Do Buddhists Celebrate Christmas?

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Once in a while, people ask me this question: “Do you celebrate Christmas?”

They know I’m a Buddhist and they associate Christmas with Christianity.

But I still think it’s a weird question. It doesn’t bother me, really, but I think it’s weird.

I do celebrate Christmas. In my house, we hang lights, put up a tree and exchange gifts. My kids even believe in Santa.

All of this, even though I don’t believe in Christ.

Is Christmas a religious holiday? I tend to think it isn’t anymore, if it ever was.

Santa, Reindeer, Mistletoe, Christmas Trees; none of these things have anything to do with Jesus. I wonder how many people spend Christmas having quality time with their families and how many people spend it in a church. I know there are a lot more songs about Santa and snow than there are about Jesus. I think that doesn’t really matter because it’s more about the virtues Jesus represents than it is about Jesus, but maybe a believer would be more qualified to comment on that than I am.

It is a United States Federal Holiday. Is this because most Americans are Christian? Or is there some other reason?

People who are just a little bit religious celebrate it too, as do people that aren’t religious at all. It isn’t just the devout.

To me, it’s a secular holiday.

We celebrate good will, kindness, and generosity. These are Buddhist virtues as well as Christian ones.

So, in a sense, it’s a good holiday for Buddhists too. We emphasize these virtues constantly in Buddhism. Compassion and love are fundamental principles in Buddhism. Generosity is one of the six perfections.

Christmas is so powerful because of these virtues that it celebrates, I think. It’s also a holiday where we spend quality time with our families, enjoying each other’s company. Of course we just did that a month ago for Thanksgiving, but we can do it again. Quality time with our families is probably a good idea. Some people only see their families on Christmas.

As far as I know, every Buddhist that I know celebrates Christmas.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.


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Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: courtesy of the author

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Daniel Scharpenburg

Daniel Scharpenburg lives in Kansas City. He’s been practicing Buddhism for nearly 20 years. He teaches at the Open Heart Project Sangha and is a Zen Teacher (Fashi) in the Dharma Winds Zen Order. His main focus is on mindfulness practices rooted in the earliest Zen teachings and compassion practices rooted in the Bodhisattva Tradition. He has taken Bodhisattva Vows and Brahmajala Precepts and he is affiliated with the Zen Buddhist Order of Hsu Yun.
Find out more about Daniel on his blog and connect with him on Facebook

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anonymous Dec 25, 2014 3:35am

Christmas is but a relic of the worship of the pagan god known by the Persians and Romans as Mithra or Mithras, relabeled with a Christian name.The truth about Christmas's origins is simple: One of the ancient world's most popular celebrations—a festival that originated in sun worship and honoring pagan gods—was renamed and reborn as traditional Christianity's most popular celebration.Most of the 2 billion professing Christians on earth today observe Christmas and other extrabiblical holidays without ever giving them a second thought.
Most will never take the time to look into their beliefs to learn their true origins, though information such as that can be found in virtually any modern library or on the Internet. Though the basic facts about the origins of Christmas are spelled out in almost any reputable encyclopedia, most people will not look long and hard at their traditions and customs to see if they square with the Bible.It's especially ironic to see the articles that appear in many newspapers each year —often written by well-intentioned but misguided clergymen—who recite the pagan origins of Christmas and its trappings but conclude that it doesn't matter because it's now celebrated for a good cause. We have to wonder how they can reconcile that view with the truth from the bible.
What about your beliefs? Jesus Christ says that those who worship God "must worship [Him] in spirit and truth" (John:4:24). Are your beliefs and worship firmly grounded in biblical truth, or in ancient fables?

anonymous Dec 24, 2014 12:31am

Something I wrote for our Sangha:

anonymous Dec 21, 2013 8:29am

I agree with most of what you say. Except the part of not knowing Buddhists that do not celebrate Christmas. I have many friends that are Buddhists AND do not celebrate Christmas.

Our family celebrates Solstice and have a nice dinner together with small gifting and discussing the impermance of life as illustrated by the change of seasons.

The rest of our efforts are put into helping others during this season and enjoying each other’s company.

Have a wonderful season and may your life be filled with compassion and love.

    anonymous Dec 21, 2013 11:15am

    to be clear, I didn't say there are none, I only said that the ones I know celebrate Christmas. To be more clear, I've met monks from other countries and I imagine they don't celebrate Christmas, so I suppose I was probably mistaken anyway.

anonymous Dec 20, 2013 8:34pm

Help… Okay… good concept… however what's up with the "I don't believe in Christ" comment? Sounds a little like Christians saying "I don't believe in Buddha" How does this attitude move us forward?

    anonymous Dec 21, 2013 11:13am

    I don't understand your point, Drew. I can celebrate our differences and respect another religion without joining it myself. Are you Unitarian Universalist? I am not.

anonymous Dec 20, 2013 5:37pm

Not forgetting england, Australia, new Zealand, ireland, canada, Jamaica and the other host of countries that as a society celebrate Christmas and have a large Buddhist following.

    anonymous Dec 20, 2013 8:35pm

    Not forgetting, of course. But I don’t have much experience with those countries, I don’t know if they are quite as Christmas obsessed as America is.

anonymous Dec 20, 2013 1:59pm

Admittedly, people in other countries probably don't get asked this question as often as people in the United States, if ever.

Chip Hokanson Nov 12, 2017 9:21am

The spirit of Buddhism allows you to not worry about all, harm no others, harm no thing and do not harm yourself. Have a Merry Chirstmas!

Asra Dauserns Dec 25, 2016 2:45pm

I am currently in a Buddhist country - Cambodia - they do not celebrate Christmas here. It is not a public holiday - as their ' Christmas' is celebrated in April (I think). They do hang lights and put up trees - but only in the hotels - it's not celebrated by the country as a holiday as their calendar is different because it's the Buddhist calendar not the Christian one. I had a discussion about this only this morning with the hotel manager :-)

Erwin Su Dec 20, 2016 6:57pm

Why not, since togetherness and emptyiness is then One.