or see any Christmas decorations.... terrible! Then they wonder why they are hated

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

      I know of no Jews that do that. And Hanukkah was here first.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • Peikovianii

      The Jews are hated because lonely ani-Jewish psychopaths spend Christmas morning ranting online, then spend New Year's Eve in a police lineup. Happy Holidays.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • Chris

      I live in Los Angeles with a large Jewish community and that is in no way true. They'll even tell me Merry Christmas whether it's part of their faith or not.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:45 am |
    • Beth

      And how you do know this? I'm Jewish and I drrive my son around to look at Christmas decorations. We go to the mall to see Christmas decorations. We talk to our son about being respectful to his good friends who are Christian. We tell him, "we don't believe this but your friends do so we dont' say anything about it becuase we don't want them to feel badly." We are polite. Wish you wouyld be, too.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • GAW

      Now you know what neo-Nazi propaganda looks like folks.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:54 am |
    • Rick

      you sound like the hate filled one, pendejo

      December 25, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  10. muhammad

    Kill the Entire Town if One Person Worships Another God

    Suppose you hear in one of the towns the LORD your God is giving you that some worthless rabble among you have led their fellow citizens astray by encouraging them to worship foreign gods. In such cases, you must examine the facts carefully. If you find it is true and can prove that such a detestable act has occurred among you, you must attack that town and completely destroy all its inhabitants, as well as all the livestock. Then you must pile all the plunder in the middle of the street and burn it. Put the entire town to the torch as a burnt offering to the LORD your God. That town must remain a ruin forever; it may never be rebuilt. Keep none of the plunder that has been set apart for destruction. Then the LORD will turn from his fierce anger and be merciful to you. He will have compassion on you and make you a great nation, just as he solemnly promised your ancestors. "The LORD your God will be merciful only if you obey him and keep all the commands I am giving you today, doing what is pleasing to him." (Deuteronomy 13:13-19 NLT

    December 25, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  11. Narcosis70

    It sure would be nice if people would quit stating their personal opinions as verified facts.

    December 25, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  12. muhammad

    Death for Fornication

    A priest's daughter who loses her honor by committing fornication and thereby dishonors her father also, shall be burned to death. (Leviticus 21:9 NAB)

    Death to Followers of Other Religions

    Whoever sacrifices to any god, except the Lord alone, shall be doomed. (Exodus 22:19 NAB)

    Kill Nonbelievers

    They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and soul; and everyone who would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, was to be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman. (2 Chronicles 15:12-13 NAB)

    Kill False Prophets

    If a man still prophesies, his parents, father and mother, shall say to him, "You shall not live, because you have spoken a lie in the name of the Lord." When he prophesies, his parents, father and mother, shall thrust him through. (Zechariah 13:3 NAB

    December 25, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • Hawkeye1012

      Muslim holidays: "car bombs roasting on an open fire, jihadists nipping at your nose"

      December 25, 2011 at 10:54 am |
  13. amy

    as an atheist jewish vegan, it's movies and chinese vegan food for me most years...or FLYING across country to see family on xmas day when the flights aren't so full.

    December 25, 2011 at 10:38 am |
  14. CHRISTmas is wonderful

    How could America not be a Christian country when Christmas Day is a national holiday, and no other religious holidays?! LOL atheists and Jews are being ignorant

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

      Almost all Americans are Christians, true. But as John Adams said, it's not a Christian govt. It's just some guys doing their job.

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

      Having Christmas as a National Holiday means we have pandering politicians. It still doesn't make us a religious state. You should research what's involved in states that have a national religion.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • gremlinus

      Sorry, state is probably a less appropriate word than nation.

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

      Atheists and Jews are being ignorant? Spending a lot of time on your knees, are you?

      December 25, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • Canus

      Actually, the US has no "national holidays" persay, but Christmas didn't even become a federal holiday until 1870.

      December 25, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
  15. muhammad

    jesus (pbuh) never heard the word christians,nor did he have a cross,and he was born in summer time not winter

    December 25, 2011 at 10:37 am |
  16. Jews have a boring day today

    Movie theathers should be CLOSED, and no Television should be on... just like how Jews force their Yom Kippur holiday in our throats in zionist state of Israel

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

      Gazans should be corn holed for Christmas.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:38 am |
  17. Peikovianii

    American was founded by Christians, Deists, Agnostics and Atheists. There were a few Jews there too. The govt is secular and the culture is live-and-let-live. Best country in the world.

    December 25, 2011 at 10:35 am |
  18. Jesus is the best

    CNN = JEWISH owned!!!!! Fox News = CHRISTIAN CATHOLIC owned.............

    December 25, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • Peikovianii

      Trying walking on Uranus.

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

      You-Uncontrolled IGNORANCE owned!

      December 25, 2011 at 10:36 am |
  19. Santa Claus

    There is something terribly wrong with a person who argues about nothing on a blog Christmas day. What a sad lonely empty existence to have. You all have my deepest sympathy

    December 25, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • galaxy101

      I agree Santy... Jesus, Mohammed and the like really are "nothing".

      December 25, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  20. The Equalizer

    Thank you to the Rabbi who loves chinese food........maybe i will start this tradition....sick of ham and turkey...

    December 25, 2011 at 10:33 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.