The year 1999 was my last as an active duty Navy Officer, and as the Christmas season approached I found myself working as a defense contractor. My new employer won a contract to see how Defense Department computers would react to what was then the unknown new idea of Y2K – the year 2000 – when some of the older computers, having been programmed with just the last two digits of the year, might or might not work correctly as all four digits rolled over into a new millennium. My particular job was to see in the New Year observing Navy computers in Bahrain, an ally in the Arabian Gulf I had visited as a Task Force Commander just a few years before. This time I would be going as a contractor, without the protocol that had attached to being a Navy Captain. The advantage as well as the disadvantage was that this time, I would be relatively low profile. Being an American in early 2000 in the Middle East was not a big deal; 9-11 was still almost two years ahead of us.
Although my work that trip centered on the calendar, I had been unaware that all three major religions had major holidays in rapid succession that winter. Chanukah is always observed according to the Hebrew calendar, and in 1999 it fell on December 3rd – well before my trip to Bahrain. Christmas, of course, begins on December 25th as always, and the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas includes the secular New Year’s Day on January 1st. But this particular year, the new year of 2000, the major Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr fell on January 8th, while I was still in Bahrain. Eid al-Fitr marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan based on the lunar cycle of the Muslim calendar, and over the course of 30 solar years works its way through every month of our Gregorian calendar. The next time that Eid al-Fitr will fall during the Christmas Season will be in the 2030’s. But in the first few days of 2000, most homes and businesses in Bahrain began putting up what looked like Christmas lights. On January 8th there was feasting following the fasts of Ramadan. There was gift-giving, and families coming together that had previously been apart. And there were lights, lots of lights, reminding me of both the “Festival of Lights” that marks the Jewish Chanukah and Christmas lights, still up around the American community on January 8th that year. Muslims, I realized, aren’t that different from you and me.
The year 2000 saw many things, but there was no Y2K crisis – the computers, including Defense computers, worked just fine. Among other things in January, 2000, there was peace around the world, including Bahrain where Christian and Islamic holidays seemed to meet. By the end of the next year we were a nation at war against Al Qaeda, with Bahrain as an ally.
This year, 2016, sees two holidays coinciding once more. Christmas and Chanukah both start on December 25th, perhaps an omen that peace can again be observed throughout the Middle East. This year, even though Eid al-Fitr is months away, let all Americans whether Muslim, Christian, Jewish, other, or secular celebrate the Holiday Season together. And let us hope that 2017 ends as 2000 started, with peace to all people of good will.