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."

Explain it to me: The Hajj

"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."

My Take: Why we're skipping the Christmas roast

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.

In Brooklyn, a Hasidic walking tour opens ultra-Orthodox Jewish life to outsiders

"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.

Sacred Spaces: Inside a Hindu temple

"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)
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  3. KAng

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    March 4, 2012 at 6:22 am |
  4. Calista

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    March 4, 2012 at 12:47 am |
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    • Rahul

      I live in Westchester County and work in NYC. I had severe nghmttiie stiffness in my right hand and overall joint stiffness to the point that it was difficult to get down on the floor. Some of my family have discovered their gluten-intolerance over the past 2 years and encouraged me to explore whether I had the same. The doctor thought that I might have latent RA based on family history and did tests to rule out, In September/October I removed gluten from my diet for 3 weeks. Within 3 days, I had experienced a reversal. General joint pain has subsided dramatically and I continue to eat a gluten-free diet. l still have the nghmttiie pain and stiffness in my right index and middle fingers but the general OA symptoms are 90% clear. I am also a vegetarian and need to lose weight.

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  7. Kevin Quinn

    They found the Ark of the Covenant where Moses placed the 10 Commandments, in a cave under Golgotha.


    December 27, 2011 at 2:53 am |
  8. soraya

    Thank you Some Jewish Guy for your nice comment...We are all brothers and sisters and Inshallah one day ,we become one community.Tov,toda 🙂

    December 26, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
  9. Reality

    The nitty gritty of the major religions/celebrations:

    • There was probably no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • There was probably no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    A quick Google, Bing or Yahoo search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    "The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother's womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. "

    December 26, 2011 at 8:05 am |
    • .........

      hit report abuse on nitty-gritty and all reality bull sh it

      December 26, 2011 at 8:07 am |
    • The Phist

      Multiple dot poster, instead, I'm reporting every one of your posts for being more of a nuisance.

      December 26, 2011 at 8:20 am |
    • .........

      thanks it will draw the monitors attention to the multiple repeated reality posts

      December 26, 2011 at 9:45 am |
    • Reality

      o Reiteration is great for the learning process. As is reading and rational thinking followed by conclusions based on all of it.

      December 26, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • .........

      nobody reads your bull sh it

      December 26, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • Ken

      Very good. To the point. Many likely "keep it up" to avoid having to admit that a big part of their lives is BS.

      January 18, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
    • Takeshi

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      April 2, 2012 at 3:45 am |
  10. Dan

    "Merry Christmas"
    Our way of saying that We are celebrating
    "The birth Of Jesus Christ."

    December 26, 2011 at 2:52 am |
    • Rick

      Or, a way of saying we are participating in a cultural holiday

      December 26, 2011 at 6:05 am |
  11. joey

    jesus is a fraud

    December 26, 2011 at 1:15 am |
    • Ghani1992

      Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) is not a fraud. Refer to Chapter 19 of the Glorious Qur'an and you will see that Jesus was sent as a mercy to the Children of Israel. http://www.whyislam.org

      December 26, 2011 at 5:27 am |
    • Mirosal

      Your Qu'ran is not glorious. It is merely the ramblings of a desert nomad who starved himself for a few weeks (not a lot of food in the desert is there?), suffered heat exhaustion as a result of it, hallucinated like a bad acid trip, and wrote the meandering thoughts down. When he got back to some semblence of civilization, took wives, including a NINE YEAR OLD. Sorry, but anyone who consumates a marriage to a NINE year old is no prophet, just a ped-o-phi-le. Lovely role model you have there.

      December 26, 2011 at 5:43 am |
    • Ghani1992

      Mirosal: you're highly mistaken about Islam. Let me start by saying that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was not a nomad, he was settled in the city of Makkah. He was also a person who could not read or write which means he never wrote the Qur'an. The Qur'an was spoken to him through the Angel Gabriel. Moving on, the marriage of the Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h) with Ayesha (may Allah be pleased with her) was totally allowed and well within the limits of the time period and society in which they lived in. For more info, watch these videos by Yusuf Estes and he will clarify your misconceptions God willing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZLKO8_Vsd0&feature=related (part 1) and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUj6eguqiG8&NR=1&feature=endscreen (part 2). Peace be upon you all.

      December 26, 2011 at 6:29 am |
    • Mirosal

      if it was spoken to him, and he was illiterate, does this mean that your little prophet was channelling a supernatural being? You said mohammed did not write it,. Ok, so who did? Some 'angel' was using mohammed's voice to dictate to a scribe?

