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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.

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

Magid said Muslims believe many of the same things about Jesus that Christians do: Jesus was born of the virgin Mary, he lived a sinless life, he raised the dead, and he preformed miracles. He also said many Muslim scholars believe that Jesus will one day return to the earth, using the Christian vocabulary of "the Second Coming."

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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. Ugly Jew

    Go to Afghanistan and die for Israel!

    December 25, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
  2. Matt

    Who cares what people think of Christmas? 80% of Americans are Christians and 96% celebrate Christmas. Respect our national holiday and keep your opinions to yourself. Nobody is forcing you to celebrate Christ' birthday!!

    December 25, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
    • lol

      lol you're not forced to celebrate it, but you're forcibly immersed in it. not much difference...

      December 25, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
    • Brandon Gilbert

      Did you even read the article? "Estimated 246 million Christians". The Census population clock puts us at 312,839,678 people the MINUTE I post this comment. That only puts Christians at 79% of the population. Good try though.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
    • Joe

      You have a small confusion. First, I can notice in your words that you are the typical catholic or whatever who believe in things you do not understand and that you have never examined and analyzed if they have at least a little certainty. You are one of those who believe in things by inertia. The difference you do not see with the atheists, is that simply we atheists believe in what seems to be more reasonable and logic. That's all. So, God for us is not something reasonable and logic. I will not mention for comparison purposes, neither Jesus nor the Bible. Stories and fictions bad related and bad written, full of lies, contradictions and fabrications, just leave then for kids. Merry Christmas (Future Shop, Walmart, etc.)

      December 25, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
  3. kr

    Atheism's greatest contributions to world are men like Marx, Stalin, Lenin, Mao, Kim, Polpot. So far, I have not found an atheist who has done something heroic for humanity.

    December 25, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
    • Kevin

      Never mind the list of religious leaders who led the world in holocausts is ten times as long.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
  4. Matt

    Amazing the way atheists come out of the woodwork to attack something they claim is just make believe and nonesense. In fact, I've never really seen a religion article posted here without a massive response from the non-believers.

    What are you so afraid of? Why the burning desire to make your case if your so sure God is just foolishness? The Christian can say he has a religious duty to spread the gospel but atheists claim to have no religion. ...but then behave like zealots.

    To me, astrology is nonsense but I wouldn't dream of wasting my time trolling the astrology blogs. I find this topic fascinating and would sincerely like to know where this comes from. ...surely it has to be more than a smug sense of superiority. Even that wouldn't be worth the effort for all but the most juvenile among us.

    Please enlighten me.

    December 25, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
    • bob

      You dont get scared of leaders and voters thinking robes, lighting candles, believing that noah fit 6 million animas on a boat and eating wafers can really change anything ? I doubt a Bible has anything to do with anything other then make dumb people less afraid of dying. The people who wrote this rubbish sacrificed goats to the great god in the sky ( why dont they do that now ? lol )

      December 25, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
    • Matt

      Bob,

      But as others have already pointed out, atheistic governmental regimes have the worst track record of all when it comes to human carnage. So if politics is your concern, you should probably count yourself lucky. History proves the alternative, having people of no faith in charge, would be much worse.

      So again I ask, why even bother showing up here to preach? Something else must be driving you.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
    • Kevin

      More of that classic projection, I see. What you you so scared of? Are you afraid your religion can't handle a little criticism? Are your claims so indefensible that they require censorship of all other ideas to maintain credibility? I think they just might be.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
    • Matt

      Kevin,

      I'm not afraid of anything. Just curious. Are you afraid of giving an honest answer?

      I've already said that I wouldn't even waste my time trying to argue with people wrapped-up in something that I considered to be fantasy. ...but here you.

      Please help me to understand.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
    • Matt

      Btw, I'm not the same Matt posting above. ...just to avoid any confusion.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
    • Lyssa

      If you cannot control yourselves, I guess we'd better complain about it, right?
      Why not be reasonable or go f=ck yourself. This is a free website. They let YOU in, didn't they?

      December 25, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
    • Kevin

      The only part I think I can make you understand with reasonable ease is that atheists like myself aren't "coming out of the woodwork" to make theists feel uneasy about their beliefs. It's simply that we don't believe religion is a sacred topic that deserves protection. We prefer to treat religion like any idea. And we are keen to point out the flaws in it those ideas as any flawed idea should be subjected to.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
    • Matt

      lyssa,

      Nice language. So, maybe it really is simply juvenile behavior for some. ...but I still think that only explains what drives some of the atheists to respond to these types of articles. Others I think must be a bit more sophisticated than that.

