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December 27, 2014

Sweeping up the Christmas Blues.

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Now that another Christmas has come and gone, it’s a perfect time to try to figure out why Christmas has strayed so far and how we can get it back on the right path.

I must confess, I have never been particularly fond of Christmas. Much of this is due to some musty baggage I have been lugging around since childhood. Split family + holidays = stress.

I realize that both of my parents did a fantastic job of trying to make Christmas exciting and special for us, but I don’t think they ever understood how much anxiety the scheduling, shifting and time sharing caused for my sisters and I. There was always some lingering guilt about spending Christmas Eve with one and not the other, Christmas morning in one world, and not the other.

Nonetheless, I have done my best over the years to make amends with Christmas, especially since having children of my own. Now that I am divorced as well, I can appreciate the Christmas complexities from a whole new perspective.

In all honesty, not all of my Christmas memories are negative, so every year I get into the Christmas groove and make it a festive occasion for my kids, without getting wrapped up in the commercial madness. But, there are a couple of things about Christmas that still cause me some emotional, intellectual and spiritual unrest.

First of all, we must go through a logical sequence to figure out what Christmas is really about. Christmas is, obviously, a Christian holiday. It has Christ written all over it. It has become clear that the actual date of Christmas has more to do with pagan traditions than the actual birth of Christ…but we can let that slide for now.

Being Christian means, literally, being a follower of Christ. For Christians and non-Christians, studying and living by Christ’s example is a worthwhile endeavor. But, instead of celebrating Christ and his message of unconditional love and compassion, we bury Christmas under an avalanche of anti-values that surely has Jesus shaking his head in sorrow. It’s more than just the fact that Christmas has gone commercial. We have let Christ(mas) be bludgeoned with greed and gluttony.

We have conditioned ourselves to believe (thanks to violent marketing that begins while kids are still chewing on their Halloween candy) that it’s alright to spend more than we should, because it’s Christmas. It’s alright to eat more and gain 10 pounds over the holidays…because it’s Christmas. It’s alright to have a few more drinks than we normally would…because it’s Christmas. It’s alright to spoil our children, spoil ourselves, lose our focus…because it’s Christmas. But, it’s not alright.

Christ taught us impossibly valuable lessons about humility, austerity, empathy and compassion. A true Christmas celebration might be one in which we fast, pray, meditate, commit random acts of kindness and give things away (things that we already have and treasure, that is much mightier than a store bought gift). We can get there, but it will require a lot of openness to change. It can all begin one person, one family, one heart at a time.

There is a part of Christmas though that does warm the soul, and this is the part that confuses me most. When we get down to the homestretch, when the buying, cooking, planning and partying becomes incredibly frenetic, a blanket of peace falls over us for those last few days of the Christmas season. This what we have come to call the Christmas Spirit.

With no warning signs, people smile more, become more courteous, more generous, more caring. Drivers in traffic smile at one another, because they are under the spell of the Christmas Spirit. Shoppers stop pushing in line because they have swallowed a shot of the Christmas Spirit. This is magnificent; we suddenly and inexplicably become more Christ like.

But my confusion comes from this: if the Christmas Spirit feels so good and fills us to the brim with love as thick and sweet (and spiked) as eggnog, why do we only let it last for a few days? As soon as the wrapping paper is picked up and the last plate washed, we start to come down from this Christmas high, and on December 26th everything goes back to the way it was.

In the Buddhist tradition, the mystical sensation of the Christmas Spirit is called mindfulness. Living by love, compassion, kindness, tolerance, patience and empathy is the foundation of mindful living. The difference is there is no season for mindfulness.

Here is what we can do: we can forget about greed, gluttony and rampant consumption and focus on the teachings of Christ. We can hop on that Christmas Spirit and ride it like a surfboard through January, February, March…and the rest of the year. We can practice mindfulness every day, in every thought, word and action. Deep down, we all know that Jesus and the Buddha came to teach us one lesson. Let’s not let doctrine and dogma get in the way. Love is the way.

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Author: Peter Schaller

Editor: Travis May

Photo: Tu/Flickr

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