I’ve been asked several times in the last few weeks, “Now that you’re a Buddhist are you going to have Christmas?” I love discussions about spirit, meaning, and faith (so if you want to have one – hit me up!) but I have found this question a little odd. It’s like asking someone, “Now that you’re vegan are you going to have Thanksgiving?” Of course they are – it just won’t be turkey based. Of course I’m having Christmas! The center of my holiday won’t be the birth of Christ but the meaning of Christ, and the Miracle of Lights, and the guidance of Kwanzaa, and the silly grievances of Festivus will all be with me. I’m going to have the three things this season encompasses best – light, magic, and peace. Plus fudge. I plan to have lots of fudge.
A Season of Light
Light, like seasons, doesn’t need to have a reason, or even permission, to shine. No one owns light (sorry, Dominion Power). Light is precious and life-giving. It maintains its own being. You can shutter out the light, but the sun isn’t going away. Light is something celebrated in almost every spiritual tradition. The Menorah represents the miracle of light, the star over Bethlehem – the arrival of light, Kwanzaa the representation of the qualities of light. My non-religious friends put candles in the window when someone is out in a storm as a sign of hope that the person will find their way home. Light guides, light heals, light inspires, light saves.
In Buddhism, we believe the light is not an external thing, simply shining around us, but an internal flame – glowing within us. We meditate and connect with the light inside that shows us the reality of the present moment and our place in it. What better time than the darkest season to celebrate the fact that even when I’m in darkness, there is a light in there somewhere.
A Season of Magic
One of the core messages of Shambhala Buddhism (the lineage Cathy and I have taken refuge vows in) is that “there is magic in every moment.” Nowhere is that more evident than in the Christmas season.
- The way the whole world smells like gingerbread and spiced apple cinnamon is magic.
- The desire to give as a way of showing love to others is magic.
- The food your mom makes because your grandma made it because her grandma brought the recipe over from the Old Country is time travel (hence, magic).
- The colors, lights, and music everywhere you turn is magic. (For you people who complain about Christmas music in stores coming too early – can’t you just admit hearing that first chorus of “Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas” is a lot more magical than yet another replay of Hall and Oates, “Your Kiss is on my List.”)
A Season of Peace
Above all, this season is one of the few times we vocalize our desire for, and recognition of, peace. As a Buddhist, one of my main desires is remember we are all connected to one another and for all of us to be liberated from the suffering our world, each of us needs to be able to visualize and desire peace.
As more and more people seem to be finding ways to use the holiday season in its many incarnations as a way to divide us, I find this holiday to have great potential for us to remember we are in this together.
The truth is – seasons don’t need reasons. They come as they are with their unique weather patterns, foods, and frolic. They don’t come with rules, requirements, shame or expectations. They just show up. We, humans, are the ones who need reasons. It may just be the seasons’ view that we are welcome to any reason we can find. SO:
To my Christian friends for whom Jesus is the only reason: I hope you have an abundance of Jesus is your world this Christmas. May it be full of grace, mercy, sacrifice, and love.
To my Jewish friends who celebrate the festival of lights: I wish you glorious miracles and as many of those chocolate coins as you can handle.
To my friends who celebrate every other tradition I don’t know or understand well – I wish all the good things that come with them – and I wish you would teach me about them.
To my atheist/agnostic/apathetic friends who just want to have a party, eat good food, and sing loudly – Dude – What time should I show up? What can I bring? Do you have enough Chex Mix?
To my Buddhist friends and dear Sanghas – both the Open Heart Sangha and The Buddha Center (second life) – metta, love, and kindness – You’ll see me sitting with you. I’ll be the one in the Santa hat.
“And I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight, Merry Christmas to All, and to ALL a good night.”