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

    The real question is: How can Jews make some easy money?

    December 25, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
    • Luis

      By killing innocent Palestinians and pretend they are peaceful nation (Israel) so U.S. still gives them billions of $$ of tax payers money

      December 25, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
    • Ugly Jew

      Thanks for the tip! Sounds like a good way to make some easy money.

      December 25, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
    • Lamar

      There's lots of money to make by exposing the fake religion of i s la m. Everyone – look up the wiki ped ia articles on the pag an ori gins of is lam or go to th is we bsit e : wikiislam.net/wiki/The_Pagan_Origins_of_Islam

      December 25, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
    • Beth

      too bad that isn't really true! I"d love to have that happen to me!

      December 25, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
    • TheTruth

      Evangelical "Christian" with a TV ministry seems to be the easy path. I'm confident that if I'm right, it won't matter in the hereafter and if mainstream Christianity is right, they'll have a seat by the campfire in the hot zone... Either way, I am amused..

      December 26, 2011 at 12:14 am |
  2. Ugly Jew

    OK, all you stupid Christians get in line and fight for Israel. You're our stupid fighting apes!

    December 25, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
    • Lamar

      "Ugly Jew" – You are a Muhameddan. Muhammedans are pagans from the middle east disguised as followers of the prohet Ibrahim – NOT!!!! Going round the pillar was a way of worshipping Baal, which is why Saudi Arabia is going around destroying all archaeological evidence of pre-islamic history...

      December 25, 2011 at 10:55 pm |
    • Ugly Jew

      How much money has your babbling made you, Lamar? None. It's WORTHLESS! Fighting ape.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:58 pm |
  3. Lamar

    Who gives a flying **** what other faiths think about Christmas ? c n n is the pits....

    December 25, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
  4. Islam

    Is it true that orthodox Jews have s*x thru a hole on sheet? LOL!

    December 25, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
    • Ugly Jew

      If you had s*x with a Jew, you'd put a sheet over her too!

      December 25, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
    • Really?

      Look at you and "UglyJewHater", both spreading hate. That's your best? Pathetic, extremely ignorant, and presumptuous that you would have any effect or gain any willing audience. You are two pathetic astroturfers. Crawl back under your rocks.

      December 26, 2011 at 11:08 am |
  5. Ugly Jew

    There's nothing wrong with starting wars for Israel ... and making some easy money in the process!

    December 25, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
    • Really?


      December 26, 2011 at 11:09 am |
  6. Jenn

    I was in Jew York City today and it was bunch of Jews in the city streets looking for Chinese restaurants LOL... no life

    December 25, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
    • JohnR

      NYC has a lot of great Chinese restaurants. Eating in them can be a wonderful experience. Of course, someone with no life wouldn't know that.

      I had Christmas dinner with my mom and sis and my older brother's brother-in-law at a Chinese buffet. It was very nice!

      December 26, 2011 at 11:14 am |
  7. Human

    Ugly Jew is a swine and spread his hatred just like a snake spit its venom. Most of the people are loving and kind and do not compare them with you.

    December 25, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
    • Ugly Jew

      If your opinion can't make me some money, it doesn't matter.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
  8. Jenn

    CNN = Jewish .............. Fox News = Catholic Christian! That's why CNN has menorah while Fox News has Christmas tree in background LOL.... zionist control 99% of America

    December 25, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
    • "LOL"?

      you have an odd sense of humor. do you eat many teflon flakes?

      December 25, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
    • Ugly Jew

      You're just mad because you're not rich! Poor people hate Jews.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
    • Really?

      You're ignorant and blind too. If you can't tell that propaganda is created by a government who controls the media reports then you aren't paying any attention to anyone's news. EVERY country's governments are controlling their national news.
      NO ONE with any sway or brains in America believes any of the tripe the reports or astroturfers, like yourself, put out as "information" or "news". If it was news, it wouldn't be on TV, it would be "happening" it's propaganda or entertainment.
      GROW UP.

      December 26, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  9. Ugly Jew

    What DO you call a Jew on a rope?