      Strange that anyone would think that I'm challenging their right to post here. To the contrary, I'm glad they are because I find this topic interesting.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
    • Matt

      Kevin,

      That's interesting, but how do you account for the obvious emotion involved. For instance, someone just told me to go perform an impossible act on my self just for asking a question. That's not really the behavior of atonal truth-seeker.

      To be honest, it's the issue of emotion that ultimately led me to discount Dawkins. Ive never been able to get past the fact that has an obvious disdain for people of faith and a bizarre need to be seen as superior to others. Why is it so important to him if he's simply a man of science and god is just fantasy. If you've seen him interviewed, you can tell it's very personal. In the end it seems very irrational.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:54 pm |
  5. socalpimp

    Who cares....They dont ask Christians how they feel during Ramadan

    December 25, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
  6. wikiIeaks

    christmas has nothing to do with christianity.

    December 25, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
    • wikiIeaks

      correction, christmas has no place in TRUE christianity.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
  7. kr

    If the Jesus story is nonsense, myth or legend, what is the power behind it that it contributed so much goodness around the globe in the past 2000 years. The Christian movement's contribution to education, medicine, science, social work, and progress, among others, is phenomenal.

    December 25, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
    • Joe

      You right when you say that Jesus story is nonsense. You're wrong when you say that thanks to a specific religion group the world is better. Technology comes from everywhere, everybody. Christmas itself is first a commercial venue and second a remembrance of something that logically speaking cannot be more stupid. It is amazing the billions of people who live this unwanted life who die believing in things that are not only childish but ridiculous. All religions are the same. Fake, fairy tales, fraud. I will give you an advice: the best religion you can find or follow is your own religion. This means, what you mind tells you is reasonable and 'possibly' certain. You as many are not a man with his senses well employed if you believe in something that somebody else invented. You, know, invention, as there will be no man in the ztillions of megamillios of ptillions ahead in the cosmic space who will know about this mistery, so that there are no man today with at least the 0.000000000000000000000000000000000001% of a knowledge that could be in a way true about the cosos and the life on earth and on the other millions and millions of planets that exist out there. God does not form part of this controversy. God is for children and poor minded men.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
  8. Mario Bergner

    Christmas is about the glory of God revealed in little baby. A tiny sweet person, in whom it was revealed, the divine and the human abided in fullness. Jesus is the One in whom all humanity may meet the fullness of God, and in His Presence become more human. What a relief it is to be just a human being, a creature, a finite limited person who can encounter the Glory of God and there find true worth and dignity. Merry Christmas. God bless everybody.

    December 25, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
  9. Jews are cheap

    99% of the movie theather was Jewish today LOL.... that's why it was stinking and they complained why popcorn is expensive

    December 25, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
    • HUH???

      #1 – Jews don't generally smell any worse than anyone else, antisemite.

      #2 – Movie theatre popcorn really IS expensive!!! You don't think so?!

      December 25, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
    • Ugly Jew

      You're an antisemite. An antisemite is what you are. You're an antisemite. Did I mention that you're an antisemite?

      December 25, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
    • Obama's Christmas speech!!

      Were you able to watch the movie when they are blocking the view via their big noses?

      December 25, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
  10. David

    another sad attempt to try and pin other religions on the wall next to Christianity. All these religions? Someone has to be right and someone has to be wrong. In the end, one way is correct. Jesus said "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." John 14:6 One day, every knee will bow, and every tongue confess, that Jesus and Jesus alone is Lord.

    December 25, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
    • Lyssa

      Since your religion cannot produce any proof that it is valid in any way, I would say you are quite mistaken about all that nonsense. Your god cannot do anything because it doesn't exist. That's why you have no proof and never will.

      December 25, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
    • Moderator

      Did you not .read the following verse from Mark’s Gospel which also reveals that Jesus had limitations in his knowledge. In Mark 13:32, Jesus declared that he himself does not know when the last day will occur, but the Father alone knows that (see also Matthew 24:36)
      Open up the Bible and learn the truth!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      December 25, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
  11. Pllllbbbbttt.....

    It all sounds like a great thing, but I doubt it's true. More likely it's a cultural thing. Everyone interviewed lives in the US, and they're just buying into our holiday overload.. Other religions in the world don't look upon Jesus with much of an opinion any more than we do of Buddha. The last 10 years, people in the US definitely have a negative view of Mohammed.

    December 25, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
  12. Jesus Christ, people!

    Atheists and fundamentalists here seem to be suffering from the same problems. Remember that the only honest thing anyone can say about all this religion stuff is "I don't know". Lack of evidence is NOT evidence of lack, atheists! And circular arguments referencing an old text is NOT a satisfactory argument, fundamentalists! Surely, there are people here who have passed a philosophy class or two. No one knows anything other than:

    A subject observes itself observing itself observing itself ad infinitum.