      December 26, 2011 at 6:38 am |
    • Ghani1992

      No, Mirosal. Muhammad (p.b.u.h) memorized it and used his own voice to dictate to scribes. The scribes would additionally memorize the Qur'an as well. It is one of the most memorized and studied books in the world today. visit http://www.whyislam.org for authentic info about Islam. You have the right to your opinion but the Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h) was not a pedophile. Please don't think of him in that way and I hope you found the videos insightful. Peace.

      December 26, 2011 at 7:24 am |
    • Reality

      And from the studies of Armstrong, Rushdie, Hirsi Ali, Richardson and Bayhaqi:

      The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths:

      ( –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls- Priceless!!!)

      Are you ready?

      Using "The 77 Branches of Islamic "faith" a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true "faith" (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings." i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs.

      The First Five of the 77 Branches:

      "1. Belief in Allah"

      aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your self-cleansing neurons.

      "2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence."

      Evolution and the Big Bang or the "Gi-b G-nab" (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the "akas" for Allah should be included if you continue to be a "crea-tionist".

      "3. To believe in the existence of angels."

      A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/de-vils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hitt-ites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No "pretty/ug-ly wingy thingies" ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as f–airies and "tin–ker be-lls". Modern de-vils are classified as the de-mons of the de-mented.

      "4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore."

      Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply books written by humans for humans.

      Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the un-educated masses in line. Today we call them for-tune tellers.

      Prophecies are also invali-dated by the natural/God/Allah gifts of Free Will and Future.

      "5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him)
      Mohammed spent thirty days "fasting" (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a "pretty wingy thingy". Common sense demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic vi-olence i.e. turning Mohammed's "fast, hunger-driven" hallu-cinations into horrible reality for unbelievers.

      Walk these Five Steps and we guarantee a complete recovery from your Islamic ways!!!!

      Unfortunately, there are not many Muslim commentators/readers on this blog so the "two-minute" cure is not getting to those who need it. If you have a Muslim friend, send him a copy and help save the world.

      Analogous steps are available at your request for deprogramming the myths of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Paganism..

      December 26, 2011 at 8:08 am |
    • Ken

      I love the use of p.b.u.h.

      laziness at its best.

      January 18, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
  12. Moe Smith

    "How other faiths view Jesus at Christmas"

    Probably same way we view Lincoln's or Washington's Bday... some carpenter dude who was a darn good fisherman who happened to be born this day (allegedly) and much of the world is celebrating it. Nothing more.

    December 26, 2011 at 1:00 am |
  13. ChristmasIsChristmas

    I'm going to publish a story on Ramadan about "how other faiths view Mohammed."

    Okay, obviously not. But seriously? Why? Why can't we just let Christians celebrate Christmas for what it is and leave it at that? Is it really necessary to highlight the holiday every year by a "comparison" of Christianity to other religions or by putting Christ into the "context of the broader realm of faiths?"

    The very point of Christmas, as it is celebrated by Christians today, is to observe the birth of God come to Earth. It is insulting to be told on such a sacred holiday that my belief in that very specific event can be reduced to some cute little feel-good tradition that is equally celebrated by people of all faiths.

    Please don't mistake my frustration with intolerance. (I guarantee that someone will reply to this comment with reference to my "ignorance," "closed-mindedness" or with some quip about my "lack of education" or general stupidity.) But no matter what faith you profess, it is a simple fact that Christmas has nothing to do with Mohammed or anything the Koran says. Can we please stop being so ridiculously PC and re-learn the practice of calling things what they are?

    December 26, 2011 at 12:43 am |
    • Rick

      Yeah, Christians that would be offended by this have no choice but to read it

      December 26, 2011 at 12:48 am |
    • Moe Smith

      the other religions dont care. anyone who tells you otherwise is full of it. You know who has issue with this being solely dedicated to the holiday of Christmas? Do you really want to know? It's not the other religions... it's the retail market. You dedicate sale to being "Christmas sales" and you then alienate the non-christian believers. It's nothing to do with some holiday and EVERYTHING to do with marketing.

      Anyone who begins to think to want to attempt to believe otherwise is so full of scat that they stink from the other side of the screen

      December 26, 2011 at 1:03 am |
    • JohnR

      Go ahead and publish a story about Ramadan. You might want to home at least a few journalistic skills first. however!

      December 26, 2011 at 6:12 am |
    • ChristmasIsChristmas

      @JohnR: You mean "hone." Not "home." Learn some "journalistics" yourself and get back to me.

