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. muhammad

    Other evidence that December 25 is the wrong date for the birth of Jesus comes from early writings. Iranaeus, born about a century after Jesus, notes that Jesus was born in the 41st year of the reign of Augustus. Since Augustus began his reign in the autumn of 43 B.C., this appears to substantiate the birth of Jesus as the autumn of 2 B.C. Eusebius (A.D. 264-340), the "Father of Church History," ascribes it to the 42nd year of the reign of Augustus and the 28th from the subjection of Egypt on the death of Anthony and Cleopatra. The 42nd year of Augustus ran from the autumn of 2 B.C. to the autumn of 1 B.C. The subjugation of Egypt into the Roman Empire occurred in the autumn of 30 B.C. The 28th year extended from the autumn of 3 B.C. to the autumn of 2 B.C. The only date that would meet both of these constraints would be the autumn of 2 B.C.

    John the Baptist also helps us determine that December 25 is not the birth of Jesus. Elizabeth, John's mother, was a cousin of Mary. John began his ministry in the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar. The minimum age for the ministry was 30. As Augustus died on August 19, A.D. 14, that was the accession year for Tiberius. If John was born on April 19-20, 2 B.C., his 30th birthday would have been April 19-20, A.D. 29, or the 15th year of Tiberius. This seems to confirm the 2 B.C. date, and, since John was 5 months older, this also confirms an autumn birth date for Jesus.

    December 25, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • Grey, Atlanta

      Jesus was born 2 years before Christ, followed by the Holly Spirit. They were all brothers and loved each other like no other human ever has.

      December 25, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • kr

      December 25 was chosen by early Christians as Jesus' birthday to compete with the pagans who celebrated on that day the festival of the sun god. Much the same way Fundamentalist Christians celebrating the Harvest Festival on 31 October to compete with the Halloween celebration. One of course can celebrate the birth of Jesus on another date like the Orthodox Christians. Nobody really knows the exact date of Jesus' birth but It is better to celebrate it than not to celebrate it at all, even though we do not exactly know the exact date..

      December 25, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  2. Tr1Xen

    As a nonbeliever, I view Christmas as a time to be close to family and friends and to appreciate each other's company. It's about sharing, caring, and goodwill. I still participate in the traditions even though I don't subscribe to the religion.

    December 25, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • Rick

      Same here

      December 25, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • Skata


      December 25, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • Ray in Vegas


      December 25, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
  3. Wolf

    First, Merry Christmas to all Christians on this day!
    Second, this is a great article from CNN but I didn't think having the 'David star' (the Jewish symbol) is appropriate since today is Christmas – duh!
    Third, I can understand why some Christians wouldn't wanna hear about other religions but whether you like it or not, there are other religions out there! The question that consequently begs itself is: am I following the right one? And that's when articles like this become important to help us learn and discover things beyond the religion that we were born with – I bet more than 99% of us are following the religion our parents gave us! Along these lines, I find it very interesting to see the similarities and learn about what made a religion so great. I'm very fascinated by the Abrahamic religions (Judism, Christianity ans Islam) and the great similarities between them. I was also very fascinated by the fact that Christianity spread greatly in Europe based on a decision by the Roman Empire government – and since the founding fathers mostly European immigrants, the US is mainly a Christian nation! The point is we all need to learn and discover more. Merry Christmas!

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

      What ? Are you some kind of pinko socialists commie ? You can't be a Republican/ TPer. You don't need to know anything more. The pedochourch has already told you that the earth is flat and that certain people were meant to be slaves. You sit down and shut up . . . damn trouble maker. (Keep at it !)

      December 25, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • Grey, Atlanta

      I am surprised that Christians have not made the Start of David to be their Christmas symbol. They have already stole every other symbol of Judaism, and since Jesus was Jewish (according to the Christian Bible), Santa Clause should have a gigantic Start of David on his sleigh and a yarmelke on his head.

      December 25, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • Wolf

      Why are you throwing Politics into this? And why would anybody believe a church about something they are not an expert in (like Science)? When the church gets into business they were not supposed to be in, they are stepping beyond their boundaries and creating problems for the religion they are preaching? I'm certain Christianity and Jesus did not say that the earth was flat. It must have been an unsecured priest who was afraid if people started even wondering a little bit, they may not follow him. Come on! Wake up and let reason control you! Many of the now accepted thinking frameworks are not true – just like the fact that the earth is not flat 🙂

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

      Who cares if Jesus was Jew or not? If you trace everything back, we are all the children of Adam and Eve. Stop asking for sympathy – like you want us all to feel bad for you! Everybody knows that Judaism came first then Christianity and then Islam. Jewish people don't really like to believe in the religions that came after theirs because that means denying their own religion and the same applies to Christians about Islam

      December 25, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • Santy Claus ... see I DO exist, you faithless bunch of unbelievers

      If you trace everything back, we are all the children of Adam and Eve.
      And if ya go back a little further, we're all children of a fish. Why else would human embryos have gill slits ?

      December 25, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  4. thetruth

    @gman, whenever you say "muslim" kill people. you are wrong. Those are not muslims, rather they are psychos. Islam means peace and a muslim is a peaceful person because I slam does not teach violence in any way.

