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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."

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.

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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.

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)
  1. kr

    No atheist has ever contributed anything heroic for humankind.

    December 25, 2011 at 3:25 am |
    • THE BIBLE IS GARBAGE

      SURE THEY DO. THEY TELL YOU THE TRUTH ABOUT THE STUPIDITY OF THE RELIGIOUS TEXTS SO MANY IDIOTS BELIEVE IN.

      FACTUAL INFORMATION. NOW THAT'S HEROIC.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:26 am |
    • OrangeW3dge

      In the 1.4 Million years of humanity prior to Abraham and his little family, there must have been at least a few "Heroes", un-named but heroes nonetheless. Your faith in people is questionable and I don't think that can be compensated for by an inordinate devotion to one or another Deity.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:45 am |
  2. Quaran chapt

    Its funny how the video posting guy also replys to its own video...islam – is – a – lie...please do reaserch on your own and you will find out why dont just take your imams word for it do your own study IF you really want to know the truth...Jesus IS God, even if you dont believe it, it really doesnt make a difference because He remains God weather you want to believe that or not...and at the end of the day when its all said and done you will be standing before Him, Jesus the Son of God who is a proven historical figure, including His bodily resurrection from the dead and i hope when you do stand before Him that day you will meet Him as your savior not as your judge. Merry Christmas !

    December 25, 2011 at 3:20 am |
    • THE BIBLE IS GARBAGE

      JESUS WOULD NOT APPROVE OF YOUR VOCABULARY

      WEATHER IS NOT THE SAME AS WHETHER, JUST TO START.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:25 am |
    • Reply

      "Say: He is Allah, the One and Only! Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not nor is He begotten. And there is none like unto Him. "

      Quran: 112

      December 25, 2011 at 3:25 am |
    • OrangeW3dge

      Haven't heard from Gabriel in a while...Is he still on the dole?

      December 25, 2011 at 3:36 am |
  3. Gay Muhammed

    "For ALLAH is gay, and Muhammed is His gay boytoy." It's in the Quran! Camel humpers.

    December 25, 2011 at 3:20 am |
    • Reply

      "Say: "Disbelievers! I do not worship what you worship nor do you
      worship what I worship. I shall never worship what you worship
      You have your own religion and I have mine."

      Quran: 109

      December 25, 2011 at 3:26 am |
    • Gay Muhammed

      Muslims will conform to Enlightenment norms or pay the price. It's us against you, and you can't win.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:32 am |
    • HI

      I think you need to be professional when you drop few lines online. Be respective of others, for you to call GOD a gay..or prophet Muhammad a gay doesn't change anyone's belive but u look stupid and arrogant. Learn more about ISLAM before you type and utter uncoherent words

      December 25, 2011 at 3:39 am |
    • Gay Muhammed

      Don't presume to lecture me, you deluded freak!

      December 25, 2011 at 3:41 am |
  4. OrangeW3dge

    I don't suppose it's worth mentioning that the "faiths" mentioned here, Muslim, Jew, & Christian come from the same blood-line and history, and God; and, that they account for over half of the people in the world (but that still leaves more than a third of the people that don't). And I would like to take this opportunity to extend a great big Thank You to all of you non-Scandinavians for preserving our holiday traditions (Santa, decorating trees, gift giving, caroling, feasts, etc.) even though you have re-named "Christmas" and claim to be celebrating the birth of your Christ, even though he was born in September. Thanks again, it allows us to celebrate our ancestors without fear of your continuing inquisitions. And for the rest of you: Best Wishes in the New Year.

    December 25, 2011 at 3:19 am |
  5. CuriousCitizen

    So then Christianity is the largest religion in the United States.......so how do Christians view Christmas? Why is it important to them?

    December 25, 2011 at 3:17 am |
    • What I think

      I think Cristmas is just made up, Jesus never practised it so I don't either.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:19 am |
    • CuriousCitizen

      thats fine, but what about the other 200 million plus christians, what does christmas mean to them?

