Non-Christians at Christmas: ‘I love it as much as I love Diwali’

From Hindus celebrating Christmas to Muslims enjoying the festive gala, we asked you what you do during Christmas

Its impossible to escape. From early November, shops blare out Christmas music and hang baubles in their windows. Its hard to place a television or radio ad that doesnt have a Christmas theme. People dressed as Santa shake pails on street corners; modes of public transport shuts down for 36 hours.

Christmas – the pre-eminent celebration in the Christian calendar – is thrust in people faces of for a good two months of every year. But what about those of other faiths and of no religion? In the UK, 8 % of the population follow religions other than Christianity according to the 2011 census. And a study this year by the National Centre for Social Research found that almost half have no religion.

We asked non-Christian readers in the UK and around the world to share their perspectives on Christmas. Here are some of the responses.

Hindus

For Janaki Murali, a Hindu author and former journalist living in Bangalore, Christmas is loved as much as Diwali.

I started celebrating Christmas when my children were younger, mainly to teach them that all faiths were equal. We would look for a Christmas tree, decorate it and get secret gifts for the children. I also used to cook a Christmas cake. Today I have figurines of Jesus and Mary I picked up in Bethlehem in my Puja room along with a rosary that rests with my Tulsi prayer beads. My children are all grown up now, but I know I taught them an important lesson that they will carry with them forever. Perhaps they will add more faiths to their experience.

Both Christmas and Diwali are popular celebrations with many people drawn to them due to their rich tradition and culture. My Christian friends mark Christmas with midnight mass at church and the nativity scene in their homes. Its the same with Diwali. Many people celebrate the four day celebration of lights with flame crackers and lights in their homes, but the Hindus do the adore side of the celebration – Lakshmi Puja. I think that festivities from all faiths should be secularised. We should open them up for everyone to participate.

Singing

Singing Christmas carols with family and friends, 2012 Photo: Janaki Murali

Akash, a London lawyer, enjoys Christmas but wishes there was less commercialisation. Christmas for me is about gala, thanks, reflection and, of course, presents !! I always celebrate with the family. Usually with a tree, presents, turkey, stuffing, yorkshire puds and almost always chipolatas wrap in bacon! Despite being Hindu and being raised in a Hindu family, we always celebrated Christmas as if “were in” the most devout Christians! I have even been to Midnight Mass( which was awesome !). Two years ago we went to a carol service on Christmas Eve which was wonderful. Christmas is not about religion, in our household, it is about household getting together, celebrating the end of the year and carrying thank you for having all that we have.

Jews

Stephen, a 70 -year-old professor from Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, doesnt celebrate Christmas but recalls the Jewish tradition of feeing Chinese food the night before. Many American Jews eat Chinese food on Christmas eve and this tradition continues where I live in Pennsylvania. Its hard to get a reservation in the local Chinese restaurants on that day.

My wife Ruth is from London and is Jewish. We moved from London to Valley Forge in Pennsylvania in 1987. When Christmas came that year, I suggested that we honour the Jewish tradition of feeing Chinese food on Christmas eve. Im from New York so I was very much used to this aspect of Jewish culture. Ruth, being from London, thought I was crazy. When she phoned the best of the local suburban Chinese restaurants to book a table she was told that we were lucky to get the last reservation available for Christmas eve. When we arrived at the restaurant, Ruth was surprised to find it completely full. I think up to that point she thought I was engaging in some sort of elaborated joke.

But why Chinese food? Theres a simple explanation – Chinese restaurants are usually the only ones open on Christmas.

As another reader explained: Any type of eatery typically run by individuals from non-Christian countries would do as long as there is a critical mass of Jewish or other non-Christian groups nearby to patronise it. Their own families has branched out to Indian because there is a nice Indian eatery in the neighbourhood that takes reservations so we dont have to stand on line for hours waiting for a table.

There is also a strong tradition of Jewish groups or individuals volunteering on that day so Christian workers can have the day off, like serving a snack at a shelter. Personally, I always work on Christmas eve so my Christian co-workers can take the day off.

K Levy on the other hand simply enjoys the holiday spirit. Living in Israel, she used to take her children to the Christian one-quarter of Haifa to look at the Christmas trees and street adornments. In one style we were lucky, because the mild weather mean we could wander around and truly enjoy the atmosphere. On the other hand, it never seemed quite right without snow !

Pagans

Joanne, a druid gentile from Morecambe insures Christmas as a period for household, to have some breathing space from everyday life, spend time with those close to her and to induce them wonderful food.

The

The altar at Chalice Well, Glastonbury Photograph: Joanne

Alban Arthan( which means Light of Winter) or Yule is the Druidic mid-winter festival. It falls only a few days before Christmas and is usually celebrated with a snack and gift-giving. On Christmas Day itself we do the whole Christmas dinner thing, open presents and of course watch Doctor Who. This weekend however I joined fellow druids in Glastonbury for the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids( OBOD) wintertime collect, to take some time to reflect on the year and look forward to the next.

Fifty-one-year-old potter Virginia Owl from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, opts Yule too over Christmas. About 40 friends gather for a potluck and a pagan ceremony that is a cheerful mixture of group traditions and impromptu improvements, though it always includes a mention of the longest night and how important friendship and love are in get us all through the dark cold days ahead. There are candles and light in the dark, both symbolically and literally. The core of this group has been satisfying for more than 25 years and many of the folks are closer to me than my biological family.

Archaeologist and Nordic pagan R D Savage from West Lindsey focuses on the dark pole of the year. We all light fires to give ourselves courage in the dark, and feast and exchange gifts to affirm and cement the caring and joyous bonds that induce us human in the face of the night.

