Page last updated at 07:05 GMT, Tuesday, 23 December 2008

How a multi-faith city marks Christmas

While Christians in London will spend Christmas Day going to church to celebrate the birth of Christ, others will spend the day eating, drinking, watching TV and playing games with family and friends.

But how will Londoners of other faiths and beliefs spend 25 December?

BBC London's Tom Bishop and Colette Hibbert found out.

Damayanti Chowdhury

Every year I spend Christmas in different ways - but never alone.

Back in India I would always have friends over, or visit friends. I had some Catholic friends and sometimes they would invite me over for a Christmas lunch, or we'd use the four-day break to go on a short holiday somewhere or simply go on a picnic.

Christmas Day has always been very relaxing. It is so festive and cheerful with all the lights and everything around you. I always decorate the house with lights just to make it look festive. We use the leftover lights and decorations from [Hindu festival of light] Diwali, celebrated at the end of October.

Good food, Christmas cakes, wine and chocolates have always been a part of our Christmas Day. We do not exchange presents but always give something to the kids - mainly chocolates.

December is not a religious season for Hindus but it does signify the end of the old year and the beginning of the new, so it is a time to celebrate.

As for prayer, nearly every Hindu prays at home every day, so 25 December is no different from any other day in that respect.

I think Christmas has become more of a secular celebration, since nearly everyone around the world ends up enjoying it one way or the other.

Hassan Joudi

I'll spend 25 December relaxing at home and enjoying the company of my immediate family.

Usually in the evening, we jump in the car and drive into central London for an hour or two.

The roads are completely empty and we drive past Trafalgar Square or through Oxford Street, admiring the Christmas lights. Otherwise I spend it like any other day during the school holidays.

We don't give each other presents but we always buy Christmas cards and push them through our neighbours' letter boxes on the morning of 25 December. We then eat ordinary food that we usually eat, nothing special or different.

I will watch one or two films on TV but I try to spend my time more productively, like reading that novel that I stopped reading during the summer.

This month was also a religious time for Muslims, as the Hajj season was in December this year. This included some family members performing the Hajj pilgrimage and everyone celebrated Eid Al-Adha on 8 December.

We never followed any of Christmas traditions, unless you call marking the best films in the Christmas TV guide with a highlighter pen a tradition!

We were always aware that Santa was fictional and that presents were part of the over-commercialisation of Christmas which "proper Christians" don't attach much importance to.

Judith and Mark Frazer

For the first time I will spend 25 December with my wife. We got married in August, in the city of Jerusalem and are looking forward to a relaxing Christmas.

This year, 25 December coincides with the fourth day of Chanukah, the Jewish holiday which celebrates the miracle of the survival of the Jewish people in the face of repeated attacks by the mighty Greek empire.

The Talmud recounts how the survivors tentatively re-entered the vandalised holy temple. They wanted to re-light the temple candelabra, known as the "Menorah", but found only one tiny vial of oil, enough to light the candelabra for just one night. Miraculously it supplied enough oil to burn for eight days.

As a result, Jewish families light similar candelabra in their homes for eight nights, prayers are sung and foods such as doughnuts and potato pancakes cooked in oil are traditionally eaten.

Whilst my wife and I won't have any of the traditional Christmas symbols at home, the day is a wonderful chance to sleep late, enjoy a big family meal (not unusual in the Jewish religion!) and settle down in front of the TV to a plate of jam doughnuts and a classic James Bond film. What could be better?

Andy Stretton

Christmas hasn't meant much in our family for a while. When I was a child we used to go to midnight mass but that dropped off years ago.

Four years ago I became a Buddhist, living and working at the London Buddhist Centre in Bethnal Green.

Part of Buddhism is to be very generous, so I am quite happy to be buying things for people when they need them - I do not feel the need to only buy presents or cards on a special day.

People come to the centre to meditate on Christmas and Boxing Day, so it is just a normal working day for us.

But this year I will be spending 25 December with about 120 others on a Buddhist retreat in Oxfordshire. It will be an escape from the madness of Christmas and New Year.

I will get up at about 5.30am and we will begin our meditation at 7am. There will be discussion groups and yoga throughout the day, followed by an evening ritual.

There will be no TV, no radio and no newspapers but plenty of free time to walk, talk and relax.

We'll eat our own equivalent of a vegetarian Christmas meal but there will be no alcohol. We plan several silent meditation days as part of the 10-day retreat.

The calm just soaks into you.


Our religion says we should share and give to the needy - this is one of the three Pillars of Sikhism

For me it is a time for friends and family to appreciate each other and celebrate each other's company.

The 25 December falls between two important dates in the Sikh calendar, when we remember the death of four princes who were the sons of (10th Sikh Guru) Guru Gobind Singh Ji, 304 years ago.

On 21 December we remember his two eldest sons and on 28 December his two younger sons. We go to our temple as often as we can during this period, so I'll spend part of 25 December at the temple.

Our religion says we should share and give to the needy - this is one of the three pillars of Sikhism.

So I give cards to family and friends at Christmas, and take something into work such as mince pies - something we can all sit down and eat together.

As a Sikh I am conscious that I am not just following traditions, I also know what they mean.

As time goes on people can forget how important Christmas is to Christians, they forget its significance. But if you cut the roots of a tree, it will not survive - it will just be hollow and crumble.

When we were children our families would give us presents on 25 December, and we looked forward to that.

Now we appreciate their actual presence more, to see everyone together. I think all religions value that.

Andrew Copson

My own beliefs are humanist, not religious, and I don't believe in God, Jesus or that the Christmas story is true.

I do like having a time in the year when I can get together with family and friends to rest and relax. I will be spending the day giving and (hopefully) receiving presents, eating and drinking.

Virtually every society, for many centuries before Christianity, has had a holiday in winter to cheer up the dark months and remind us that the spring will come again. That's what I celebrate on 25 December.

I love buying presents and thinking about the year that has gone and the year that is about to start.

Lunch is all the things that have become traditional over the last 100 years or so - turkey with all the trimmings and Christmas pudding.

When I was younger there was a lot more family around on 25 December - I was lucky enough to have a lot of great grandparents still alive until recently. None were religious, so the day was all about being together.

The 25 December will continue to have a specific meaning for Christians but I think generally the day is post-Christian for a lot of people.

There's nothing wrong with that - it's the same thing that happened when the pre-Christian festivals were replaced by Christmas.

It is still a time when people can rest, relax, enjoy the company of family and friends and have fun!

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