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Celebrating two Christmases

As I See ItHal SundinGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

For centuries, Christmas has been a strictly religious observance. But over time, it has evolved into two different events celebrated concurrently. One is the traditional spiritual observance, and the other is the over-commercialized secular holiday, marked by social gatherings and the exchange of greeting cards and of increasingly elaborate presents. In its dual roles, Christmas is recognized as a national holiday, but we should not lose sight of the difference between those roles.

In the secular or social role in this country, there is absolutely no reason for our not wishing each other a “Merry Christmas,” as we would wish one another a “Happy Thanksgiving” or a “Great Fourth of July.” And it is ridiculous not to refer to the secular decorations we use by calling them Christmas trees and Christmas lights. Should we also stop referring to Halloween decorations by that name? This is not being politically correct; it is being fatuous.The religious observance of Christmas is an entirely different matter. Since this is a country of different cultures and religions, with a Constitution that prohibits any government involvement in religion, public institutions such as public schools and all levels of government should be careful to avoid any actions that appear to favor or promote one religion over others. Public institutions should not display symbols of Christianity such as crosses or nativity scenes, or be associated with any exclusively Christian activities.In the name of being good citizens and good Christians, we should guard against disdain for other religions, and the sin of arrogance of passing judgment on or denigrating the beliefs of others. Other religions observe holy days that are no less important and just as sacred to them as ours are to us.

The Jewish faith celebrates Hanukkah, an eight-day festival (usually in December); Passover, a week celebrating liberation from bondage in Egypt (usually in April); Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year (usually in September), followed by Yom Kippur (the holiest day) ten days later. Muslims celebrate the birth of Mohammed as the Islamic New Year, and observe Ramadan, a month of fasting.There are some interesting parallels with Christian observances here. Hanukkah and Christmas come at the same time of the year, as do Passover and Easter. Ramadan and Lent are both observed by weeks of fasting, and both Christians and Muslims have a holy day to celebrate the birth of their prophet.



Both the Jewish and Islamic calendars are lunar, so the timing of their holy days is determined by the moon, just as our Easter is. Consequently, the occurrence of their holy days varies from year to year on our calendar. The Islamic year is divided into 12 months totaling 354 days (355 days in leap years). As a result, Islamic holy days fall 11 days earlier on our calendar each year. The Jewish calendar of 12 lunar months avoids this anomaly by adding a thirteenth month in seven years of a nineteen-year cycle. Consequently, Jewish holy days occur during the same 29-30 day period on our calendar, making them easier for the rest of us to keep track of. For instance, Hanukkah generally occurs in December. This year, Hanukkah was on December 5, so you’ve missed your chance to wish your Jewish friends “Happy Hanukkah.” But next year, Hanukkah will be on Dec. 22, very close to Christmas.In five days it will be Christmas, and what’s wrong with exchanging Christmas greetings with everyone? Merry Christmas!Hal Sundin’s column appears every other Thursday in the Post Independent.


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