    December 25, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  5. James Ding

    after reading so many nasty messages here. It makes me wonder that if every religion preaches tolerance, kindness, good will why are the religious people so hateful? If Jesus is still alive today, would he condone the behaviors of those here who claims to believe in him?

    December 25, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • str8vision

      Very good question, but one I believe you already know the answer to. Jesus always taught love, compassion, devotion and forgiveness. The rare event in which he displayed anger involved greedy merchants using the church to hawk their wares. Yet look who the American christian's align themselves with and the values they represent, Selfishness, hate, greed and intolerance. Hundreds of thousands of civilians killed in a war that was based on known lies (bearing false witness)(thou shall not kill). True Islam teaches love and devotion but look at where that religion has evolved as well. People of faith have placed their faith not in God, but in the church that is ran by men. American christians no longer follow the path of Jesus, but instead follow the ideology of religion/church corporate America style. What would Jesus think? Anyone who has actually studied the bible already knows the answer to that....it won't be pretty.

      December 25, 2011 at 11:49 am |
  6. Roco

    What a way to start my day,I just went to a convenience store and was greeted by a neighbor who publicly announced here's the fool that doesn't believe in god,he repeated that insult twice(calling me a fool,not being an unbeliever) .My stunned response could only utter";that's not very nice but very christian".I immediately left the store.The insulting neighbor called to me "Oh Roco,I was only kidding"Iwish I would have also said " I'm not"....

    December 25, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • str8vision

      His hate and disregaurd for your faith did not cause you to respond in kind, you handled this quite well. Pray for him, smile and lead by example.

      December 25, 2011 at 11:58 am |
  7. muhammad

    Was Jesus born on December 25? There is no evidence for this date. So then, who decided that Jesus' birth would be celebrated on that date? The early Christian church did not celebrate Jesus' birth. It wasn't until A.D. 440 that the church officially proclaimed December 25 as the birth of Christ. This was not based on any religious evidence but on a pagan feast. Saturnalia was a tradition inherited by the Roman pagans from an earlier Babylonian priesthood. December 25 was used as a celebration of the birthday of the sun god. It was observed near the winter solstice.

    The apostles in the Bible predicted that some Christians would adopt pagan beliefs to enable them to make their religion more palatable to the pagans around them. Therefore, some scholars think the church chose the date of this pagan celebration to interest them in Christianity. The pagans were already used to celebrating on this date.

    The Bible itself tells us that December 25 is an unlikely date for His birth. Palestine is very cold in December. It was much too cold to ask everyone to travel to the city of their fathers to register for taxes. Also the shepherds were in the fields (Luke 2:8-12). Shepherds were not in the fields in the winter time. They are in the fields early in March until early October. This would place Jesus' birth in the spring or early fall. It is also known that Jesus lived for 33.5 years and died at the feast of the Passover, which is at Easter time. He must therefore have been born six months the other side of Easter – making the date around the September/October time frames

    December 25, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • LouAz

      Don't confuse me with facts. My pedopriests already told me all I need to know.

      December 25, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • Roco

      I' a non believer that thinks your knowledge is very accurate and in-depth.You note a lot of small detail,one more detail for discussion could be the manger and the lamb.Lambs are by nature born in the spring time.The entire story seems to be a repete of the existing myths and legions that current contemporary religions held.Any how I enjoyed your post....

      December 25, 2011 at 11:11 am |
  8. James T

    Seeing a glowering Star of David and commentary on how "other faiths celebrate Christmas" is precisely what's expected out of CNN. Bravo. You've encapsulated your own stereotype.

    December 25, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • Grey, Atlanta

      I want to thank the Rabbi for a good idea. I am about to go get some Sushi and then watch a movie or two. Great way to spend a long holiday weekend.

      December 25, 2011 at 11:12 am |
  9. Amy Black

    What ticks me off is they don't include the pagan beliefs? You know a religion that has had celebrations during this season before Christians stole them in the name of Jesus (a simple carpenter that died because Pharisees got jealous, then had a religion started in his name).

    Makes me sick that we're the country that has freedom religion yet not all religions get respect. Now watch, I post this, and some Christian cultist will boo-hoo about the 'war' on his or her religion, and how they're put down and are in the minority.

    Get a clue.

    Happy Holidays.

    December 25, 2011 at 11:00 am |
  10. tony

    Happy Yule celebration!

    December 25, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  11. Peikovianii

    Jesus was a mystic, perhaps of the "Ma’asei Merkavah" tradition, living at a time when several religious denominations fought each other in the streets, and their society was ruled by foreign converts at the whim of a pagan empire. Even their most sacred site was rebuilt and administered by loyalists of the hated regime, in order to gain favor with the locals. A crazier moment in history can scarcely be found. A message of tolerance, cooperation and a hope for better times is the best message of the season.

    December 25, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  12. LouAz

    How do other faiths view christians ? With HORROR !
    Onward christian soldiers . . .

    December 25, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  13. paul

    There is no such thing as a "trinty" that was a false doctrineidea first brought forth by the the Roman Catholic church in the year 325 AD and don't think for a moment they are God's true chruch on the earth, far from it... READ AND OBEY ACTS 2:38!!!!!

