I don’t normally write on Christmas, but today, essay writing day happens to fall on Christmas. So, Merry Christmas! As I write that, I remember that phrase has become somewhat political. That’s a shame. My family is ostensibly Buddhist, so I grew with a Buddhist family living in a Jewish neighborhood in a predominantly Christian country. We always celebrated Christmas. For us it was not about religion, but it was about communion, festivity, and gifts. I hope we never give that up.
My family long ago stopped putting up Christmas trees. In truth, I haven’t seen my family for Christmas in a while. My visits home became increasingly scarce until COVID hit and sent me nearer to my family. I suppose in my parents view the Christmas tree was for the kids, and with the kids gone, there was no longer any need. Next year, I resolve to put up my own tree. If Christmas if for the kids, then I’m still a kid. I want a Christmas tree.
I didn’t buy any material Christmas gifts this year, except for myself. I am almost regretting that right now, but also realizing that in this stage of my life, the greatest gifts are energetic, not material. It might seem silly to suggest, but I believe the best gift I can give on Christmas is a merry vibe. All else is just icing on Santa’s cake. Let’s see if I can deliver.
On this Christmas, my wish to Santa is that my fellow Americans rediscover that they can break bread to build bridges across political gulfs. I challenge people not just to go through the motions biting their tongues. I’m not suggesting that anyone talks about politics at Christmas. That’s probably a bad idea. What I’m suggesting, more radically by the standards of present era, if not the past, is that one’s political views are not their human essence. Even gifts can be a distraction from genuine connection over humanness, versus someone’s ideas or an economic exchange. Perhaps a holiday from gifts and politics and generalizable idea.
A beautiful tradition across many spiritual and religious practices is to simply sit with another. Those moments when the conversation ends and the awkwardness begins are a reminder that simply being with others is at times a lost art for us. Many of us need to practice simply being with others.
Being in a car with someone for a long period of time can be one way. At some point, it’s hard to keep talking. It’s less awkward as there’s a task at hand and direct eye contact is (hopefully) not occurring while driving. In Theravada Buddhism, holidays tend to entail sitting silently with others. This also affords some communal time of togetherness, though people are still mostly keeping to themselves during these rituals.
A tantric Christmas celebration might include a time when people are not talking, but sharing a space with another, smiling and connecting, maybe even eye gazing. That might sound crazy, but expensive progressive private schools now teach children to eye gaze in elementary schools, and the practice is spreading about Gen Z via Tik Tok and other means. So maybe that’s not so crazy.
Whatever the means, I wish everyone some genuine connection today. May your heart merge into the hearth. It’s a warm, almost sunny Christmas in Washington, with the temperature in the 60s. It’s a striking day, because just two days ago, it was bitterly, complaint-worthy cold. As much as us east coasters love a snowy Christmas, I sense this warm, beautiful day is exactly the reminder and reset we need on this particular Christmas day.