By Will El-Nachef

Paul Wong
LSA junior Julia Koenigsknecht and others take advantage of the unseasonably warm weather yesterday to catch some sun and study outside Cava Java on South University.<br><br>DAVID ROCHKIND/Daily

Daily Arts Writer

Christmas is almost here and most University students will return to their homes ornamented with lights, trees and tinsel. But, for many non-Christian students this homecoming is not necessarily a holiday oriented one. For them, Christmas poses many questions about their beliefs and they must decide which observances conflict with their religion.

Some non-Christian students, like LSA freshman David Peckerman, do not observe Christmas. “When I think of Christmas, I think of more movies on TV, the malls are busier and the lights on people”s houses. Other than that, I don”t see Christmas,” says Peckerman, an Orthodox Jew.

He does note the conflict of his childhood desires and his religion. “As a kid, I wanted to experience waking up early and running to the Christmas tree to get presents. That”s mostly because it looks so fun in the movies. It was all about the presents.” But he makes sure to point out that “Christmas doesn”t change the way I feel about being Jewish.”

Peckerman explains that although many children may find the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah to be a substitute for Christmas, at his age he doesn”t find a substitute necessary. He is glad, though, that the two holidays fall in the same month. “I”m happy our holidays coincide because I”m able to have vacation on Hanukkah and spend time with my family.”

Wael Hakmeh, a LSA senior and Muslim, also does not celebrate Christmas. “The vacation, as I see it, is a break between the two semesters,” says Hakmeh. “My holidays are Eid and Ramadan. Ramadan is our holy month and Eid is the actual celebration.”

Although Hakmeh does not observe the traditions of Christmas, he explains, “I wouldn”t reject a [Christmas] present, but at the same time, I would explain that I am a Muslim. When I have been offered presents, usually I give a present back as a sign of respect.”

Similarly to Peckerman, Hakmeh also felt the exclusion as a child during the Christmas season. “When the whole school celebrates a holiday and everyone in your class celebrates the holiday, and you”re the only one who doesn”t, there”s a lot more pressure on you It was especially difficult for me, growing up in a predominately non-Muslim community.”

Despite the difficulties he faced as a child, Hakmeh is not resentful of the Christmas holiday. “I”m actually very happy for Christians when they go through their holidays and festivities, just like I”m happy when I go through mine.”

As for non-Christians who celebrate Christmas, Hakmeh says “I”m a firm believer that everyone”s religion is a relationship between himself or herself with God. If one chooses to celebrate Christmas, that”s their prerogative.” However, he goes on to say, “I think it”s very difficult to have a hybrid holiday without compromising any part of your religion.”

There are non-Christians that do observe some traditions of Christmas. Take, for instance, Raj Singh Bedi, a Sikh LSA freshman. “I would go to the malls and sit on Santa”s lap when I was little.” Nowadays, Bedi has outgrown the jolly man”s lap and his observance of Christmas has more to do with gift giving. “I”m typically the one who gets all the presents. I don”t give them to my family, but I do give them to my close friends who aren”t Sikh.”

Bedi does admit that not all Sikhs are as open minded about Christmas as he is. “Some people who are Sikh question why other Sikhs celebrate Christmas, since it”s not a Sikh holiday.” Bedi feels that Sikhs born in the U.S. have been engrained in American culture. “In order to give a different reason to exchange gifts during the holiday, some Sikhs have begun to exchange gifts on a Sikh holiday that falls on Dec. 23.”

Rackham graduate student Jonah Johnson, was raised in a Jewish household. Johnson believes “Christmas in the U.S. has become a secular holiday. You don”t have to be Christian to give presents to people.” Although he lived in a predominately Jewish community, most of the Jewish families he knew exchanged gifts. “My parents did it for us because we were kids. Christmas was the mechanism to keep pace with the toy industry.”

Johnson no longer practices Judaism, but he is still sentimental about the holiday. “I love Christmas time because I”m home. It becomes a time of the year you can count on your friends going home.” However, Johnson”s observation of the holiday has changed somewhat. “Christmas, for me, now has become a voyeuristic holiday. For me, it”s watching the way American culture functions It”s amazing to watch Christmas unfold within a capitalist culture. Our economy depends heavily on the success of the holiday season.”

Being a first generation Hindu, LSA senior Janki Patel reminisces about her family”s first Christmas observances. “First we had this houseplant as a tree, and we”d put presents under it. After a while, my parents bought a tree and decorations. It was just the tradition of having presents and a tree that was important.”

However, the Patel family didn”t initially celebrate Christmas. “Once I went to school and I started seeing how a majority of people celebrated Christmas my mom felt like she should introduce it to me so I wouldn”t feel left out.” As she grew older, Patel”s family stopped observing the holiday and, in retrospect, her feelings for Christmas are ambivalent. “But [observing Christmas] was at the expense of us celebrating some of our own holidays. It”s hard to celebrate the holidays of your religion when you don”t have the days off during that period.”

Sapna Nagar, also a Hindu LSA senior, feels strongly about the holidays. “I don”t like the holidays because it”s all this Christianity stuff thrown in my face It really isn”t my holiday I don”t have any connection with it. It is all warm and fuzzy, but no one gets all warm and fuzzy when it”s our New Year That October/November time is very big for Hindus and no one recognizes that.” Nagar recalls the exclusion she felt as an adolescent. “I remember in the 7th grade, after Christmas vacation, walking down the hallway. I saw all these kids wearing their new clothes and I saw what everybody got for Christmas and I just remember being really upset. Like, “God, I hate this. Why don”t I get new clothes and presents?”” She says now she has outgrown the jealousy and understands her parents” view. “[Our parents] didn”t want us to think that this was our identity, that this is what we do.”

Regardless of how much or little a non-Christian student observes Christmas, many non-Christian students share similar sentiments about the holiday. Whether they celebrate it or not, there is always the issue of exclusion and religious identity. On her future family, Janki Patel says “I plan on emphasizing my religion, but also explaining to [my children] that we can do these Christmas things but it”s not really who we are.”

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