The Five-Minute Buddhist Books

Recommended Host

A Buddhist Christmas

(If you have submitted a question, please be patient, I’m starting to get backlogged. Keep sending them in, but be patient, I’ll answer them all as soon as possible.)

Question:

Santa Brian Xmas 2007

Santa Brian Xmas 2007

I’ve been listening to the podcast since summertime, and I guess I am a new Buddhist. What do I do about celebrating Christmas? Is that allowed?

Answer:

Christians have Christmas, Jews have Hanukkah, people of African descent have Kwanzaa and others celebrate the Solstice or the New Year. Everybody has a holiday to celebrate except Buddhists, who don’t get a December holiday.

There’s nothing scriptural about this problem that I ever heard of, so it’s pretty much just a matter of judgment. Here’s my situation: I’ve been a Buddhist for more than a decade, and I’ve put up a Christmas tree and bought and received presents every single year. I go with my niece and nephew to see Santa Claus, and recently went to see them both in their Christmas Pageant. It was a very well-done Christmas Pageant, I hasten to add. I play Christmas music on the radio, at least until I can’t take it anymore, and never fail to watch Charlie Brown’s Christmas Special and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer on TV. Last year, in Japan, I even dressed up and played Santa (link to that story) for one of the Kindergartens in Hiroshima (see picture of “Santa-Brian”).

I don’t focus much on the all the “Baby Jesus” stuff, but I’m not one to get offended either. I realize that the majority of Americans are Christian, and I’m not about to deny anyone their choices. Fortunately, my extended family is not particularly religious, so it’s not really a big issue at the big family party. I do all my traditional Christmas stuff, and I keep right on doing my regular Buddhist stuff as well.

Santa Meditating

Santa Meditating

Again, there is no “official answer” on this, just my opinion, but it seems to me that if you have been raised with traditions that you are used to and comfortable with, stick with them. Changing is only going to cause needless suffering, and doing what you have come to love is a good thing.

Much of the holiday season is based on helping others, caring for the poor, donating to charities, goodwill towards men, peace on Earth, and these are great Buddhist concepts. Materialism and greed, going into debt, drinking parties, family fights, well… not so much.

Remember the five precepts, and don’t do anything that is going to cause any suffering this holiday season. Be mindful of what you are doing, but other than that, enjoy yourself!

I would assume my readers have plenty of opinions on this subject, as well as stories about how they deal with the holidays. Please post them in the comment section below!

16 comments to A Buddhist Christmas

  • Robb Caudle

    Hi we celebrate a Buddhist holiday in Dec, we celebrate on 08Dec Buddha`s enlightenment day. The day before 07Dec we had a Goma fire celebration where we wrote down all the problems between us being enlightened and burnt them in a fire.

    Regards,

    robert.

  • Yes, December 8th is “Bodhi Day” the anniversary of Buddha’s Enlightenment under the Bodhi tree. I was going to mention it, but it didn’t really seem close enough date-wise to mention it here. Thanks for bringin it up though.

  • There are few relgious traditions that do not celebrate.

    Even secularism has its holidays (May Day, Luther King, etc)and even in Saudi Arabia there is eid al Adhar, which Muslims the world over are celebrating, including the serious and iconoclastic.

    I read that Cromwell, like a proto-Taliban advocate, abolished ‘Christmas’, seeing it as a Catholic heresy. Sufis celebrate the ‘prophet’s’ birthday, dogmatic Muslims do not.

    In respect of Buddhist countries (and they perhaps have more celebrations than in the West) the question is: are there the same kind of polemics among them as there was and is in the Montheistic tradition regarding specific ‘events’ and ‘days’?

    If there is, then the nice practical advice about Christmas, may need to be approached cautiously.

  • Serena

    Hi!
    I was born and raised Catholic, but now consider myself Buddhist (for only the past year or so).

    I do celebrate Christmas, but not in the Christian sense, I suppose. I view Jesus as a great spiritual leader, or perhaps bodhisattva.

    More than anything, I view it as a time to get together with friends and family and enjoy eachothers company.

  • Serena, I accept that as a sensible option. Not all events should be celebrated. In England, my home country, we have ‘Bomb Fire Night’.

    It is riddled with anti-Catholic prejudice and we take a figure of Guy Fawkes ( a Catholic Martyr who tried to blow up Parlement)and throw him on top of the Fire and ‘cheer’.

