A young woman teacher volunteered to teach English in a girls school in a remote area of a predominantly Buddhist country. In mid-December a group of senior students approached her saying, ‘ we know Christmas is coming and that it’s a special day for you so we would like to have a small celebration and we want to get it right. So Santa Claus is your God, isn’t he?’
There is every justification for these students not to have known about Jesus but little justification for us in western countries. It’s time for us to ask ourselves has Santa Claus completely displaced Jesus? How can so many retailers ignore the reason for which they are making such huge profits? How can some national leaders broadcast a Christmas message without mention of the birth of Jesus?
It is a great mistake to imagine that people of other faiths are ‘offended’ by mention of Jesus at Christmas. To believe that is to hold that they are hopelessly intolerant, and they are not! Some years ago in Sydney, Australia, a municipal council was having second thoughts about putting up the crib in the square outside the Council buildings. The local sheikh ( Muslim leader) said he hoped that those non-Muslims who opposed the crib were not opposing it in the name of Islam because, he said, Jesus is revered in Islam as a prophet and Mary, his mother is held in great esteem. Therefore the local Muslim community had no objection to the crib in the square but they did object to people using Islam to support their personal views about cribs at Christmas.
So let us respectfully hold on to our Christian symbols for Christmas and we will have the respect of people of other faiths. Of course we will reciprocate by respecting the traditions and symbols of their religious practice and the stance of people of secular conviction.