We are a nation of many faiths and some that profess no faith. Each faith celebrates holy days. As a nation, we celebrate the Christian faith’s Christmas (although in a rather crass commercial fashion). I personally enjoy the Christmas season. I don’t mind the long lines, I prefer to consider that the majority of people are buying a gift for someone else and there will be happy faces Christmas morning. I can even tolerate the commercialism of the day. Maybe I am just ensconced in the mixture of the spirit of Frank Capra’s “It’s a wonderful life” and the holiday classic “Miracle on 34th street” from the pen of Valentine Davies, with a solid dash of Charles Dicken’s “The Christmas Carol”.
It is a time of giving. Oh, I know some will loosely connect the thought of God giving us his only Son or they will point to the gift of the three wise men as the basis of the gifts. In another life, when I was sort of an associate pastor of a church, I wrote a wonderful sermon about Jesus, the wise men, the spirit of Christ (SC) and Santa Claus (SC). It was a self serving, I can tie it all together homily. In reality, there are two events sharing the same date and name.
As we approach the fall, the chill in the evening air brings thoughts of the holiday season. We seem to pack so many into a short period of time. Usually we have just gotten past the secular Labor Day and Muslim’s worldwide have endured their month long Ramadan. The young ones are just back in school and thoughts of trick or treat are being offered in every retail establishment. Football season has just begun and that signals we have begun the procession to the feast of Thanksgiving.
Can we back up a moment? The feast of Ramadan is pretty much overlooked in the USA. If you are not a Muslim, you may only give it a passing thought. If you stop and read about it, you might be surprised. During Ramadan, Muslims ask forgiveness for past sins, pray for guidance and help in refraining from everyday evils, and try to purify themselves through self-restraint and good deeds. This is a month long observance. According to the earliest hadith, this refers to the Jewish practice of fasting on Yom Kippur.
Yom Kippur falls on this monday. It is the highest of holy days in the Jewish faith. It is the day of atonement. Its central themes are atonement and repentance. Jews traditionally observe this holy day with an approximately 25-hour period of fasting and intensive prayer, often spending most of the day in synagogue services. Yom Kippur completes the annual period known in Judaism as the High Holy Days.
I have always admired Muslims and Jews for celebrating in this fashion. It is a wonderful spiritual concept that you designate one period of time each year for introspection and admitting your faults, accepting your fallibility and taking the next step in asking forgiveness for your transgressions. I would not suggest that you limit this to one time a year. Neither of these faiths limit the practice to just once a year. The holy day attempts to bring focus back to the core principals. It is a good thing.
It is not a hidden fact that Christianity has seen declines in church attendance and membership. It is also not a secret that most of the holy days in Christianity have been secularized and commercialized. Christmas is painted with images of Santa Claus and presents under a tree, Easter is a time of bunny rabbits and candy filled Easter baskets. The refraining from eating meat on Fridays in memory of Good Friday has been reduced to not eating meat on Good Friday. Recently, many of the traditional saints have lost their stature and confusion has arisen regarding what days are special and what days are no longer special. The feast of All Souls and All Saints has given way to trick or treat and visions of ghosts, goblins and witches.
I was born into a Christian family (Catholic to be specific). I was raised in a traditional Christian environment. I have seen the power of tradition and faith give way to the power of t.v. and commercialism. I can’t change it.
I can only dip into my friends beliefs and practices. I can only marvel that 5,770 years of tradition still holds strong. I can only be humbled that for one day, my friends will fast and seek atonement. For my part, I too will consider the things I have done and not done this year. I will pledge to do better. I will ask forgiveness. I will be thankful that I live in a country where religion is practiced freely and I have had the opportunity to learn so much. I will end with a prayer and hope that people everywhere recognize the wonderful beauty in our differences and that they will realize that for all our differences, we are very much alike in our belief and faith.
Oh, and for my Jewish friends……….. May you have an easy fast.