    December 25, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
  10. Chris

    CNN should say that Jews killed Christ... when will they admitt it? PS! I don't want nonsense "Roman" thing we're not stupid/

    December 25, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
    • Really?

      I guess you never really studied the origins of christianity then.
      It was he greeks version of reform judaism. Gnostics still practice the real christianity. What's populating the earth now is not christians, they're "military-materialians".

      December 26, 2011 at 9:00 am |
  11. dingos took my pork chop!

    it was dingos!
    they took my pork chop!
    dingos took my pork chop!

    December 25, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
  12. Chris

    CNN should say that Jews killed Christ... when will they admitt it? PS! I don't want nonsense "Roman" thing we're not stupid

    December 25, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
    • Really?

      Jesus was a greek invention to create a metaphorical "way of being" for pagans to see their new found better religion which hey could not practice due to their own laws against practicing Judaism at the time, which is why Jesus lived and died a Jew, not a Christian or pagan. Get it now?

      December 26, 2011 at 8:57 am |
  13. jckok

    Hey Ahmed boo... here I am, is that how you talk about Christ beloved mother..... Christ is alive and walks this planet... trust me..... this is no fairy tale, or wives tale, the only truth is gods truth!!!! Paradice or hell???.... sum people cant fathom
    It.... it is very real..... do you honestly want 2 take that chance??..... Christ died 4 you!!!!!........

    December 25, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
  14. Matt

    234 million Americans should perhaps stop watching the zionist channel of CNN and go to FOX News instead

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

      LOL!!!! Holy crap, man! That was a good one!

      December 25, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
    • Ugly Jew

      Fox is zionist, too.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
    • Lamar

      AGREE 100% AGREE 100% AGREE 100% AGREE 100% AGREE 100% AGREE 100%

      c n n SUCKS!!!!

      December 25, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
  15. Ugly Jew

    I've got a nose for money!

    December 25, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
    • Really?


      December 26, 2011 at 9:02 am |
  16. Bill P

    What kind of malarky is it that CNN looks to and reports on other beliefs to make a statement of what they think about Jesus and the day in which Christians celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior? For a reputed news organization, CNN does not even know the first thing about the importance of believing in Jesus, so it demures by talking about everything else.

    December 25, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
    • tallulah13

      This is called the "belief blog" not the "we are trying to make the United States a religious theocracy blog". How about showing a little respect for people who don't have the same beliefs you do?

      December 26, 2011 at 11:15 am |
    • JohnR

      "Demures"???? It's actually an interesting human interest story. Of course, Scandinavians with candles on their heads are always good for a laugh this time of year, too!

      December 26, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • Bob

      So, Bill P, your religion can't stand up under criticism. We already knew that. And the date of your annual fest for your dead-god-boy-on-a-stick-because-your-god-is-not-omnipotent was stolen from the pagans. Get over yourself and your silly Jesus fictions already.

      December 26, 2011 at 11:19 am |
  17. rabbiadamgrossman

    Please note in the quote above "Temple Sinai, a reformed congregation of about 1,100 families, the correct word is reform not reformed.

    December 25, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
    • Please note that

      you are the only person on the planet who cares.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
    • JohnR

      Nope, he's not the only one. At least one other person pointed that out yesterday. Just another example of CNN's crack reporting and editing!

      December 26, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  18. John

    Hanukkah is anti-Christmas.... that's why it's big thing in North America and minor in Israel to compete with Christmas

    December 25, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
    • rebeccalesses

      Hanukkah is not "anti-Christmas" – where did you get that idea? It celebrates the rededication of the Temple in 164 BCE, long before the birth of Jesus. It's a bigger deal in the US than in Israel because it falls during the same time of the year.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
    • Jesus Christ, people!

      What the heck is with you people?

      Antisemites, what the heck?!

      Fundamentalist Christians, what the heck?!

      Atheists, what the heck?!

