Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Talk Thursday: If This Is The Season Of Joy...

...Why Do I Feel Like Sheep?

Actually, given my penchant for swim-o-meter graphics I should say, "Why do I feel like fish?" but, I suppose the point is taken even if I was supposed to insert Another Word in there. Why do people, some people, my people, this person anyway, get gloomy around the holidays?

Well, let's see; I can think of a few reasons. It's dark. It's cold. Everywhere you look is full of one dose after another of artificial cheer, from Deep and Profoundly Moving Christmas Specials on TV (A Charlie Brown Christmas, anyone? A Christmas Carol? It's a Wonderful Life?) to happy dancing shoppers on escalators at some fictional mall someplace. You can tell it's a fictional mall because in real malls, shoppers do not dance on escalators. They don't even do happy hops. In fact, if you didn't know better you would swear they were trudging uphill through miles of mud. Mall people never look happy. They never drive happy. And forget driving friendly; driving through a mall parking lot at any time during the month of December is a good way to get an adrenaline rush, and possibly several new insurance claims. No wonder George Romero set "Dawn of the Dead" in a shopping mall; if there's anywhere civilization should breathe its last, it should be there, between Bath and Body Works and 5-7-9. Jen has spoken.

Technically, of course, Buddhists don't celebrate Christmas at all, but try telling that to a Buddhist. At least the ones I know in the States tend to celebrate pretty much anything at the drop of a hat, or a meditation cushion. There actually is a Buddhist holiday in December - Bodhi Day, the celebration of Buddha's enlightenment - but it's not like anybody puts up a Bodhi tree in their houses and decorates it or anything. (Hm. Possible business plan. Must think about this.) I live with a pagan and we still celebrate Christmas, though the whole religious aspect pretty much misses us completely. Unless you consider the tree, the ornaments, the gifts, the -- yep, there's a religious element at work there, but it's not Christianity.

See, back before Christianity, when this time of year was about the Oak King kicking the Holly King's butt and reigning over winter, throwing that Yule log on had some religious significance as well as being a practical way to stay warm in the days before central heating. Pre-Solstice depression was a lot more understandable then. The holiday was, after all, about death. It was the "beginning" of winter, but it was also the "end" of the autumn, the darkest night of the year, and quite often one of the coldest. If you were at all sickly, elderly, frail or otherwise less than hale and hearty, nobody really expected you to make it through the winter. And if you were going to drop dead, there weren't too many nights more symbolic than the Solstice. (Well, maybe Samhain--that's Hallowe'en, to you moderns.) So the whole joy-of-the-season thing wasn't a requirement. Heck, it wasn't even a suggestion. Yeah, things got better as the days got
longer and things started to warm up (even though there was plenty of winter left to go yet) - but you were forgiven if you weren't partying hearty around the campfire with the Oak King, tossing pinecones and acting like a fool.

I admit I like Pagan celebrations better than Buddhist ones. Buddhists take everything way too seriously. Buddhists tend to "celebrate" holidays by meditating and studying the dharma - which, don't get me wrong, is very soothing and all that, but it just doesn't scream "holiday" quite as much as the fire, the Oak King, the pinecones, the feast, the sacrificial baby - just kidding about the baby. And I like either of those better than the whole going to the mall thing and the showing up at the various Christmas parties and smiling until my face aches thing. Okay, yes, some Christmas parties are fun, and giving presents is fun too, but the onerous sense of obligation ruins it for me. I'd rather just, you know, be who I am.

Frankly, I think I'd be a lot happier this time of year if I didn't have so many external-media conspirators insisting that I be overcome with joy at this psuedo-religious gift-a-palooza that starts around mid-October and really doesn't stop until February. I hate, loathe and despise being told what to do. Unless, that is, there's something in it for me, like a pay check or a well-completed project or, I dunno, sanity. Maybe Christmas and I could strike a deal: Don't demand that I be happy, and I'll agree to rise a few notches above surly and, you know, talk to people and stuff. I'm just sayin'.

Book o' the Decade Alert! If you're even a little bit interested in religion, you've got to check out The God Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture by Darrel W. Ray. You may not agree with his theory of religion-as-virus, but his argument is compelling and the implications for our culture and politics are scary--whether you believe in God or not. Four stars.


Cele said...

Compelling post and considerations hidden within. As a believer in God (and not really the Bible as a divinely inspired guide) I'm always interested in seeing how others view life, religion (sucks big green eggs), and dealing with the holidays. I embrace the joy of the holidays, but the older I get they wear me out. I also like to remember the connections between today's holidays, the origins of beliefs and practices and how religion as corrupted all.

Jen said...

Ask ten Buddhists if there's a God and you'll get twenty different answers and forty deep discussions. I'll get into that in a post someday, but for now let's just say, if there is a God, He needs to be enlightened. If He is enlightened already, then we don't need to worry about Him, and can focus on every other being that still needs to be enlightened. And if there is a holiday, it needs to be celebrated. Yep, even Johnny Appleseed Day (March 11).

LynnBlossom said...

Hi Jenn - Just catching up. I love your writing and would like to have tea with you someday. And a Dharma discussion. As a Buddhist formerly in Mormon country, and now in Colorado, I can relate. Between the normal folks and the religious extremes of Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, Colorado pretty much has it all. I love Christmas and put up a tree this year for he first time in about 10 years. I cried when I took it down. It's so pagan and colorful and lovely. We should keep them up all year.

Lynn (Progressive Grandma Lynn)