Buddhist Reflection: Buddhism & Christmas

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My friend asked me the other day  “Have you put up your Christmas tree?”

My answer, “Of course I did! Mine went up the weekend after Thanksgiving.”

Yes. I participate in Christmas traditions.

I say participate rather than celebrate because I don’t believe in the holiday from a Christian perspective, and for a few reasons. The most obvious one is because I’m not Christian. Also Christmas has its roots in pagan tradition. It was taken and transformed in order to convert non Christians. It’s no coincidence that Christmas happens to fall around the Winter Solstice or that many of the traditions (tree decorating, drinking and parties, fertility–nativity– worship) are one in the same. Even theologians will admit that it’s not likely that Jesus was born in December, but rather in April. Regardless of all of that I still participate in Christmas. I put my tree up and buy gifts. I send cards and play Christmas music. I cook and drink and spend time with family.

During my first Christmas after I converted I wrote  about what Christmas means to me as a Buddhist. Regardless of the history behind the holiday Christmas is all about giving. More than any time of year you will find people most in the spirit of giving. Of course Christmas means shopping for gifts for loved ones but it also means toy and food drives or other forms of community service.

Giving. The philosophy that resonates most with this is the Buddhist concept of  dana. Dana is the practice of cultivating generosity. It’s a core Buddhist concept, an essential part of the practice. The idea is unattached and unconditional giving. Giving without the expectation of receiving anything in return. It’s thought that this type of practice purifies and transforms the mind. It puts us most in touch with letting go.

The practice mainly manifests in Buddhist monastic life. Buddhist monks literally live off of the generosity of the community in which they reside in. Furthermore they do not take what is not offered. If they are not provided with food, shelter, clothing, etc they go without. Essentially this means that their survival depends on the generosity of the community and in return the community receives the spiritual services the monks provide.

Generosity should be practiced at all times. Yet I love that there is a time of year set aside specifically to honor it. Christmas reminds us of our connection with others and we celebrate that connection. The lesson that Christmas provides is the reason why I, as a Buddhist, recognize it.

 

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