A lot of people, manyyy of my friends, hate Christmas. And for very good reasons. For anyone who likes green grass and blue skies and clean air and healthy children…well, the sheer volume of crap we give to one another is sickening. Like too much ice cream.
The Christmas spirit and the Christmas many Americans love to hate are two different things. One is all about Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward Men (Women, and Children), what’s not to love about that?…and one is generosity gone mad: businesses, understandably, trying to take advantage of this truly holyday so they can pay the bills.
Christmas is not all about crass commercialism, of course. It’s about friends and family and snow and coziness and tradition.
I cherish this quiet, cozy, cold, warm time of year, which is bigger and older than Christmas. It’s a fundamental time of year, for returning to the basics of a life well-lived.
The below poem, Holydays, is adapted from something I wrote up a year ago.
I’m a half-WASP, half-Jew American Buddhist, and I like to have a Christmas Tree. Christmas trees date back to pagan Wintertime rituals. I don’t mind the shining star on Boulder’s Foothills, which many non-Christians regard as a symbolically religious imposition left over from the good old days when America was more of a Christian Country.
I say a star’s a star. I take it from the Christians, and I give it to all people. It’s Wintertime. It’s beautiful, glowing up on the snowy mountain. America is and always will be a melting pot—that’s why we have racial, religious tensions. That’s also why, once a generation or so, we have Suffrage, or the Civil Rights Act, or President-elect Barack Hussein Obama. Next generation, we will return (for we can not give that which is inherent) full rights under the law to our Gay and Lesbian brothers and sisters.
Growing up in an American Buddhist family, we always had a Christmas Tree, which we culled (legally!) from National Forest lands. My momma called it a Lineage Tree, and hung handmade ornaments featuring pictures of our Buddhist teachers along with old ornaments she’d grown up with, with her Christian Scientist mother. We hung paper snowflakes, and popcorn, and (organic) candy canes, and now I’m all grown up we prefer LED Christmas lights to the old bubbling kind I remember.
I love Christmas: I love simple, personal presents. I love cozyness, and world-quieting white snow, which slows us all down and makes even bustling cities feel like they were Norman Rockwell 1940s landscapes. I love fires, and dinners, and parties with old and new friends and children and elders, people I wouldn’t ordinarily get to talk with much. I don’t see my family, these days, they’re all spread about the US, and money is tight, and that always tinges this time with emptiness.
But I love sadness, as my mom’s Buddhist teacher said it’s the most genuine of human emotions, though we’re not to covet it.
I love, at this darkest time of the year, remembering that life is short, and it progresses quickly, and memory fades, and all that really matters is being a good person, and making the better of two iffy choices every step along the way. It’s a wonderful life, after all.
So let’s put the ‘holy‘ back in the Holidays. Let’s buy gifts that better the world, and support good people doing good things. Let’s put away our phones and laptops and TVs—if only briefly—and make some eye contact, and say the obvious: “I love you, and this is why.” Or, “I’m sorry things have been funny between us. Let’s be genuine, and have a good talk.” Because, before you know it, one third of your friends will have divorced moved away lost their hair become old people or even died of accidents or dis-ease or, you know, life. I’m still only 35, but I lose a friend a year, whether in China to an avalanche or right here at home, just a month ago, an only-recently-perfectly lovely healthy powerful friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer, Stage IV.
In Buddhism we say: this precious human birth is fragile. Make good use of it. Think about others as much as you do yourself and you yourself will find that elusive happiness. Meditate a few minutes, at least, each morning, before the ephemeral to-do lists that seem so important, the lusts and the anxieties, clutter up your snowy peaceful dozy mind. Don’t chase after the fast food of life: sex, bad food, money, big houses, cool cars. They don’t make you happy. The only thing that makes you happy is you sorting yourself out.
As my parents’ Buddhist teacher used to say, Good Luck, Sweetheart. We’ll need it.