      December 26, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
  14. b4bigbang

    "...cannot prove Jesus was "literally, biologically of Davidic stock." http://wiki.faithfutures.org/index.php?t-itle=007_Of_Davids_Lineage. Conclusion: the holyday of Christmas is historically a non-event. Ditto for the Feast of the Magi and the solemnity of Mary aka New Years day."

    See the 'scientific' logic of atheists? He goes from "can't prove" to "conclusion: non-event".

    Btw, I used to have long hair down to my shoulders when i was in my early 20s. Oops, there are no long-hair photos of me that exist today (besides, even if there were, they could be faked right?).

    Conclusion: I certainly must be lying, lunatic or exagerating to the point of falsehood, so obviously i never had long hair. I can't prove it!

    December 26, 2011 at 12:39 am |
    • Moe Smith


      December 26, 2011 at 1:04 am |
    • JohnR

      Yo, B4BB! The point is that any messiah, according to Jewish myth, MUST be provably from the line of David.

      But of course the real joker in the deck is that Jesus was claimed to be of the line of David through Joseph, who was also claimed NOT to be Jesus's father. The whole story is incoherent. And on this fractured fairy tale you choose to base your whole worldview?

      December 26, 2011 at 6:05 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      @B4BB: here's the difference between your analogies moron: not one person could attest to the existence of jesus (at least none of those who wrote about him/her); on the other hand people can attest to the fact that you might have had long hair and by the sound of it unfortunately attest to your existence.

      December 26, 2011 at 6:15 am |
  15. Jules

    Then Please Go to http://www.miraclesofthequran.com/index.php and read yourself. I was confused then astonished then I had to just surrender to the truth because I couldn't deny it ? How could I ?. When a book that wasn't even revealed to talk about science and then it tells you that every human being was created with a unique finger prints then we, today, use finger printing to differentiate between us that's astonishing!!! When I learned Muhammad wasn't even a learned person I was shocked because no one can ever give you precise scientific facts, thousands of facts while he endured a tough time with his own people full of adventures, wars, hunger, and problems serving the whole humanity around him. Back then they lived in the desert, how could they have had any idea about science ?

    December 26, 2011 at 12:38 am |
    • b4bigbang

      Jules, an "angel" gave Muhammed his info. Don't you think that all the angels know lots of stuff about us before we discover it? Of course they do.
      Remember the word of God: "And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.".

      And another from the word of God: "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. Galatians 1:8

      Hope this helps you to be more spiritually discerning Jules
      Peace from our LORD and Saviour, Jesus Christ

      December 26, 2011 at 1:28 am |
    • JohnR

      There was quite a bit of very sophisticated Greek science for well over a thousand years before Mohammed. The Greeks, for instance, new the earth was a sphere and even calculated its circu-mference with remarkable accuracy. Greek culture was dominant in the lands where Mohammed grew up for over a thousand years before he slapped together his mishmash of Greek, Jewish, Zoroastrian and Christian thought and added a dash of Arab cultural hegemony. Ok, maybe more than a dash. Even something as basic to Islam as the Haj was already a long established practice. The Koran is all about co-optation.

      December 26, 2011 at 6:11 am |
    • JohnR

      Oh, and as someone else posted elsewhere, Mesopotamian culture had been flourishing for many thousands of years before Mohammed. We are still learning about just how scientifically and mathematically sophisticated the ancient civilizations of that region were. Ditto the Persians. The Arab world sat between the centers of learning in Persia and Mesopotamia on the one hand and Greece and to a lesser extent Roma on the other. There was a lot of brilliant stuff to borrow and Arabic culture borrowed it unabashedly and became a major area of learning in astronomy and math itself.

      December 26, 2011 at 6:37 am |
    • Aldi

      I seem happy again. My joint pain is gone and I have so much energy, that even diiknrng coffee seems like too much now, LOL.So, this has definitely become my way of life now. I have no desire for carbs or desserts (maybe some chocolate from time to time) and the choice between having wheat or feeling great is not even an issue anymore. I am talking about it with everyone, and may have been able to help a few people.At home, I am slowly weaning daughter and husband (he will make some rice instead of pasta for dinner now) and lots of salads. As he is French, the baguette is not going anywhere for now not for him at least haa haa.I saw your book in the bookstore, and it just called out to me. I guess the teacher appears when the student is ready. I ran home and downloaded it on my NOOK and read it in two days.I am enjoying my way of eating and love the challenge of finding delicious things to make that fill me up and leave me satisified for hours on end.Thank you so much for all you have done! I feel you have saved my life and my brain is more alert now, so I can actually feel confident in the new career path I have chosen.

      April 1, 2012 at 12:19 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.