A Buddhist Christmas may sound like a contradiction, but only if you focus on the differences and not the underlying theme. I know many Buddhist monks who celebrate the spirit of Christmas, I am one of them.

In Japan, the majority of people are Buddhist and Shinto, with Christianity at around 1%. Unlike some other Asian countries that have been influenced by a period of western domination, such as Hong Kong, Japan in general embraces the secular activities of Christmas such as decorating the house with lights, Christmas trees, and gift-giving. However, it is more of a couple's holiday than a family one.

I have found that most Buddhists, including monks, in Japan do not seem to have anything against the holiday. Another monk I know who is somewhat famous for his severe training rituals surprised me when he said that every year he dresses up as Santa and gives out presents at his children's school.

This Shingon Buddhist monk said that, "I understand the Bible and its teachings as parables. The myths and legends within Buddhism are the same, they are there to guide people in the right direction and spread peace. This was Jesus' goal and there should be no reason not to celebrate and emulate that. Jesus saw the purity in people with great clarity."

Hotei the Laughing Buddha and Santa"

Many people have seen the Jolly Laughing Buddha Hotei with his pot belly hanging out and bag of presents for people. Hotei is said to have been a real person by the name of Bodaishi and was the incarnation of Maitreya.

He is said to feed children in need and families who are down on their luck. You can often see him at restaurants as the protector of the store, because it is their job to feed society. Hotei is said to bring good luck and fortune and is one of the 7 Lucky Gods.

Some have claimed that he is treated like a Santa Claus by parents in Japan, but I have never really seen this before. A Buddha yes, and someone to look up to with aspirations of giving to the needy, but he doesn't have a sleigh and children don't lie awake wondering what he has brought them. The story of Hotei the Smiling Buddha is probably closer to the original old St. Nick stories.

So, is there such a thing as a Buddhist Christmas? The answer lies in whether that person decides to participate in the festivities. There are no formal rituals like in the Christian tradition, but the spirit of Christmas, togetherness, and giving can be appreciated. If only this feeling would last all year round. The spirit of Christmas and unity can very easily be found in many Buddhist parables as well.

Visit Grand Island Serene Gardens (http://www.serene-gardens.com) to explore more about Japanese culture and some of its various traditions.

Author's Bio: 

Joshua M. Smith, PhD., is the owner of Grand Island Serene Gardens http://www.serene-gardens.com, a website and store dedicated to both traditional and contemporary Japanese gardening, culture, and art. He received his Phd in Japan at Osaka University and researches various areas of Japanese culture, such as Japanese music and Japanese gardens.