It’s potentially an odd time of year for a Zen Buddhist, at least it has been for this Zennist. I didn’t grow up Buddhist, and my childhood was more than a couple years ago, so “Merry Christmas” was a pretty standard greeting at the end of December. It was ubiquitous, and subliminally assumed that everyone celebrated Christmas, and if you didn’t, it didn’t matter much anyway. Little thought was put into the notion that anyone wouldn’t celebrate it. After all, everyone was off work, so ergo, everyone must celebrate it. Well, except for the Chinese restaurants and movie theaters, and a couple other businesses. But, they didn’t celebrate anyway, being non-Christian and all, so no big deal.
Then, eventually people began to understand that Chanukah wasn’t the Hebrew word for Christmas, it wasn’t marked at the same time, and noted for something really different. So, “Happy holidays” was rolled out, there was even a song by some crooner, and hey, New Year day is just around the corner, so there were two holidays to be happy about, so that was fine. It was even acknowledged that other people celebrated something different, and wishing them any kind of Christmas made a lot of assumptions that demonstrated a lack of understanding about how others might feel about what was essentially not “their” holiday. Santa Claus was for everybody, he was an equal opportunity chimney slider, so slipping into “ Merry Christmas” every now and then wasn’t terrible, just an autopilot statement, much like “Have a nice day.”.
There came a time after I started practicing Zen fully that “Merry Christmas” was right out, and even “happy holidays” seemed somehow dualistic. There were even a couple years where I didn’t celebrate at all. I was living alone, and it was really just another day. In a way, it was very liberating, not having all the demands of family and present buying and all the other baggage that comes along with it. It showed my total non-attachment to a holiday that on so many levels was definitely not Buddhist, at least so I thought. And that was fine for that time, I suppose it was something I needed to do to further my practice. Eventually I did get invited to some dinners, but the words Merry and Christmas were never uttered by me, not next to each other in that sequence anyway. I wasn’t declaring “war on Christmas” any more than I was the winter solstice; it just didn’t feel like “mine” to celebrate.
Eventually I saw that feeling had nothing to do whatsoever whether I thought of it, or anything else, as “mine.” Whenever I did that, it was setting me in opposition to “yours,” which rarely works out well. Sure, it’s a good thing that I climb into my bed instead of yours, so I’m not getting all “We Are the World,” “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing,” attached to the Absolute here. But neither am I attaching to the Relative where “this” doesn’t intertwine inextricably with “that.” It should probably be written as thisandthat, but it’s the spaces between words and thought that help make sense of any of it.
Likewise, when I start thinking of “this” day as holy, that I start appending any meaning onto something that is totally arbitrary, that the potential for problems come. Woody Guthrie didn’t write “This Land is My Land, That Land is Your Land, so Get the Hell Out of My Land.” There are all those people throughout the world to whom December 25 means nothing more than that it’s not the 24th anymore. That some people are now virtually demanding that everyone wish everyone else a “Merry Christmas,” and that anyone who doesn’t is a subversive and should “Get the Hell Out of My Land” strikes me as a textbook example of greed anger and delusion, and not just in a Buddhist sense.
There’s really no reason to think of Monday as worse than Saturday, or December 25th is superior to the 26th. Zen practice has taught me that it’s not one, and not two. So if someone will be happier when wished a Merry This, I’ll wish them one. If they will appreciate a Happy, Wonderful, have a Happy. If they’re a little down on one day or the day after, wish them a whatever will make them feel better that day. If I’m paying attention, I’ll notice when someone leans to heavily on the “not one” side, and who is a little too “not two.” If in some skillful way I can help them think of any day being a good day, I should do that.
May all beings be happy every day, not on just an arbitrarily chosen one.
‘‘Tis the season to be jolly,” right? When ‘tisn’t it?