    You would think that in this day and age when literacy is at an all-time high, "civilized" human beings could grasp such a simple concept. Idiots, all!

    December 25, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
    • Ben

      "Lack of evidence is NOT evidence of lack, atheists!" This is a common phrase, but it's not really true. Absence of evidence IS evidence of absence, it just isn't absolute proof. But I agree with what you're trying to say, that's why I'm technically agnostic (because I truly believe we can't know), but practically speaking I behave as an atheist.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
    • Lyssa

      You're quite mistaken. How could you be so narrow-minded? Simply take whatever description you have of a "god" and match it up with the real world around you. Take the logical extensions of such fantastical religious claims and look around you. Certain things would be different if a god existed that demanded we worship it. Where is it? There's no one there but your hyped-up imagination. Santa Claus sure is fun, isn't he? Having a "god" can be fun, too. If that's the only way you can get through life then go ahead but just keep it where it doesn't mess up anyone else's life. Just like drugs. I don't care what you smoke, just keep it to yourself and those of like mind. No need to tell me what to do with my own body, thanks. Then I can return the favor and not tell you to shove something up your ass like I would prefer.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
    • Kevin

      "Lack of evidence is NOT evidence of lack, atheists! "

      Technically, that is correct. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. It is also true, however, that the probability of a positive claim being variably real becomes increasingly unlikely the longer we search for supporting evidence without finding any, instead finding contradictory evidence in its place. Thus, although we can never be 100% certain that god or gods do not exist, we can be reasonably confident that they do not. Again, this is not because we're waiting for evidence to support the claim. It's because we've looked, for thousands of years, and found nothing except that which supports a naturally created world. We're not lacking evidence. Rather the evidence that we've found is exactly what we shouldn't have found if god or gods actually exist. By definition, if the deeds of god or gods cannot be distinguished from the nature then all that exists is nature.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
    • Jesus Christ, people!

      Very nice, Ben. You are correct. I should have said, "a lack of recorded evidence of existence of X is not evidence of nonexistence of X". Thank you. I, like you, live life as an atheist. However, lacking a positive belief is NOT the same as accepting a negative belief. i.e. saying "I don't believe in any gods" is NOT the same as saying "I believe that there are not any gods". I know that you understand that, Ben–but most of the "atheists" here simply DO NOT.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
    • Lyssa

      I like how you clearly did not understand what I said or refused to face it. There's a name for that. It's called "denial"...

      December 25, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
  13. Muslims hate Christians

    Today 5 churches were bombed in a Muslim country in Africa.... yet they say they believe in Christ..

    December 25, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
    • Jesus Christ, people!

      Thanks for the NONargument, fallacy perpetuator.

      December 25, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
  14. pfoneill

    To call Jesus a prophet is to denigrate him; He s the 2nd person of the Holy Trinity (a doctrine that was completely misunderstood by Mohammed when he wrote his book). Christans should riot and burn down mosques,killing all of the inhabitants,whenever this blasphemy is trotted out!!

    December 25, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
    • TheTruth

      Remember – Once a Jew, always a Jew. We'll welcome you back when you finally come around.

      December 25, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
    • ThinkAgain

      Has it ever occurred to you that calling for violence in Jesus' name goes against what Jesus taught?

      December 25, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
  15. Zarzoor

    Jesus is the truth. Mohamed came after Jesus, he had to believe in Jesus......too bad he didnt believe in anything that Jesus stood for!

    December 25, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
    • TheTruth

      And Jesus was a Jew before he claimed to be a Christian. What's your point?

      December 25, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
  16. mamamoon

    my mom has babysat at a local church for years. she cares for the babies and toddlers while the parents and older children go to the early christmas eve service. she is not christian, but has good friends of all faiths.

    December 25, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
    • ssolilrose

      Hmmmm where is the like button?

      December 25, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
  17. Moslem

    Both sides; (Christians & Moslems) need to learn to mind their own "F" religious and live life. Who are you to tell someone else that their believe is wrong.

    December 25, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
    • VoiceOf Truth

      Ummm, are you ok? Didn't get a gift for Christmas?

      December 25, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
  18. maec

    cnn is worthless.

    December 25, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
    • ssolilrose

      Then why come to the site?

      December 25, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
  19. achepotle

    As a Druid, I see him as a tree...his body is the trunk, his arms and legs are limbs, his toes are branches...his hair/bear leaves...his eyes are small crab apples...

    December 25, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
  20. veerappan

    Love is celebrated in many forms by many people of the world, one of it is Christmas..Its all about love, why hate and fight?

    December 25, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
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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.