      December 25, 2011 at 3:25 am |
  6. Mike

    MOOOOO-HAHAHAHA-MADDDDDDDD

    December 25, 2011 at 3:14 am |
  7. kr

    If the Jesus story is a legend or a myth, what is the power behind it that it has contrbuted so much goodness around the globe in the past 2000 years. Its contribution to education, science, medicine, social work, and progess is phenomenal.

    December 25, 2011 at 3:10 am |
    • THE BIBLE IS GARBAGE

      STUPIDITY. IT'S A DISEASE WITH NO CURE. THIS IS WHY RELIGION CONTINUES TO THRIVE.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:12 am |
    • Gay Muhammed

      Nonsense. Religion of all types has retarded the search for and uncovering of objective reality.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:13 am |
    • Remember

      Remember why Jesus came? To warn the people, to tell people to worship God. We do have an enemy, and it is the Devil, he wants to prevent us from worshiping the real true God, and wants us to go to hell with him by saying God is 3 or God has a son, how could he have a son without a wife? God is above all this.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:16 am |
    • kr

      Garbage: I have not found any single atheist who have contributed something heroic for mankind.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:23 am |
    • OrangeW3dge

      Initially, it was the power of the Roman Army that "spread the word". Coercion, blackmail, physical threats and torture, maiming and mutilation, "The Spanish Inquisition", are all some of the power behind the Christian mystique. Today it's much more subtle of course, unless, that is, if you try to resist...

      December 25, 2011 at 3:27 am |
    • THE BIBLE IS GARBAGE

      KR, I HAVEN'T FOUND A SINGLE CHRISTIAN THAT CAN EXPLAIN THE CONTRADICTIONS IN THE BIBLE WITHOUT STUMBLING OVER THEMSELVES AND TRYING TO MAKE UP INTERPRETATIONS.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:28 am |
    • Beth

      Christianity gave the world all sorts of things, both good and bad. We have good but we have also had the Crusades, Inquisition, Holocaust, slavery, segregation, the Bosnian war and systematic kil ling and ra pe of Muslims by Christians and more done in the name of Christianity by *Christians*. To think that Christianity has only been positive for the world is very short sighted.

      December 25, 2011 at 8:42 am |
  8. Gay Muhammed

    Hey, all you Muslim pigfaces: This is the Christians' fantasy season, not yours. Go milk your goats or die via Predator drone strike or something.

    December 25, 2011 at 3:08 am |
    • Fear

      Sometimes ignorance of a religion leads people to fear which leads them to post ignorant comments like them.

      If you knew who Mohammed is, I think you would love him.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:12 am |
    • Fear

      Sometimes ignorance of a religion leads people to fear which leads them to post ignorant comments like them.

      If you knew who Mohammed is, I think you would love him.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:13 am |
    • THE BIBLE IS GARBAGE

      MOHAMMED WAS A PEDO AND A MURDERER.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:14 am |
    • Gay Muhammed

      Sometimes being a primitive pigface causes people to post twice.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:15 am |
    • Youwishuweregay

      Maybe cut back on drinking cow urine

      December 25, 2011 at 3:18 am |
    • Gabriel

      Truly Christians extend a hand to all , and don´t hate .

      December 25, 2011 at 3:26 am |
    • Beth

      I'm embarrassed by posts like yours.

      December 25, 2011 at 8:43 am |
    • Gabriel

      How do I embarras you ?

      December 25, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
    • Gabriel

      Peace be upon you . We understand.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
  9. Smokey

    Let's not pretend like today's Christmas has anything to do with Christ...it's a secular holiday today, totally focused on spending and getting companies back in the black, Christ is nowhere to be found.

    December 25, 2011 at 3:07 am |
  10. kr

    I understand if people could not believe in Jesus because it requires faith. But then how can I believe that there is no God if all the beauty of creation and creatures tells me that there is a higher being who started the evolution of all of these.

    December 25, 2011 at 3:06 am |
    • Raed Oweisi

      Yes I am with you with believing there is a creator, but not Jesus, rather is is the creator of Jesus, ALLAH.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:09 am |
    • OrangeW3dge

      You left out death and disease. If He created everything then He created those as well. Indeed it was God that created the Devil – Explain that one

      December 25, 2011 at 3:31 am |
  11. Raed Oweisi

    There is no God but ALLAH and Mohammed is His messenger.

