By Karen Thomas
It seems like there has been an increasing number of interfaith meetings this holiday season. I’m not sure why that is, or if I just happen to be more aware of them than I have been in the past.
Still, I really appreciate the efforts people are making to find unity among different faiths. People may have different ideas about certain points of doctrine, but instead of focusing on the differences, they take the time to focus on what is the same: faith, family, generosity, love, reaching out to those in need, and good old fashioned kindness.
There was a large interfaith meeting held in Murrieta during Thanksgiving that was well attended by many faiths. Thanksgiving is an easy holiday for religions to honor together. No matter what your beliefs are in God, you still share that common feeling of gratitude for the things that you have. Even more, you share gratitude that there were people brave enough to settle this land and bring us the religious freedom we enjoy; the religious freedom that makes it possible for all these faiths to peacefully exist together in one area.
The holiday season we are in now, on the other hand, is filled with religious meaning. Because of all the different religious holidays that are celebrated this time of year, wishing one another a generic “Happy Holidays” has gained popularity.
The greeting is seen as a way to avoid offending others and a convenient way to cover all holidays. Though there is certainly nothing wrong with it, in fact it is nice to see people being cheerful and kind, I think in some ways it keeps us from sharing the reason for the season that each one of us value.
If these interfaith meetings are intended to bring us together, then our holiday greetings should likewise allow us to share and respect one another’s beliefs.
If I wish someone a Merry Christmas and they in turn wish me a Happy Hanukkah, am I offended? Of course not. In fact, I will likely wish them a Happy Hanukkah in return. Doesn’t an exchange like that do more to bring awareness and an acceptance of our differences than a generic greeting? I think so.
My family does indeed celebrate Christmas, but I love that my kids get to learn about different religious holidays in school. It teaches them that while beliefs may be different, the joy and meaning of the celebration is still real and important for each individual. Teaching about different beliefs does more to bring about religious tolerance than ignoring them completely.
So I want to wish each of you a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy New Year, and a happy time spent with family and friends. (If I missed a holiday, and I’m sure I did, let me know. I’d love to hear what your family is celebrating!)
Karen Thomas is a stay at home mom of four daughters, has been on the PTA board at her kids' school for four years, and is a volunteer at her church, in addition to her activities as a volunteer soccer referee, a piano teacher, and a runner. Her column will appear here every Thursday. Comments are welcome.