During the Christmas season Christians across the world take time out to celebrate the birth of Jesus, whom they believe is the human incarnation of God himself and provider of the true path to salvation.
In various neighborhoods one can witness Christian families decorating their homes with lights, pine trees and a pile of gifts which are exchanged among family and friends to honor the giving and selfless nature of Christ.
Many families gather around the Bible to discuss the origins of Christmas and read specific Scriptures discussing the birth of Jesus, usually from the book of Matthew or Luke. Christians also take time to volunteer for community efforts during the holiday season and offer random acts of kindness to those in need.
“These are both wonderful ways to remember the birth of Christ and celebrate the fact that God gave us his son so that we might live and have eternal life with him,” said Rev. T.D. Robinson, pastor of Mt. Paran Missionary Baptist Church, whose church has sponsored the annual Shoes for Children Program each year to provide shoes for needy families.
Christian methods of celebrating Christmas are widely known, but as America becomes a more diverse society along racial and religious lines, many observers are also exploring what kind of activities, if any, do people of other faiths have at Christmas:
Jews — People of the Jewish faith observe Hanukkah, which falls close to Christmas in the winter months. Homes are often decorated with blue and silver Hanukkah decorations, and it is traditional to exchange gifts.
This holiday commemorates the successful Israeli revolt in the second century B.C. against their Syrian oppressors, and their refusal to assimilate into the dominant Greek culture of their day. It also celebrates the miracle in which a day’s worth of oil fueled the candelabra of the Jew’s rededicated temple for eight days.
Although they don’t recognize Christ as the son of God, most Jews have no problem exchanging gifts with Christian friends to highlight both holidays.
“My two sons invite their Christian friends to see their Hanukkah lights, and they visit the homes of their Christian friends to see their Christmas tree,” said Rabbi Henry E. Kagan a Mt. Vernon, N.Y., based expert on religious holidays. “Thus, both groups learn to respect each other’s religious ceremonies without destroying the religious meaning of their own faiths.”
Muslims — During the winter months Muslims observe Eids (Eidul-Fitr and Eidul-Adha) that occur immediately after the fasting of Ramadan. Many Muslim families decorate their homes and mosques with green and white lights or material, and gifts are exchanged among family and friends.
Although they believe he was a great prophet of Allah, Muslims do not celebrate Christmas because to recognize Jesus Christ as the son of God would be blasphemy and “kufr,” or denial of God’s oneness.
“By participation in Christmas, it is possible that slowly one may lose his or her consciousness of this basic point of difference,” said Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi, former president of the Islamic Society of North America. “Muslims must be careful in this matter.”
Jehovah’s Witness — They do not celebrate holidays as a general rule and in particular, believe that Christmas is a pagan holiday condemned by the Bible. The main celebration that is recognized is the memorial, in which bread and wine is passed to remember Christ’s death.
Buddhists — Most Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day, which is usually held on Dec. 8. The holiday remembers the day in which Buddha achieved enlightenment under the Bodhi tree and decided to promote a humble lifestyle. Bodhi is often observed with tea, cake, meditation and readings of Buddhist material.
Most Buddhists, however, also have no problem celebrating Christmas (although in a secular and not religious way) with Christian friends because they admire the social philosophy of Jesus.
“Although I have taken vows to follow the Buddhist percepts I go to a friend’s home to eat too much, exchange presents, and play killer Scrabble on Christmas,” said Yeshe Chodon, a Canadian based Buddhist writer who shared his thoughts on a religious Web page. “Why not? Would one cancel out the other?”
Hindus — Diwali is perhaps the best known of the Hindu festivals. It is a five day celebration which occurs on the 15th day of Kartika (November in our standard Western calendar). During this time homes are thoroughly cleaned, windows are opened and diyas (small oil lamps) are lit as a greeting to Lakshmi, goddess of wealth.
Gifts are exchanged during Diwali, which is also celebrated with fireworks displays and means as much to Hindus as Christmas does to Christians.