    December 25, 2011 at 3:05 am |
    • I agree

      LA ILAHA ILA ALLAH wa MUHAMAD RASOOL ALLAH.
      There is no God but ALLAH and Mohammed is His messenger.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:07 am |
  12. RP

    Merry Christmas to all the atheists! God loves you even though you don't believe in Him.

    December 25, 2011 at 3:01 am |
    • THE BIBLE IS GARBAGE

      GOD DOESN'T EXIST.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:02 am |
    • Raed Oweisi

      ALLAH provides for you even though some do not worship Him. He is The Most Generous!

      December 25, 2011 at 3:03 am |
    • RP

      "ALLAH provides for you even though some do not worship Him. He is The Most Generous!"

      That's awesome! How much does he provide? i could use 10,000 bucks.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:50 am |
  13. THE BIBLE IS GARBAGE

    SUDDENLY WE'RE GETTING SPAMMED BY CAMEL BANGING ALLAH FISTERS WITH YOUTUBE VIDEOS FOR THE KORAN.

    December 25, 2011 at 2:57 am |
    • I believe in Jesus as a messenger

      I believe in Allah,
      and Jesus as a messenger.

      I do not take Jesus as a God.

      December 25, 2011 at 2:59 am |
    • Quran: 109

      Say: "Disbelievers! I do not worship what you worship nor do you
      worship what I worship. I shall never worship what you worship
      You have your own religion and I have mine."

      December 25, 2011 at 3:00 am |
    • THE BIBLE IS GARBAGE

      JESUS MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE EXISTED. IT DOESN'T MATTER BECAUSE ISLAM IS TRASH ANYWAY.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:00 am |
    • THE BIBLE IS GARBAGE

      WHY DON'T YOU POST WHAT SURA 4:34 SAYS ABOUT HITTING YOUR WIFE? THAT'S WHAT ISLAM IS ALL ABOUT.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:05 am |
    • RP

      Reply to Quran: 109
      This is why the quran is garbage. It has disdain toward non-believers. If you see that someone is in danger, then by all means help them.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:25 am |
  14. kr

    Some of the saints of atheism are Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Kim, Polpot. Why would I be an atheist?

    December 25, 2011 at 2:57 am |
    • THE BIBLE IS GARBAGE

      BECAUSE ATHEISTS DON'T HAVE SAINTS.

      December 25, 2011 at 2:58 am |
    • kr

      BIBLE you have a low IQ. Enroll in some courses to increase your IQ. But then it is genetic. Sorry. No hope.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:02 am |
    • THE BIBLE IS GARBAGE

      I'D LIKE YOU TO DO YOURSELF A FAVOR. YOU KNOW, FOR FUTURE REFERENCE. TAKE A GOOD, LONG, HARD LOOK AT WHAT YOU JUST SAID AND HOW YOU SAID IT. THEN TRY TELLING ME AGAIN JUST HOW LOW MY IQ IS.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:08 am |
    • kr

      Garbage =). What I mean by atheistic saint is atheistic hero or prominent atheist. UNDERSTAND NOW?

      December 25, 2011 at 3:17 am |
    • THE BIBLE IS GARBAGE

      KR, I WASN'T REFERRING TO THE ORIGINAL POST, NUMBSKULL.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:30 am |
  15. Daleri Rileda

    The atheists are a lot nicer here on CNN although they still are not nice enough to tell the truth saying that our Maker is the only one who can remake us.

    December 25, 2011 at 2:50 am |
    • travelswell

      doesn't follow. If I make an intelligent robot, he can then define himself and remake himself, once he goes to robot school and learns the science of robotics. why is the act of creation this exclusive license to do whatever the creator wants? and why are the creatures he creates necessarily frozen in development and unable to analyze, understand, and improve themselves without the creator's help? Are we supposed to be morally crippled in your worldview? If we CAN reason and grow on our own, why SHOULD we not?

      And if a god creates us as capable of and prone to remaking ourselves, what kind of person is he if he then refuses us our birthright of self-definition?

