Do Buddhists Celebrate Christmas?

Via Daniel Scharpenburg
on Dec 20, 2013
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buddhist christmas santa hat statue

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


About Daniel Scharpenburg

Daniel Scharpenburg lives in Kansas City with two kids and two cats. He teaches classes in Buddhist studies at the Rime Buddhist Center, where he's starting a Zen meditation group in the near future. He's studied with a wide variety of different Buddhist teachers and is a dedicated follower of the Zen tradition. He received personal instruction from Shi Da Dao, in the Caodong (Soto) tradition, and he has served as jisha (personal attendant) to Karen Maezen Miller on a Zen retreat. He's the writer of Notes from a Buddhist Mystic Find out more about Daniel on his blog and connect with him on Facebook and  Twitter.


9 Responses to “Do Buddhists Celebrate Christmas?”

  1. danielschar says:

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

  2. andy says:

    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.

  3. Drew says:

    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?

  4. Daniel Scharpenburg says:

    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.

  5. William says:

    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.

  6. danielschar says:

    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.

  7. danielschar says:

    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.

  8. Deborah says:

    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?