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Walter Rodgers

Why the Taliban gave me a Christmas tree

Political correctness, under the guise of tolerance, tells us not to say, "Merry Christmas." But I've seen that the spirit of Christmas is transcendent – across cultures, nations, and even religions.

By Walter Rodgers / December 17, 2010



Walking my cat (no leash) and viewing Christmas decorations in my neighborhood last year, I came to a house bedecked with evergreen boughs, red ribbons, and strings of colored lights. I was taken aback. I knew the woman who lives there is an Iranian, a Shiite Muslim. “Strange,” I thought.

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When her husband appeared in the yard, I commented on the oddity of Christmas decorations at a Shiite household. He shot back, “I’m Jewish.”

“Whoa! You’re Jewish, your wife is an Iranian Muslim, and you decorate your house for Christmas?” He shrugged and said, “Hey, we see Christmas as an international holiday.”

“Only in America,” I muttered, following my cat.

IN PICTURES: White House Christmas

Except that’s not true. My neighbor was right: Christmas is international – secular and religious.

Christmas Eve in the Holy Land

At this time of year, I often recall the Christmas Eves I spent in the Holy Land, while on assignment for CNN. The night before Christmas, my TV crew and I would make the annual pilgrimage to Palestinian Bethlehem to broadcast church services and celebrations – live from Manger Square. It was wall-to-wall celebrants. Many were Muslims who just wanted a good party. In a land where Palestinians have little to celebrate, Muslims had no guilt about making merry over Christianity’s central holiday.

My Palestinian producer, Sausanne Ghosheh, bubbled as she sang and danced in the wintry high desert night under Christmas lights strung above Manger Square. A Sunni Muslim, she made a point of telling me how much she loved Christmas and how she and her Palestinian friends always celebrated it as children.

IN PICTURES: Got your red hat?

I will always remember my hefty sabra cameraman, Yehuda Chemel, singing “Jingle Bells/ Jingle Bells/ Jingle all the way” in a very pronounced Israeli accent, whenever we drove through Israel during the two weeks before Christmas. It was a rite of the season. Sure, it wasn’t as reverent as “The First Noel,” but it suggested Christmas is infectious.

Not just a religious holiday

Christmas is not just a religious holiday. It’s a power. It transcends cultures, politics, and religion. At the height of the cold war in the officially godless Soviet Union, the atheistic Russian Communists never failed to provide free Christmas trees to their perceived adversaries in the Western news media.

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