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It looks a lot like Christmas -- for non-Christians, too

Still cozy in their pajamas, Gina Miglani's children will wake up early this morning and follow the scent of freshly baked bread downstairs to the kitchen.

It's a special day for the Miglanis, one of many non-Christian American families.

Miglani, 32, jokes that Christmas is her favorite holiday because she's Hindu and has no choice in a predominantly Christian country but to rest.

"It's the one day I have no obligations and couldn't run an errand if I wanted. I love it," the Merced resident said.

While Christians gather around their trees, pass out gifts, host relatives from out of town and try to keep up with what's often considered the most stressful time of year, many non-Christians view the 25th as a low-key vacation day.

Often people of non-Christian faiths find themselves spending the day together at the movies, in Chinese restaurants or at Kung Pao Kosher Comedy night in San Francisco.

"You just have to go with the flow. You do what you know is open," said Loren Gonella, 55, of Modesto, who is Jewish.

Miglani shares Gonella's laid-back attitude.

"My Christian friends seem really stressed and anxious even though they are talking about being merry," Miglani said. "I think some of my friends would rather be doing what I'm doing -- staying at home with the kids."

By the time Dec. 25 rolled around this year, Jews and Muslims had finished their gift-giving holidays: Hanukkah (the eight-day Jewish festival of lights) and Eid al-Fitr (the Muslim holiday that marks the end of a month of fasting).

"Sometimes we have a proper dinner on Christmas just for the fun of it, but we don't really celebrate anything," said Muslim Hatim Hanif, 15, of Manteca. "I just wake up and hang out with family."

Muslims may acknowledge Jesus' birthday and regard it as a miracle, but they don't make a production of it, said Adnan Raiyan, 41, of Modesto.

"We don't celebrate Prophet Muhammad's birthday either," he added.

Christian or not, most people end up spending the 25th with family, Miglani said.

"Except for the gifts and decorations, I think we all end up doing the same thing on Christmas," Miglani said.

Buddhist Sriphan Asanasvest, 27, of Salida, who immigrated from Thailand when she was 6, happily stays home with family on Christmas. Although she said she feels no obligation to buy gifts for family, she still feels the season's anxiety.

"To me, it's chaotic. I went to the mall yesterday and it was annoying," she said.

Satnam Singh, 43, of Turlock celebrates Christmas as a cultural, rather than religious, holiday.

"We celebrate like everyone else, with a tree and presents underneath," said Singh, who is Sikh. "The kids want it. At school, they ask, 'What did you get for Christmas?' They can say they got presents, too."

Kamal Singh's Hindu family does the same. Many Hindus see the holiday as an opportunity to learn about and show respect for another religion, he said.

Although they do not represent everyone in their religion, most of those interviewed say Christmas has become an important day to them, even though Jesus' birth is not traditionally celebrated in their religion.

"We don't give gifts or have a tree or lights or anything, but we spend the whole day together," Miglani said.

Bee staff writer Eve Hightower can be reached at 578-2382 or ehightower@modbee.com.

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