    December 25, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  14. galaxy101

    Proving the UNPROVABLE: The Story of Wonko (the Magic Elf) PART ONE

    Wonko, The Magic Elf loves EVERYONE. Yes, even the deeply deplorable amongst you is cherished. The almighty Wonko now extends the most magnanimous offer "BELIEVE IN ME OR I WILL TORTURE YOU FOREVER" There, isn't that the ultimate proposition? Of course, should you refuse, Wonko will send you to his Pool Hall when you die. Mock and jeer you arrogant unbelievers, but it's undeniable! How do we know it's true ???
    We know it's true because of Verse 43,642,878, line 919 of the Revealed Holy Wisdom of Wonko, which says: "YOU CAN BELIEVE ME SINCE I UNCEASINGLY TELL THE EVERLASTING TRUTH". Surely now you see that Wonko would NEVER lie thus you cannot make excuses. You need to accept Him this instant as your master and personal saviour. You don't wanna burn eternally in the Pool Hall, do ya? In the Hall the pyre is ten times hotter than in hell AND THE ETERNITY IS TEN TIMES LONGER !!!

    December 25, 2011 at 10:56 am |
  15. Prof. Yameen Zubairi

    As for the status of Jesus in Islam Imam Magid is mostly correct except that Jesus has the same status as Abraham. Quran gives Abraham the superior status over all prophets after him. What is important is not the dogma created by priests because both Jesus and Muhammad were deadly against priests. So is Quran. Jesus was sentenced to death because he rebelled against the Priests and Muhammad was persecuted by the priests of Mecca. If we followed Jesus and Muhammad there would be no salaried priests like Imam Majid.

    December 25, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • JohnR

      Works for me!

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

      Next step: no prophets and for sure no messiahs!

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

      Final step: Who is this "god" person anyway?

      December 25, 2011 at 11:05 am |
  16. swohio

    It's Christmas Day, CNN......and yet the headline Belief blog article focuses on what Jesus means to MUSLIMS and those of other faiths? How about an article...a postive one...which focuses on what Jesus means to CHRISTIANS???

    This is the absolute last time I visit this new site.

    December 25, 2011 at 10:52 am |
    • Rick

      don't let the door hit you in the backside

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

      Buh bye!

      Oh, and the site is over a year old.

      December 25, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • Rick

      Does placing "Muslims" entirely in capital letters give it more importance? If so, you are an IDIOT.

      December 25, 2011 at 11:10 am |
    • David

      Hey Rick..the communists thought Christianity the enemy and wanted all vestiges of Christianity eliminated. CNN is anti-Christian and very pro-government.

      December 25, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • Cardiac50

      We can only hope..

      December 25, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
  17. hesalive

    Anyone who rejects King Jesus now will be rejected by Jesus in the next life. Every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is lord. What about you? Have you made the decision to renounce your former life and follow God's risen Son? He accepts any sinner willing to admit their need for salvation. That's the rub. Human pride keeps us from admitting that we need HIm. If, however, you hear his voice, respond to Him. Best decision you'll ever make.

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

      blah frigging blah frigging blah. empty proxy threats. go home and get your shinebox, slave

      December 25, 2011 at 10:55 am |
    • Grey, Atlanta

      Have you ever considered that it may be you who will go to hell because you are the one worshiping an idol and believing in a false Messiah? Easy religion – learn two versus by heart and you are saved! Good luck with that – you are up for a rude awakening in hell.

      December 25, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • Sri

      open your eyes and think logically. Look at the world. Question what is really happening. Jesus is part of change in civilization history.

      December 25, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • I believe

      Best response posted!

      December 25, 2011 at 11:10 am |
    • Yusuf



      December 25, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • Rick

      also, hesalive, if jesus is waiting to be best buds with you, why are you still here? why not meet Jesus halfway? do you have tall buildings where you live?

      December 25, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  18. Rapping J

    There's a video currently on YouTube which, while a humorous parody, addresses these very issues. It asserts that Christmas is a celebration intended for all people, regardless of their faith or belief system, and that the values of Christmas, love, peace, togetherness, are ultimately universal. The video is pretty silly for sure, but charming in it's own way and worth a watch, as it mirrors what this article is saying using colorful charcters from many faiths celebrating Christmas together. You can find the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BSwJFs3PCA&feature=youtube_gdata_player

    December 25, 2011 at 10:51 am |
  19. socalpimp

    Jesus was a Republican

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

      another fool...

      December 25, 2011 at 10:50 am |
    • nirgles

      Jesus voted for Obama.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:50 am |
    • GAW

      Troll Food

      December 25, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • Santy Claus ... see I DO exist, you faithless bunch of unbelievers

      Jesus was part of the Occupy movement... he hated the money changers.

      December 25, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  20. gman

    Muslims celebrate by killing 25 plus Christians in Nigeria ... untold millions of Christians have been killed in Africa in the last 50 years

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

      First in the hundred millions by white Christians taking Africans as slaves...

      December 25, 2011 at 10:56 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.