A Buddhist Christmas 2009

In the past I wrote a lot of posts about Buddhism and Christmas, even making up some amusing fake Buddhist sutras related to Christmas. I’ve had a little fake Christmas Bodhi Tree too:

The Christmas Bodhi Tree

But this year I am admittedly very busy settling back in the US, holiday preparations and work-related responsibilities. So I have given it hardly any thought. Instead, I would like to direct your attention to a few posts I wrote last year that I think still apply:

Although the origins of Christmas lie within Western-Christian culture, Buddhism in general is quite adept at absorbing and “Buddhi-fying” aspects and traditions of cultures it encounters. I discussed this before in my discussion of Shingon Buddhism among other places. I know plenty of folks, converts and born Buddhists who observe it because it is a holiday for gift-giving, helping others and spending time with family. For this reason it certainly falls within the Buddhist notion of “wholesome” conduct. But just stay away from the eggnog, ok? ;)

Speaking of adaptation, in Japan, the holiday has somehow imported as a kind of romantic holiday for young couples similar to St. Valentine’s Day. The Christmas symbols are all there, but it has quickly evolved as a day for young couples to go on date, exchange gifts and, well, you get the idea. TV shows in Japan now have little Christmas specials, though nothing involving Charlie Brown and such, more just a chance to watch celebrities get into more wacky adventures and eat good food like every other Japanese TV show. They also have “christmas cake” which is not in the US, but is similar to what you’d see in the UK, Ireland and such.1

Who you are and however you choose to celebrate doesn’t really matter though to me. I once remember a conversation with a taxi driver2 in Ireland whose neighbor was a Chinese fellow from the People’s Republic, just newly immigrated. The taxi driver told me how his neighbor was so eager to learn about the holiday even though he wasn’t Christian, so the driver, who was Irish of course, showed him all about Christmas trees, gifts and so on and they became friends. They shared gifts and more. It was a really heartwarming story (he told it better than I am retelling it), but the point is that religious meaning aside, it is a much needed holiday this time of year for sharing and breaking bread with those around you. So there’s no reason why it can’t be a Buddhist holiday too, or whatever. I remember a good friend growing up who was Sikh and celebrated Christmas too. ;)

Anyway, regardless of whether you enjoy Christmas or not, I hope you will have a wonderful, peaceful season and many blessings.

Namu Amida Butsu

P.S. The Buddha figure under the tree is Vairocana Buddha, a souvenir I picked up on my visit to Todaiji in 2005. It is not Shakyamuni Buddha. I just liked this statue a lot. :)

P.P.S. A bit late today. Post was written already, but I messed up the scheduling feature on WordPress. :-p

1 It also leads to a rather tragic old joke in Japan about women being like christmas cakes: after the 25th (year), no one wants them anymore. I think Asian women are quite beautiful and age very well, so I think this is just old, mysoginistic thinking. Nowadays, the joke is outdated though since people have careers and marry later anyway.

2 Besides my office mates in Dublin, the people I miss most from Ireland are the taxi drivers. They were often the most fun and interesting people to talk to, and I often learned something new.

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5 Comments on “A Buddhist Christmas 2009”

  1. John says:

    Great Post! As a practicing Buddhist, I tend to see Christmas as a cultural event. I still celebrate the secular aspect since I was raised Christian but I like to apply my Buddhist outlook and faith throughout the day….my wife draws the line at me putting prayer flags on the tree! Or making Mandala Christmas Cards! Or Hotei with a sack full of goodies!



  2. Robert says:

    Happy Christmas! or Happy Saturnalia!

    I like Buddhism’s ability to co-exist. Or is that Japan’s ability to absorb and adapt other cultural ideas and make them their own?

    Putting aside the excesses of the season, the core idea of a celebration and goodwill to all is a valid one no matter what your beliefs and observances.

    On Christmas cake. My Japanese friends and family had no idea about the iced dense fruitcake I brought. They found it very strange. To them Christmas cake is a strawberry cream sponge cake.
    My biggest disappointment with Christmas in Japan was the lack of Christmas dinner, (even if I could have found a turkey and ham my in-laws don’t have an oven… KFC just isn’t up to the occasion! But I had great decorations at my wedding reception!)

  3. Doug says:

    HI guys, sorry for the belated reply (holiday stuff to do, etc, etc):

    John: Yeah, I liked your comment about it being a “cultural” holiday, which it is for me. My dad was asking about it this weekend, since he knows I am Buddhist, and that was what my wife said to him. I was very proud. :)

    Robert: I think Buddhism in general tends to do well in adapting to other cultures, given that Chinese culture is pretty different from Indian culture, but thrived, and thrives yet again in Anglo-American culture, as well as France, Ireland, even now Eastern European countires. I knew a friend in Ireland who was Polish and used to meditate with a Zen group in Poland, so it continues to spread and adapt. :)

    As for Christmas cake, I’ve never tried the UK/Irish verison, but I’ve seen Japanese christmas cakes and they’re not bad. The whole notion of a christmas cake is unusual in the US, but there’s more than one way to stuff yourself with fatty, surgary foods for Christmas. ;)

  4. Jonathan says:

    I loved this post! Great photo too.

  5. Doug says:

    Hi Jonathan! Welcome to the JLR. Glad you liked. :)

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