For new Buddhists, traditional holidays like Christmas can bring on a bit of confusion, both spiritually and emotionally. Do I celebrate Christmas even if I want to be a Buddhist? Do I give Christmas gifts or send Christmas cards? And what do I do when I’m invited to Christmas parties?
The answers to questions such as these are, of course, personal preference. But a little information might make the transition to Buddhism smoother, especially once it becomes clear that Buddhism can peacefully coexist in a person’s life with another religion. Welcoming Buddhism into your life does not mean it is necessary to denounce your other religious connections; in fact, Buddhism may help enhance connections to another religion.
Should I still celebrate Christmas?
Consider the origins of Christmas. While many worship the birth of Christ at Christmastime, the original holiday was in honor of the winter solstice. The Christmas tree, though the actual origin is not precisely known, is believed to be of pagan origin, essentially “Christianized” through the conversion of various societies to Christianity.
Modern Christmas, at least in the U.S., is largely commercial, with children screaming over the year’s top toys and other desires, then crying and throwing fits when their demands are not met on Christmas morning. Black Friday and other huge sales tell people that it’s important to buy, buy, buy, give, give, give.
While some do maintain their traditional Christian practices, to many it’s not just that. Interestingly, the Japanese are primarily Buddhist, Shinto, and usually a combination of the two, yet they celebrate Christmas in the form of small gift-giving, Christmas Eve parties with friends, Christmas Cake, caroling, and a Western-style meal such as pizza or Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Buddhist Teachings at Christmastime
The decision to celebrate Christmas is up to each individual. If wishing to add a Buddhist influence to the holiday celebrations, perhaps find Buddhist lessons in Christmas stories, such as the Gift of the Magi or A Christmas Carol. Opt for an artificial tree instead of a traditional live Christmas tree, which isn’t really “live” but in the process of dying since it has been cut down. Avoid over-indulgence, but don’t suffer needlessly; enjoy the holiday meals and foods, but don’t gorge yourself. And perhaps, if possible, try to make the gift-giving less about the “stuff”; Buddhism, after all, teaches that we should be content with what we have for when we long for things we don’t or cannot have, we suffer.