Christmas is, by definition, a Christian holiday, but it turns out that a vast majority of non-Christians in the United States — 81 percent — also celebrate the Dec. 25 holiday, which commemorates the birth of Jesus.
Muslim American Zina Alathari, a Virginia dentist and mother of three girls, is one of them.
“We celebrate Christmas because it’s a joyous family holiday that brings our family and friends together,” Alathari said. “We are part of this culture and it’s important for my children to enjoy this with their friends.”
Alathari joins the 9 in 10 Americans — or 92 percent — who celebrate Christmas, according to the Pew Research Center.
The celebrants include 87 percent of all people with no religious affiliation and about three-fourths of Asian-American Buddhists and Hindus. About one-third of American Jews, many of whom are married to non-Jewish spouses, reported having a Christmas tree in a 2013 survey.
Bruce Ferder, a VOA cameraman who is Jewish, never celebrated Christmas as a child. After a Christian married into the family, though, the Ferders expanded their festivities to include Christmas and Hanukkah.
“We love to celebrate both holidays together. We gather around the tree on Christmas morning and open gifts and celebrate our time together as a family,” Ferder said. “We brought up our children to learn to expand their knowledge in all religions and respect everyone as we want to be respected ourselves.”
Seventy percent of Americans identify as Christians, while non-Christian faiths make up less than 6 percent of the overall U.S. population. These faiths include Judaism (1.9 percent), Islam (0.9 percent), Buddhism (0.7 percent) and Hinduism (0.7 percent). About 1 in 5 Americans does not identify with any religion.
Christians believe Jesus is the son of God. Jesus does not play any role in Judaism, and while Jews may accept that he is an historical figure, they do not believe in his divinity, nor that he was the prophesied messiah. In Islam, Jesus is an important figure. He’s regarded as a prophet, or messenger of God, who was born of a virgin mother. However, Muslims do not believe Jesus was the son of God.
Alathari, whose children have attended weekly Islamic religious classes, does not see any conflict between her Muslim faith and celebrating Christmas.
“We celebrate Eid [major Muslim holiday] and Christmas,” she said. “Both holidays are about peace and love and the kids love the gifts.”
About half of Americans see Christmas as more of a religious holiday, while about one-third view it more as a cultural holiday.
Either way, a majority of Americans say they believe the Christmas story reflects actual historical events.
Over the years, many Americans have taken to saying “Happy Holidays” in order to be sensitive to non-Christians.
However, the survey suggests wishing your friends and neighbors a very “Merry Christmas” might be well received by most Americans — no matter what their religion.