Sunday, September 20, 2009

Religious Greetings on Rosh Hashanah, Eid-ul-Fitr, and Christmas

On my daily jog on Saturday morning, I ran by Temple Emanuel just outside of Boston, where one of my colleagues was entering the synagogue with his family to celebrate Rosh Hashanah. He greeted me with an enthusiastic "Happy new year, Richard!"

As I tried to catch my breath (it's getting harder and harder for me to stay in shape!), I somehow mustered the energy to reply "Thank you. And a happy new year to you and your family."
Later that afternoon, I joined a few friends at a Harvard football game (which the Crimson lost by a close margin). One of my friends, who happens to be Muslim, was thrilled that Saturday marked the end of the fasting month of Ramadan and the start of Eid-ul-Fitr celebrations, and therefore wished me a hearty and happy Eid Mubarak, to which I replied "Eid Mubarak!"
"Happy new year" and "Eid Mubarak"two religious greetings I've spent today thinking about. Specifically, I've thought about what and just how much it means to me that my friends gave me their well wishes on the occasion of these religious celebrations.
My Jewish and Muslim friends know that I do not celebrate either Rosh Hashanah or Eid-ul-Fitr. They also know that I am a practicing Christian, that I believe deeply in the tenets of my Christian faith, and that I striveunsuccessfully like all Christiansto lead my life according to the high standard that my Biblical teachings set for me. Yet my friends nonetheless felt moved to wish me well on their respective religious holidays.
And that, I think, is just as it should be.
A few years ago, I resolved to discontinue my habit of wishing "Happy Holidays" during the month of December. Instead, I began wishing "Merry Christmas" to everyoneeven those who are not Christian.
I chose then, and continue today, to do so neither because I believe my religion is right and all others are wrong, nor because I seek to convert others to Christianity, nor because I am oblivious to the fact that there are other non-Christian holidays in December. (I have written before, however, that an established religion is not necessarily inconsistent with the principles of liberal democracy.)
I wish "Merry Christmas" to everyone because it is my way to sharing a part of myself with others. Relationships, both personal and professional, are an exercise in cultural exchange, social interchange, and dialogue on matters that range from the latest college football poll, to the upcoming episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, and to our deepest and most intimate convictions, be they anchored in philosophy, politics or religion.
Wishing friends, colleagues and strangers "Merry Christmas" is my way to invite people into my heart and to show them the care and courtesy of being the real merather than suppressing my individuality and core beliefs by extending them an impersonal and dispassionate "Happy Holidays."
Have I taken the right approach on this?

1 comment:

  1. A very good approach Richard... one that I take myself. Thanks!


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