A religious experience
New celebrations hope to attract adherents
With the number of Americans who adhere to an organized religion dwindling, it's not surprising that some of Montgomery's congregations are trying innovative ways to keep their faith.
On Sunday, Chabad of Bethesda-Chevy Chase hosted the Chanukah Lights Spectacular, complete with a laser light show and a chance to meet Judah Maccabee a Jewish soldier who led a rebellion against the Greek empire. This past week also featured a parade of cars with menorahs strapped to their roofs driving along the Beltway.
Rabbi Sender Geisinsky, program director of Chabad of Bethesda-Chevy Chase, said one reason for the display is that a fun, modern celebration could help bring non-practicing Jews back to the religion.
"It's vibrant and it comes out of the classrooms and all of a sudden it's in, it's hip, it's real, it's live," he said.
Geisinsky has good reason to take an interest in returning Jewish adults to their faith.
A 2008 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that the number of people unaffiliated with any faith (16.1 percent) is more than double the number not affiliated with any religion as children. And that number is trending upward people moving into the unaffiliated category outnumbered those moving out of the unaffiliated group by more than 3:1.
These numbers represent all religions, including Christianity, to which about 78 percent of Americans adhere.
And, like the more modern celebrations of Hanukkah, Christmas festivities have been not been immune to the pressures of attracting congregants (Catholics reported the biggest drop in adherents from childhood to adulthood nearly 24 percent ceased to identify as Catholic, according to the survey).
In Maryland, the best-known, and most ostentatious, Christmas display is 34th Street in the Hampden neighborhood of Baltimore, which attracts thousands of viewers each year.
Tied to this is the commercialization of Hanukkah and Christmas in 2009, winter holiday sales represented 19 percent of total retail sales, according to the National Retail Federation.
There's nothing wrong with celebrating holidays in a more contemporary manner, but the results, according to the Pew survey, aren't what religious leaders are looking for.
Religion can be a touchy subject, but it seems like the more people move away from faith, the more religions try to accommodate different needs. Or perhaps it's the other way around.