From About.com – At its best, Christmas is about giving, good will to all men (and women!) and concern for others. At its worst, it’s about commercialization, over-indulgence and self-concern. It encapsulates the best and worst of mankind in a few short days.
Though Christmas is a Christian religious tradition, the virtues it extols also feature quite strongly in Buddhism. At Christmas, with the exchanging of presents, people are given the opportunity to exercise their generosity through the practice of giving. In Buddhism, giving or dana is seen as a very meritorious activity. (This is not to say that the acquisition of merit is or should be the objective – not ‘giving to get’, as it were.)
At Christmas the gifts that are given are often material ones. It would be wrong to think, however, that there’s not more to it than that. Such gifts are symbols of the affection we hold for others. This is often limited to our own family circle, or to work colleagues but some will extend this further by making donations at Christmas to charities or even devoting some of their own time to charitable work.
Good Will to All
In addition to giving, Christmas extends a message of good will to others. In Buddhism, this is similar to loving-kindness or metta, a quality that expresses a selfless concern for others. Loving-kindness is often illustrated by the following image: Just as a mother loves her child, so we too should develop this kind of love for all beings, without exception. The nativity scene upon which the Christmas tradition focuses, displays the affection of a mother for her child – the Jesus-child who was, himself, to grow up to become a teacher of love and compassion.
And finally, there is compassion itself or karuna. This is to acknowledge – in the midst of one’s own happiness and material well-being – that there are others who are unhappy and who are suffering in all sorts of different ways. In the heart there can be – if nothing else – an acknowledgement of their suffering and wish for that to be alleviated in some way. I remember when I was a young child waking up one Christmas morning happy for the good things that I had been given. At the same time there was a sense of sadness for all those other children throughout the world who wouldn’t be so fortunate. The instinct for compassion lies deep within us all.
May all beings be happy and free from suffering!