The holiday messages communicated through media, in stores and by close friends often counter Jewish beliefs and overshadow the traditions of millions of non-Christians in the United States, says a Wake Forest University English professor.
“The fact is that the term non-Christians includes many kinds of people, not just Jews – at least in the U.S.,” says Andrew Ettin, an English professor at Wake Forest who also serves as spiritual leader for Temple Israel in Salisbury, N.C. “The traditions of non-Christians living in a western culture where Christianity is the predominant religion usually celebrate something of universal spiritual and moral value, but the message tends to get ignored when drowned out amid the noise of Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.”
Ettin, who also teaches two classes on Judaism in the Wake Forest religion department, says several different groups celebrate festivals during the traditional Christian holiday season including Muslims, who started this year’s celebration of Ramadan in November; Jews, who celebrate Hanukkah starting the Friday night after Thanksgiving; and Hindus, who celebrate the five-day festival of Dewali in the fall.
During the Christmas season, Ettin says the boundary between cultural and religious celebrations is often crossed, and non-Christians are exposed to unwelcome and often unintentional religious messages. He says popular Christmas songs like “Joy To The World” or “The Little Drummer Boy” often played for shoppers in grocery and department stores are examples of Christian messages.
In some cases, non-Christians might choose to participate in Christian traditions during the holidays because of friendships, enjoyment of music or a particular ceremony, or simply out of cultural curiosity. However, when non-Christians choose to participate in certain aspects of Christian holidays, they sometimes find themselves having to remind others of their devotion to their own religion, Ettin says.
“Non-Christians are likely to find themselves having to remind even some friends, as well as strangers that, although we always appreciate kind wishes, Christmas greetings are not appropriate for everybody,” Ettin says. “I think the issues are particularly acute for Jews because of the connection between the story of Jesus and Jewish tradition.”
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