      This article highlights tolerance and cross-religious sharing and caring. Leave it to the comment section to screw it all up. You cowardly little children like to hide behind your computer monitors and stir up dung but you'd never have the guts to say all this crap in the light of day.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
    • John

      blah blah... Why do they have to have something that falls in same month as Christmas? They should respect Christmas as being celebrated by Christians

      December 25, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
    • ssolilrose

      John, Seriously? Christmas was only set on 25th of december to overshadow the Pagan's celebration of the winter solstice.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
    • Beth

      Hanukkah developed separately from Christmas. It existed for Jews since 165 BCE. That's before the supposed birth of Jesus so it pre-dates Christmas. We are not going to move our holiday to another time of year for bigo ts like you. Why do you care that we celebrate Hanukkah? 99% of things going on in public this time of year are about Christmas. About 1% or less is about Hanukkah or something non-Christmas even though 20% of Americans aren't Christian. isn't having 99% of public decorations, songs, etc all be about Christmas enough for you? Do you need it to be 100%? Will you let people be Jewish and Muslim and other non-Christian religions? Think about what you have posted.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:52 pm |
    • John

      Beth: I'm not saying they should move Hanukkah to another month, but that's the main reason "Happy Holidays" is very common nowaday than "Merry Christmas". Perhaps I see menorahs everywhere in tri-state area, even in many malls and public places DESPITE being 2% of the U.S. population only. Jews are the main reason of "war on Christmas". BTW American Atheist President *David Silverman* is Jewish !!!!

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

      You have 99% of the decorations out there. The fact that you see Menorahs at public places does not change that 99% of decorations are Christmas, not Hanukkah, themed. Christmas will always be the dominant theme this time of year. Does it really hurt you to allow some other people to wish others, "happy holidays". I grew up in the 70s and 80s telling everyone, "Merry Christmas" and I"m Jewish. I appreciated being wished both "Happy Holidays" and also "Merry Christmas". No one cared one way or the other. I took it in the spirit it was offered and recommend you do the same instead of believing in some imaginary war on Christmas. FOX news made up the 'war on christmas'. If there is any such war Christmas already won! lol! The president of atheists–don't know him. I would imagine he would tell you he is not Jewish. To be Jewish is both an ethnicity (like being Italian America, Irish American, etc) and also a religion. He certainly isn't a religious Jew. I do not know if he self-identifies as Jewish or not. Certainly practicing Jews do not identify as atheists and an atheist group doesn't represent the Jewish people or speak for us any more than it speaks for Christians since the majority of that group was born Christian.

      December 25, 2011 at 11:42 pm |
    • Really?

      Hannukah is on the lunar calendar, it falls on different days every year, sometimes it isn't that close to Christmas. As an Adult I would have expected you to be more knowledgable about that, but, you opted for ignorance and hate. Real nice.
      Grow up.

      December 26, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • JohnR

      Jews may be 2% of the population nationally, but the percentage can be much higher locally. You will likely see more of Hanukkah in areas with a higher Jewish population. Kind of a "duh", really. ANyway, why would the fact that some people are celebrating a different holiday spoil your celebration of your own? You are either really weak or really creepy. Maybe both. And many Christian sects, btw, did not or do not celebrate Christmas, as there is no call to do so in the bible and so many of the traditions are so obviously pagan and the manner of celebration was deemed unpious. (The commercialism of today is nothing compared to the drunken carousing of yore!) So this whole "December is ours and ours alone" diatribe of yours is really laughable on many levels!

      December 26, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • Sillyme

      Jesus celebrated Hanukkah. Says so in your own book. Hmmmmm lets think about that for just a sec shall we?........................................... Now, brings new meaning to "what would Jesus do" huh?
      Now ask yourself why and extrapolate.

      December 27, 2011 at 3:59 am |
  19. Ugly Jew

    It's OK to hate Muslims because Jews say so.

    December 25, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
    • Beth

      I'm Jewish and I defend my Muslim friends from bigots and dislike seeing racism that targets Muslims and Arabs. Troll much?

      December 25, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
    • Ugly Jew

      Whatever you say, "Beth." Have you considered making some easy money in the adult film industry?

      December 26, 2011 at 12:06 am |
    • Beth

      I have not. Have you considered getting a life? It would be better if your posts actually were either funny or hateful but they are semi-lame attempts at hateful humor. Fail!

      December 26, 2011 at 12:15 am |
  20. Obama's Christmas speech!!


    December 25, 2011 at 10:08 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.