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WWSD: Can Buddhists celebrate Christmas?

i_dont_exist_tshirt-p235533617498462127uh8q_400.jpgdd.gifphoto courtesy of

dd.gifby Lodro Rinzler


Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment at age 35 he was a confused
twenty and thirty-something looking to learn how to live a spiritual
life. He had an overbearing dad, expectations for what he was supposed
to do with
his life, drinks were flowing, lutes were playing, and the women were
all about him. Some called him L.L. Cool S. I imagine close friends
just referred to him as Sid. 

Many people look to Siddhartha as an example of someone who attained nirvana, a buddha. But here we look at a younger Sid as
a confused guy struggling with his daily life. What would he do as a
young person trying to find love, cheap drinks, and fun in a city like New York? How would he combine Buddhism and dating? We all make mistakes on our spiritual journey; here is where they’re discussed.


week I’ll take on a new question and give some advice based on what I
think Sid, a confused guy working on his spiritual life in a world of
major distraction, would do. Because let’s face it, you and I are Sid. 

Have a question for this weekly column? E-mail it here and Lodro will probably get to it!

As a Buddhist this time of year always bums me out. By and large Christmas has become this commercialized holiday where you have to get lots of gifts for people. How would Sid celebrate Christmas? Would he buy gifts?


On November 28th of last year Jdimytai Damour, a worker at a Long Island Walmart, opened up the store for the morning and was trampled to death by a crowd fighting their way in to take advantage of discount goods. According to one witness that spoke with the New York Daily News “When [other employees] were saying they had to leave, that an employee got killed,
people were yelling, ‘I’ve been on line since Friday morning!’ They kept shopping.” The term “senseless death” gets bandied around a good deal in the media but Jdimytai Damour’s was beyond senseless. It was an unnecessary tragedy.


Needless to say, I doubt Sid would be up at 5:00 AM on Black Friday trying to fight his way to the first Nintendo Wii he could procure for his kid. If Sid were with us today I think he would appreciate the core values of the Christmas season without getting swept up by the frenzy that sometimes surrounds it. While not a Christian, he could celebrate the life of Jesus and the example he left us of compassion and wisdom. He could help a friend decorate her tree in order to bring a sense of warmth and good cheer to her home. I bet he would even think of a great Secret Santa present for a co-worker.

If Sid were exchanging presents he would not get gifts for the sake of crossing someone off a list or spend days trying to get the best deal on an item but he would likely take the time to truly think through how to help improve the lives of his friends and family. We too can take a step back from the holiday craziness and reflect on how we can help the people closest to us. Such reflection may lead to the perfect gift but more likely will lead to a sense of appreciation for all that we have been given.


As was touched on in last week’s post about how Sid would treat the homeless we should not get too hung up on a perfect gift but focus more on the act of giving itself. When we extend our generosity to others we also grow as a person. When we reflect on what the individual we’re giving to means to us we are literally extending our heart to them while offering a token sign of appreciation for our connection.

When we relax about the season and take the time to connect with our heart then we develop a gift that is truly meaningful both to the recipient and to ourself. For our niece with a lot of energy and a smidgen of grace maybe we can give her dance lessons. For our sibling who is going through a rough time at home we can take them out of town for a weekend. It is not so much what we give this time of year, but that we give with warmth and compassion in our heart. When you extend yourself selflessly to others you reconnect with the spirit of this holiday, with or without a gift. The gift of your heart is the sort of Christmas present Sid could get behind.

Comments read comments(2)
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Anan E. Maus

posted December 12, 2009 at 12:15 am

Rohatsu also comes around this time of year, so many Zen practitioners certainly engage the spiritual life by doing meditations, long meditations, retreats and etc.
So, that is certainly a spiritual way of celebrating the season.
There are a couple of Zen anecdotes I recall, in which Zen masters commented upon the New Testament, saying Christ must have been a Buddha or close to it.
So, as in the Christian book, “Christian Zen” about the similarities between Christianity and Zen Buddhism, so too, there is respect from the other side about the spiritual virtues of Christianity.
Our modern celebration of the holiday, in America, does not have that much connection to the real Christ of the scriptures.
However, beyond the shopping and presents given, I have always noticed, at Christmas time, a greater fellow feeling and peace in the community. People do seem to open doors more and naturally gravitate towards other acts of kindness. Many folks make a conscious effort to do volunteer work around the holidays (I used to volunteer at a local foodbank and they were always getting lots of requests around the holidays for volunteering opportunities). So, I don’t think all of the spiritual intent is lost. I think it is and has been a time of greater love and understanding. Not absolutely, but to some degree…and a noticeable one.

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Steve DeVane

posted November 10, 2010 at 9:45 am

I wholeheartedly agree with your thoughts about the importance of thinking about the person to whom we are giving a gift. This has the effect of lessening the commercialization of the season, while ensuring that your present will truly come from the heart. And, as you point out, it has the added benefit of helping us appreciate what we have.

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