Zen Art

Zen Christmas

Mahayana Buddhism is a vehicle with room enough for every one to get on board. One meaning of Zen is “all-embracing.” In Zen Buddhism, if something has great benefit to all, we use it. If a local custom is a valuable tool for awakening, we incorporate it. Although Christmas has been commercialized almost out of existence in the Western world, the original message—a celebration of light coming into the world ushering in an era of peace and brotherhood—remains at core of the festival. Christianity itself in fact baptized the ancient Roman festival Saturnalia— “Birthday of the Invincible Sun”—and made it part of the liturgical calendar.

The Christmas season in the United States is the one period when—with the exception of Black Friday—most people treat each other better than at any other time of the year. Christmas is a time when people are supposed to take time off from their grudges, petty arguments, and stupid fighting. Up until modern times, most European armies at war would declare a Christmas truce and in a few cases soldiers would visit each other in the trenches to offer greetings.

Christmas is a festive time of the year. People give each other gifts—their family, their friends, their teachers, to the mail deliverer, the doorman, the hairdresser, a favorite waiter or waitress. I see Santa Claus as a Christian Hotei, big-bellied, and carrying a bunch of hoped-for gifts in his huge sack.

Even though I am a Buddhist, and live in a place where it has never snowed—the temperature on Christmas day is always in the low 80’s, the weather usually bright and sunny—I like to celebrate Christmas. I enjoy giving gifts. Over the years, I have known many people who give or were given a Zenga as a Christmas gift. To me, that makes perfect sense.

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