Sheetal Shah, Om Sweet Om
One of the core
beliefs of Hinduism is pluralism - the idea that there is more than one path to
the Divine. With that comes a sense of
acceptance of varying beliefs. And I believe, it also allows Hindus to
acclimate rather well into societies where they form a minority.
Throughout my childhood, my parents put up a Christmas tree in an effort to ensure that I didn't feel "left out." They understood the excitement and holiday spirit as well as a child's need to fit in with her peers. We woke up on Dec 25, and my parents would wish me a Merry Christmas as I raced downstairs to open my presents. At the same time, they very much kept our Hindu traditions alive, and we celebrated Diwali - the Festival of Lights - every year, just as we did Christmas. Eventually, they began transitioning the celebration - Diwali became even more festive in our household; they began giving me gifts me on Diwali instead of Christmas; and late in my teens they finally asked if I would be alright if we didn't put a Christmas tree that year.
And while my parents no longer put up a Christmas tree, and my husband I don't either, we still very much revel in the holiday spirit and enjoy walking past the tree at Rockefeller (despite the insane crowds). There is something very beautiful during this season - perhaps more due to everyone's festive mood than the actual celebration of something religious.
Strictly speaking, for Hindus, the last two-three weeks of December do not have a particular significance, so the debate over "merry christmas" or "happy holidays" is rather muted. While many important festivals and religious holidays are celebrated throughout the year, Diwali is one of the grandest and celebrated by Hindus worldwide. As Hindus follow a lunar calendar, the date of Diwali (and all of the festivals that lead up to it) changes each year, but it generally falls between late October and early November. Our New Year immediately follows Diwali. So, from a purely religious perspective, the end of December is not celebratory for Hindus.
I do find it heartening that as Americans we have become more aware and sensitive of the beliefs of those of us who are minorities. And in that light, I always wish my friends "Happy Holidays." At the same time, coming from a pluralistic tradition, I am not offended when someone wishes me Merry Christmas nor do I have any qualms about returning the wish.
Sheetal offers a unique Hindu American perspective at her blog Om, Sweet Om.