      And before you say we're not capable of or prone to remaking ourselves, we are. Or we would never have stopped believing in Zeus.

      December 25, 2011 at 2:58 am |
    • travelswell

      or I'll put it another way. If I created an intelligent robot, gave it a hunger to learn and grow, and then got mad at it when it changed and grew beyond my original plan for it, what kind of person would I be? Really? If you heard someone did this, you'd feel pretty bad for that robot.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:00 am |
    • Daleri Rileda

      What if , what if, what if, what if.

      What if we just have a Maker of all matter in the universe most of which was made to be working parts inside of us?

      What if we don't know how to resore ourselves to be the original Adam before he got himself contaminated with some bad information? How can we remake ourselves when we don't know how?

      December 25, 2011 at 4:04 am |
  16. Fizzylift

    I am sleepy and I want to wish everyone on earth happiness. Hopefully, the trend away from religion will continue and soon we will look to logic, reason and science to answer our questions. Until then, have fun with your families, friends and loved ones. Be nice to all living things and remember that the only way to be truly born again is to have a kid.

    December 25, 2011 at 2:49 am |
    • Raed Oweisi

      Use logic and science to realize there is a creator: ALLAH

      December 25, 2011 at 2:51 am |
    • Gay Muhammed

      Allah is a nasty pig.

      December 25, 2011 at 2:53 am |
    • Raed Oweisi

      ALLAH is the one and only God.

      There is no God but ALLAH and Mohammed and Jesus are messengers of ALLAH.

      December 25, 2011 at 2:54 am |
    • Gay Muhammed

      Allah is a gay fantasy.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:00 am |
    • travelswell

      the flying spaghetti monster is the ONLY logical explanation for ANYTHING. So there.

      December 25, 2011 at 3:01 am |
    • really?

      "I want to wish everyone on earth happiness" You have done nothing but spread intolerance and immature flames on these boards and now you wish everyone happiness? Okay....

      December 25, 2011 at 3:02 am |
    • Gabriel

      These are really words of wisdom , how can anybody not agree with them ?

      December 25, 2011 at 3:17 am |
  17. Gay Muhammed

    Why was Muhammed so gay and promiscuous? He was a nasty girl.

    December 25, 2011 at 2:49 am |
    • Raed Oweisi

      Do you want me to stoop to your level and answer in an ill mannered way? No I will not, if you knew Mohammed (peace be upon him) I think you will love him.

      He isn't just a messenger for me or only Arabs, but rather to the world.

      He is a mercy to mankind.

      December 25, 2011 at 2:53 am |
    • Gay Muhammed

      I don't want you to do anything, pigface! I don't care about you or your religious fantasies. Go milk your goat.

      December 25, 2011 at 2:57 am |
  18. Quran: Chapter Maryam

    Listen to this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ve_Zt4GZL38

    December 25, 2011 at 2:49 am |
    • Wow!

      I love this!

      December 25, 2011 at 2:50 am |
    • Hello

      I like this a lot where can I read this?

      December 25, 2011 at 2:56 am |
    • This is a miricle!

      This Quran is a miricle.

      How could it mention Jesus, Mary, Zakaria with so much detail?

      I have found the truth: Islam

      December 25, 2011 at 2:57 am |
    • Gay Muhammed

      Wow! The Quran is a total fraud!

      December 25, 2011 at 3:06 am |
    • I have found the truth!

      I have found the truth: Islam

      December 25, 2011 at 3:30 am |
  19. Thanks!

    This sounds awesome, love the translation.

    Thank you for posting!

    December 25, 2011 at 2:47 am |
  20. Dead Baby Jesus

    I think the Christmas story would have been better if someone had bashed the baby Jesus's head in with a hammer.

    December 25, 2011 at 2:47 am |
    • kr

      Sorry it did not happen. Use your head constructively.

      December 25, 2011 at 2:59 am |
    • Dead Baby Jesus

      Don't you think it would have been awesome if someone had just bashed his head in, godbrains flying everywhere? "And lo, he bashed the baby's head in with a hammer; and Mary wept bitterly." Awesome!

      December 25, 2011 at 3:03 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.