If people know you’re a Buddhist, they sometimes wonder if you celebrate Christmas. In my case, the answer is yes. If that makes me a shabby sort of Buddhist, well, that was the case anyway. It’s necessary to describe Christmas as a Christian holiday, but that may not be sufficient. It’s position in the calendar is pagan for one thing. For another, Christmas is a communal and family holiday as well as a religious one. I’m a member of a community and a family. Ergo, I celebrate Christmas with them. Food, cards, presents, the usual. I’ve even been to a Christmas Eve service or two, and it’s pretty hard, any time and any place, not to be awed by the music which Christianity has inspired.
As far as spiritual questions go: no, I don’t believe in the literal, historical truth of the Christmas story. I’m not positive, in fact, what people who say they believe in that actually believe. I don’t even think they’re all believing the same thing, if that makes any sense.
That an idea like the Virgin Birth may have more than a surface meaning, that’s easy enough to admit. Of course, really understanding that idea at an allegorical, symbolic, or esoteric level, that’s another matter. To say that God became man, or that the Word became flesh, aren’t these statements which equal the most challenging pronouncements of Mahayana Buddhism? Form is emptiness, emptiness is form. Nirvana and samsara are the same. These are elusive concepts and, frankly, I don’t trust many people to comment on them with authority. Certainly I’m not one of those people myself.
Asked if he was a god, the Buddha replied: no. Asked what he was, he replied: awake. That, rather than faith or salvation, is seen as the goal of Buddhist life. To wake up. And Christmas morning, it seems to me, is as propitious a time as any to give it another try.