Jesus and Christmas

It’s our busiest time of year again at InterfaithFamily.com. I’m writing this on December 24th at 9:00 am — and we’ve already broken the record for the highest number of monthly unique visitors to our main website, with 30,831 so far. There is something about Hanukkah and Christmas that stirs up everything about interfaith relationships — and front and center in that swirl is Jesus.

Two weeks ago, Cathy Grossman, USA Today’s terrific religion writer, called about her December holiday story for this year. She said she was writing about the “taking Christ out of Christmas” phenomenon. In addition to the usual theories that Americans are more secular and more materialistic, she wondered if increasing intermarriage was a cause.

We did find in our fifth annual December holidays survey, as we have in prior years, that interfaith couples who are raising their children Jewish say, in high percentages, 87% this year, that their Christmas celebrations are secular. One of the most interesting statistics to me is that among that population, only 3%, as part of their celebrations, tell the Christmas story — a story which is of course fundamentally religious in nature, because it marks the birth of Jesus as the Christ, the divine savior.

Cathy asked about interfaith couples who were raising their children “both,” and raising them Christian. We had 106 couples in the survey who said they were raising their children both; of them, 23% said they tell the Christmas story — more than 3% to be sure, but not a very high percentage overall. We only had 29 couples who said they were raising their children Christian, which isn’t a very large sample on which to draw any general conclusions; of them, 45% said they tell the Christmas story — still not a majority.

To me, the relatively low percentages of couples who are raising their children partly or completely Christian and tell the Christmas story suggest that rising secularism and materialism are at the root of non-religious celebrations of Christmas. And we have to remember that even if interfaith couples raising their children as Jews do “take Christ out of Christmas” in resolving how they will celebrate the December holidays, the numbers of such couples are tiny compared to the numbers of Christian couples who are celebrating Christmas, with or without Christ. So people may continue to blame intermarriage for a lot of things, but I hope it won’t be blamed for taking Christ out of Christmas.

But if interfaith couples raising their children Jewish aren’t celebrating and telling the story of the birth of Jesus as Christ, the divine savior, do they need to completely remove Jesus from Christmas? We’ve covered the issue of talking about Jesus at InterfaithFamily.com in the past — just put “talking about Jesus” into the search box on our site. But wwo days ago, I read a wonderful op-ed on the subject by James Carroll, a wonderful author and columnist for The Boston Globe.

In Jesus and the Promise of Christmas, Carroll writes that violence was the normal condition of the world Jesus was born in, and that”acting in his Jewish tradition” he confronted and rejected it and proposed peace and justice to counter it. He continues, “The great religions of the world – Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism – and the no-religion of rationalism have all countered the normalcy of violence with assertions of compassion and loving kindness.” As a figure representing the ideal of peace and justice, Carrol concludes, Jesus has survived

even for those who regard him in purely worldly terms as an image of a hope that cannot be fully articulated, and that can never be exclusively claimed by any group, including Christians. In that sense, the observances of this week can belong to everyone who chooses to enjoy them.

Perhaps that’s a way for interfaith couples raising their children to include Jesus in their Christmas celebrations.

Happy holidays to all.

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