    As a kid I loved it, even made a few pound by dressing up as ‘Guy’outside pubs, where the odd drunk Irishman would,perhaps with a bit of Catholic compassion, throw the little Guy a shiling or two. In Spain, much of their Catholic festivals celebrate the end of the ‘Moors’ (ie., Muslims).

  • Gambatte

    Actually, ‘Bonfire’ night.
    In some areas of Yorkshire, where I’m from, its actually celebrated as the first time someone entered Parliament with honest intentions! (Fawkes was a Yorkshireman)
    Seriously, its an event which has all but lost any of its original significance. Its a reason to gather outside, watch fireworks whilst eating ‘Bonfire toffee’ and hotdogs

  • David

    I enjoy christmas as both a fun time with friends and family and also a time when lots of people demonstrate outward compassion for others. I tend to think of christmas as a pagan festival which has been adopted by the christian church. Here in England it was pagan first after all. I think every traddition has its own “winter festival” – hannukah, eade, christmas, diwali etc. I do try to observe the main buddhist festivals of Sangha day, Buddha day and Dhamma day.

    whatever you celebrate, have a good one :0)

  • From Jesse:

    Gambatte,

    I am not sure why I wrote ‘Bomb fire’-but I was meditating before writing the post. I wonder, on a subconscious level, if the ‘war on terror’ is getting to me?

    Maybe I becoming ‘dyslexic’ since using Dailybuddhism. God knows best-ooops!-Buddha and myself knows…(SMILE)

    Anyhow, the French ‘bon’(good) perhaps should declare how the ‘Yorkshirman’ and Catholic’s life was celebrated in England.

  • Robin

    I know this will probably get me into trouble but I see Christmas as a cultural event and not a religious celebration. As a long time Buddhist I see it as a time for family, peace, and giving.

    My family has been helping serve Christmas dinners at the Salvation Army to the poor and homeless for the last couple of years. Always a great time.
    Last year I met a lady and her daughter, both also volunteering to serve Christmas dinners. They were both Muslim, originally from Iran. This was one of several soup kitchens they had been helping. It thrilled me to see this lady helping poor and homeless people celebrate Christmas, a day that she didn’t even believe in. To me that’s the “Christmas spirit”

  • Jeff

    I “celebrate” [to a degree] all things conducive to happiness, contentment, love and that are helpful in bringing about spiritual awakening and understanding; giving, sharing, compassion, oneness of mankind… Christmas, from the traditional Christian celebration of Christ and His love, to the less religious celebrations of sharing, caring, family and community complete with “On earth peace, good will to men” is, for this Buddhist, well worth celebrating.

  • Catherine

    Guy Fawkes is actually protestant. Thats why we don’t celebrate it in Northern Ireland because it’s mostly protestant folks and they don’t like the whole ‘burning of a fellow protestant’ and not being able to blow up the catholic queen. So for the ‘drunk irishman’ thing, he probably gave money because he’s grateful that the queen wasn’t blown up and Guy Fawkes got burnt as a result. >:|

  • Steven

    @Catherine – Guy Fawkes was actually a Catholic and the plot was targeting the Protestant King James I. I’m not sure why you dont celebrate it in Northern Ireland but it is celebrated in the rest of the UK and some parts of the Commonwealth (maybe due to ‘religious’ tensions).

  • Tim

    I celebrate everyday. Every day is special and can bring happiness, joy, and gratitude.

  • Casey

    If you celebrate Christmas, you are Christian. Even if you consider it a pagan festival or “time of giving” or such, your children will eventually associate fun present day with Christianity. A real Buddhist does not celebrate Christmas. Why must we be weak in our spiritual choices? Jews don’t celebrate Christmas. I am saddened when people regard Buddhism as not a real religion, calling it a philosophy. I am proud of my Buddhist family, and I will not give in to the hype of the holiday season.

  • Casey, you have every right to feel that way, but I can’t help but notice a tone of hostility there towards Christianity. It’s easy to bash on the Christians, but there’s a lot of good in Christianity, and I think Christmas exemplifies that idea well.

    And to say Jews don’t celebrate Christmas? Apparently we know different sets of Jews 🙂

  • Lexie French

    WHY NOT THINK OF CHRISTMAS AS CHRIST’S BODHI-DAY

You must be logged in to post a comment.