Merry Buddhist Christmas!
Christmas is ubiquitous. Even my Buddhist-affiliated university puts up a Christmas tree in the lobby. It’s a good chance for the international students to participate in a mainstay of American culture. Harry “my-parents-are-Buddhist” housemate put one up in our dining room. He doesn’t want his four-year old son, Nathan, to feel left out. When some Christmas carolers came around to the house where our chaplains’ holiday party was taking place, two of my classmates reciprocated with a Buddhist chant in Pali followed by hearty wishes of “Merry Christmas!”
I’ve had my own ambivalent relationship with Christmas. Since leaving the church when I was fifteen, I’ve stubbornly refused to attend Christmas service with my mother. Now that I’ve finally gotten to a place where I might have actually gone, my mother has left the church also (“They’re too liberal!”). I’ve finally gotten over my lingering Christian resentment and started to appreciate other religious holidays. Despite this, there’s very little “Christ” in my Christmas.
The thing I find most troubling about Christmas now is the consumerism. A few years ago, I convinced my family to try a “no-gifts” Christmas, which was quickly modified into a “$10-limit” Christmas, but no one was very satisfied even with that. We haven’t tried it again. To make the consumption even easier, Amazon makes a plugin for Google’s Chrome web browser that puts a little icon up in the corner and lets you add anything from any online website to your Amazon wishlist. How convenient.
Most years, I have little to buy and less to buy it with. This year, I’m finally gainfully employed and have taken the opportunity not only to spoil my family and friends a little, but Colin’s family as well, which is a little larger than mine. This was shopping unlike I’d ever shopped before. Most of it was done online and the gifts shipped automatically to their intended recipients. I pulled my debit card out of my wallet so often I was afraid it’d wear smooth, but they appear to be made of sturdier stuff. I’m sure there’s some little flag on my checking out for more transactions in a month than I used to have in a year. But you know what – it’s been fun.
I’ve enjoyed giving trinkets to my friends, teachers, and coworkers. I like seeing the puzzlement on their faces when they try to figure out what it is before unwrapping it. My family is easy to shop for. I’ve enjoyed finding presents for Colin’s family, whom I don’t know so well yet, so I’ve had to do some hard thinking and take a few risks. Then there was Colin’s present, another fun and creative endeavor I’m looking forward to giving. I know some people see it as an obligation, but I enjoy the opportunity to be generous in the true Buddhist spirit. I don’t get to do it that often.
But I’m also ready for the shopping to be over. I think I did just enough. Now I want to sit back, relax, hang with family, maybe in front of a fireplace with a glass of wine and my honey beside me, which is about what I should be doing when you read this. That’s the really appealing part of the holiday. So yeah, I’m Buddhist, but bring on the Christmas! Next year I want to do Hanuka, too!