Christmas, Meet Buddhism

Written by Amanda Whittal.

It's that time of year again. When the shopping malls flood with people, nightfall prompts a colourful illumination of city streets, and our hearts are filled with love and joy...but wait, why is 'love and joy' last on the list??

christmas lights

When you think of Christmas is this, by chance, the ranking of events in your mind? Priority number one, get the pressure of shopping out of the way, priority number two, organize yourself to put up the decorations, wrap the presents, bake the goodies, etc. Priority number three, if there's time at the end, enjoy some of the warm fuzzy feelings that this holiday season supposedly brings.

It is no secret that in our consumer-based society, Christmas has been twisted and exploited to the benefit of business, leaving a sad shell of its true roots.

A recent discussion with a friend triggered me to consider a partial solution to this from an entirely different perspective. She commented that when growing up, Christmas had always meant certain things: a tree, gifts, a specific dinner, etc. Without these things, it just 'wouldn't be Christmas'.

When she began to see the deeper significance of the holiday (in essence, to give and receive love), these other external actions became empty to her, and she explained that she could no longer enjoy them.

This seemed understandable to me, but upon later consideration, I began to wonder if her extreme reaction was necessary. Why couldn't she enjoy those external things for what they were, while maintaining the true spirit of the holiday within her heart? Did understanding the reality of Christmas need to entail a cynical view and certain withdrawal from the world?

Born and raised a Christian, I am well aware of Christmas and the corresponding traditions associated with it. As a student and teacher of Yoga on the other hand, a practice heavily influenced by Buddhism, I have adopted an additional view on things.

Essentially, in Yoga and Buddhism, one seeks the truth without being removed from the world. It is similar to Jesus' teaching to 'be in the world, but not of it'. When practicing yoga asana (postures), one stays connected to the peace and ease of being with the breath, while still experiencing all physical, mental and emotional sensations that arise in each pose. The key element is that the practicing individual feels these things fully, without being consumed by them.

Likewise, in Buddhism it is taught that in order to minimize and eliminate suffering, we should practice detachment. It is recommended to continue living in the world with all the experiences it offers, but recognizing these things as transient and unpredictable, thus letting go of any desires or expectations around them.

Coming back to my friend, my eventual thought was that perhaps she should try taking a Buddhist or Yogic approach to Christmas. Having the understanding that the season is simply about opening our hearts to those around us is her truth, while all the other actions surrounding it are merely extra. They are the sensations of the yoga pose; aspects to be noted and explored for what they are, while staying rooted in the unwavering truth that they are not the essence of it.

Similarly, from a Buddhist perspective, she could recognize the transient and unpredictable nature of the actions surrounding the holiday: the dinner may not turn out, the tree might not be like last year, the gifts may not be what were expected...yet none of these things are the cause of the joy of the season anyway, and are therefore ultimately irrelevant.

Why even consider the strange possibility of infusing Christmas with a Yogic or Buddhist spirit?

The fact that today's 'Christmas' often brings with it an abundance of stress and haste points directly to the fact that, as a society, we are very much out of touch with the inherent beauty and simple magnificence of this time of year. A conscious step back will help alleviate some, if not all, of this stress.

You don't need to abandon whatever customs you normally take part in, but instead of getting caught up in them, seek to stay connected to the pure meaning of the holiday, and allow your actions to stem effortlessly from here.

Breathe, notice, and allow yourself to enjoy the experience.

A few feel-good yoga poses don't hurt either ;)

Happy Holidays!

Related Links