Thursday, December 15, 2016

Christmas and Non-Christians

Christmas, though by definition a Christian holiday observing the birth of Jesus Christ, is surprisingly celebrated by a vast majority of non-Christians in North America as well. According to an article in the Voice of America[1], nine in ten Americans, including eighty-one percent of non-Christians, celebrate this holiday.
Several religious holidays that fall around Christmas time—Hannukah, Kwanzaa and the Winter Solstice—have their own rituals. Followers of other religions in Canada and America—Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and others—have adopted some of the basic Christmas traditions, such as having a Christmas tree in their homes.
Christmas, while being a joyful season, can sometimes be confusing to newcomers. There is always a desire to “fit in” yet, for many, the question arises as to which of the local traditions to embrace. The answer seems to be: whatever one feels comfortable with. One of the most common is the Christmas tree. A 2013 survey[2] by the Pew Research Center states that about three-fourths of Asian American Hindus and Buddhists, as well as one-third of American Jews report having a Christmas tree in their homes.
Gift giving is a part of all cultures: during Eid for Muslims or Diwali for Hindus, for example. This practice, already familiar, has become widely taken up during Christmas as well.
Christmas trees and gift-giving are easily adaptable due to their non-religious connotations. Sometimes, however, the exchange goes deeper. Christmas becomes an occasion to reach out to various communities.
“It would be typical of mosques to have a sermon on Jesus at this time of year, praising him as one of the great prophets but distinguishing Muslim belief from Christian belief,” says Ihsan Bagby,[3] an Islamic Studies professor at the University of Kentucky who researches American mosques.
In the temple I attend (I’m a Hindu) religious services are organized on Christmas day, mostly because congregants have the day off. These observances have now become a tradition. While the ceremonies are Hindu, mention is always made of Jesus Christ and his message, and it is not at all uncommon for worshippers to wish each other Merry Christmas. An aura of holiness pervades the day.
In the end, what distinguishes Christmas celebrations, in both Christian and non-Christain communities, are themes familiar to all: sacredness, family, love and friendship.