Atheists

Born to a Christian mom and a Muslim father, 27 -year-old student Rabea from Berlin, Germany has always find Christmas as a period for household to come together and to share traditions.

As the daughter of a rather hybrid-religious household, Christmas was always fun and interesting as we tried to accommodate both sides. My entire household has religious opinions but were never hardcore on insisting we actually do religious things, so Christmas doesnt mean to me that I am celebrating the birth of a( maybe fictitious) religious figure but rather spending a few days with their own families, feeing nice food, sitting together, exchanging presents, talking about the past year and the course of the year and only enjoying the atmosphere of warmth. Though my sister and I are atheists, and our Christmases never included actual religious traditions, it was and still is a time of the year that we enjoy a lot.

Celebrating

Celebrating Christmas as a child Photograph: Rabea

We mainly celebrate on Christmas eve. My mom cooks dinner while the rest of the family is either in their rooms or out for a walk. Eventually, after everybody has dressed up and showered, we have dinner in the kitchen together( very Americanised dinner: turkey, potato dishes, veggies etc ), drink some mulled wine and then enter the living room where we sitting next, sing a few carols( this may be the only religious aspect since many German carols are religious-themed) and then exchange presents before we sit together and only talk. Christmas Day is then the big celebration with the extended family and everyone comes together at one house or flat( we usually rotate every year) and we have lunch together, play a few games, exchange some more small presents and then have cake and cookies in the afternoon.

In a general wider sense I think we should open Christmas to more traditions and people. I live in an area where many migrants live in Berlin and of course, many of them do not care for Christmas because they think of it as a religious gala. But I have talked to and encountered many( not only) Muslims who very much enjoy Christmas lights or the Christmas market and even have a Christmas tree in their living room.

Its been a long time since Christmas has been about religion and why should it be? One can celebrate without having to celebrate the birth of Jesus or go to church by only enjoying everything else that comes with it. I do. That said, of course, people who celebrate it for religious reasons should not be shamed for that either. It is an important part of their identity. As long as no one is bringing harm to anyone else, everyone should be free to celebrate Christmas as they wish and whether they want to or not.

As a rationalist and atheist, Tony Green from Ipswich tries to avoid Christmas as much as possible.

Samples

Samples from Tonys special fridge full of carefully-aged beers Photograph: Tony Green

Its not just the religious mumbo-jumbo I detest but also all the associated bullshit and adore of materialism. So I do my best to induce Christmas day as much like any other day as practicable. Fortunately Im a single human living alone so at the least I dont have the pressure to conform that others might suffer. And after many years Ive trained my friends be recognised that however well-meaning their invitations are, I truly dont want to share in the compulsory but fake bonhomie of their festivities. Plainly my normal night out at the pub isnt possible and most radio on the day is unadulterated drivel( the totally nasty rubbish people will put up with only because a record is a Christmas record never ceases to astound me) so I cant have a completely normal day. But I do my best.

If the weathers ok Ill likely go out for a motorcycle ride( nice quiet roads, but watch out for the its only a large glass of sherry brigade ). Ill dip into the radio selectively for the few normal programs worth listening to, including a few news programmes in the hope that they actually have some real news rather than the predictable Queen said X, Pope said Y stuff. Ill listen to some timeshifted programs from previous days and do a little bit of work on my computer and finish off the evening with a few bottles of Belgian beer before retiring to bed alleviated that the most boring day of the year is past again.

The funny thing is, the vehemence with which so many people are keen to try and insult me for failing to conform( so predictable with the unimaginative bah humbug) that I cant assist being reminded of the style closet homosexuals are often the worst homophobes – could it be that a lot of people would secretly like to rein back on the revelries but darent acknowledge it because theyre scared of what other people will say? And seeing someone who can ignore it all only reminds them of their own moral cowardice?

Buddhists

Anne Bynon from Brisbane, Australia is a Buddhist who treats Christmas as any other day of the year.

My childhood was a bit like an Edwardian boarding school. Their own families hasnt done Christmas for years. The whole Christmas stress, build up and gala just goes past me. Its something that happens around me but Im not part of it. We dont have a Christmas tree , no adornments , no cards , no presents. On Christmas Day I get together with my parents and go out for lunch. My siblings are not in contact. My parents like to go home around 4pm for a nap, so the rest of the day is just like any other day at home alone. I always watch the Doctor Who Christmas special and usually catch the Queens Message. I have pillars of volumes to read.

In

In Bhutan during festival period Photograph: Anne Bynon

If you tell people the truth about what youre doing they say you poor thing. Theres an assumption that you have to have a big Christmas and if you expend it any other way you are pitied. I dont feel part of the Christmas madness and tension that people get involved with when it comes to shopping. People are so on edge and always arguing. I see it everywhere but I dont feel a part of it. It washes over me. We all have options and you dont have to choose to celebrate. We should just dedicate money to charity.

Muslims

Kamran Younas, a 37 -year-old London accountant, explained why Muslims recognise Christmas. Many mosques will hold lecturings and assembles to recollect Jesus and to learn from his teachings. During the Christmas days off, we will get together with families and friends, enjoy the time off, feast and recollect God. Id like Christmas to be disassociated from excessive shopping and materialism, and for lessons from Jesus life to be brought out and applied to the problems of todays society.

On Christmas day, my whole household gets together for Christmas lunch or dinner. We dont exchange gifts as we do that on Eid anyway, but enjoy the day with the family, says 30 -year-old teacher, Hamida Dewan from Surrey. I wouldnt want to change anything. Christmas is a religious celebration that has a lot meaning for Christians. The style it is, is what makes it Christmas.

Eman from Qatar, doesnt celebrate Christmas either. I like to send to my Christian friends abroad cards or to buy the ones in the country small presents specific to Christmas. Its all about respect and empathy.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Leave a Reply