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For Those of Other Faiths, a Not-So-Silent Night

Dancing and Food On Christmas Eve

By Aruna Jain
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 23, 2004; Page PG03

Mark Brimhall-Vargas of Cheverly is a witch.

Every December, the Mormon-turned-Wiccan and his friends get together to celebrate the winter solstice -- to honor the sun on its journey toward the summer solstice, and to cast a spell for the coming year.

Robert Goodman of College Park is Jewish. On Saturday, he might attend the free Gefilte Fish Gala at the '80s dance club Polly Esther's in the District, or he might stay home and watch the British comedy "Are You Being Served?" on PBS. He hasn't decided.

Eman Abdelsaheb, a freshman at the University of Maryland, will spend the holidays with other young Muslims in Chicago at an annual conference about the religion. Her friend Rama Taib, a sophomore at the College Park campus, has a Christmas tree in her home, even though she doesn't celebrate the holiday religiously.

"Lots of Muslim families have a Christmas tree," Taib said.

The United States in late December is a prism of red and green, where marketers seek to hook consumers for holiday sales and shining lights adorn bushes and trees. On Christmas Eve, however, while many people prepare to honor the birth of Jesus, others prepare for the startling quiet of all those restaurants and stores that previously bustled with holiday chaos.

But where there is a silence, someone is sure to fill it.

Harley Liebenson, for example. He launched the Gifelte Fish Gala, now in its 11th year. The event is a nonprofit venture, and proceeds go to charity.

"It gives Jews an opportunity to go out with other Jews at a time when there's not a lot going on Jewishly," said Liebenson, of Rockville.

For $25 at the door, anyone can go to the "Matzo Ball" at Lulu's Club Mardi Gras in the District, an event aimed at Jewish singles. Matzo Ball events are organized around the country by the Society of Young Jewish Professionals.

Goodman won't be going to that event because it's on Friday, when he observes the Sabbath. But other young Jewish people will dance the night away.

Tara Nathan, who is Jewish, said she sometimes gets bored on Christmas Eve and Christmas.

"All my friends are busy celebrating Christmas, so I can't really call anyone to do anything," she said.

"I'll call you, Tara!" two friends, standing nearby, offered in unison.

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