Merry Krishnamas?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008
I grew up celebrating Christmas. Sort of. We put up a tree, we exchanged gifts. We listened to carols and, as my sister and I got older, we looked at Christmas as a time for our family to come together, spend time at home, drink hot buttered drinks, celebrate and be thankful. We never went to Mass or put up nativity scenes (and, in fact, my dad for some reason has always liked the look of menorahs so we put up one of those one year) but, when people ask if we celebrated Christmas as kids, we always say yes.

We also celebrated Diwali. My mom would have big Diwali parties, would light floating candles, and every year would remind me that my name derived from this festival. Diwali was never explained to us as an "Indian Christmas"--I can see how that could be annoying. But, in all honesty, we also didn't celebrate it with the gusto with which I remember celebrating December 25th.

Which all comes to a head, now, of course, when thinking about whether my kids will celebrate Christmas. My husband never believed in Santa Claus and his family never really celebrated Christmas. He has memories--which he will proudly recite--about debunking Christmas mythology and the existence of Santa to his 6 year old friends at school (there may have been tears). While he will indulge me, he thinks I'm a little silly to put up a tree, garlands, stockings, and ask to be taken to see the holiday decorations in the department store windows and "the houses with the best Christmas lights." (I think I'm a little silly too. But I still ask to see this stuff). But, as in many spheres of our life, there has been a shift in my husband in terms of his perspective on this holiday since we've had kids. After he and my 3 year old put up our tree (and my son essentially thought his dad was the most amazing person on the planet for making the glittery shimmery object materialize from our garage), he even told me that he is glad I "make him do this"...! (I wish I had had Dave Chapelle's home stenographer around so that I could always remember this moment...)

I would like to give our kids Christmas. First of all, I have so many memories of the time of year from my own childhood and we often want to pass on the happy traditions from our own youth, right? Plus, Christmas doesn't really seem Christian to me. For better or for worse, it just seems "American," like Thanksgiving or Halloween. Obviously this provides a host of issues as well--because, really, even the secular traditions around most holidays, American and not, are baffling when you try to think about them rationally--but, end of the day: We are American. We are a part of it. Is it worth fighting this particular manifestation of it?


I don't think so. But I could be wrong. Once in a while I am. Ha. No, seriously, I do wonder about whether it would be "better" to explain to my kids from an early age that we aren't Christian and we don't celebrate this holiday. Maybe use the season as an opportunity to discuss diversity of viewpoints and religion. On the flip side, I just don't care enough to be one of those people who insists that this period of time be called "the holidays" instead of "Christmas". Neither do these Hindus so I guess I'm not alone in being rubbed the wrong way by the overly-PC nature of some very well-meaning people.

As for the fact that Christmas really is about--well--Jesus. I'm reminded of a story my husband told me about the Christian missionaries arriving in India to spread their gospel. One of the missionaries walked into an Indian temple and showed the Hindus a picture of Jesus. "This is our lord Jesus Christ," the missionary said. The priest looked at the man, looked at the picture, took it from the missionary's hand and tacked it onto his wall--above various images of Krishna, Ganesha, and others. When the missionary protested--"No, Jesus is the only God, you have to take those other images down"--the Indian priest was baffled. "We have many Gods here," he said, leaving the missionary speechless.

So be it that Christmas is about Jesus. We have a rich cultural tradition of accepting different faiths anyway.

We will be spending Christmas with my parents, my sister-in-law, my brother-in-law, my nephew, and of course our kids. We'll eat tons, we'll exchange presents, we'll sit around the fire and re-hash stories we've told before. There will be a tree.

I can't wait and I'm kind of "pro" any excuse that gets this particular group of people together...
13 comments:
Anonymous said...

This is one of those things that I just can't figure out. What difference does it make to anybody else whether I celebrate Xmas or not? My in-laws look at me like I am some white-washed honkey because I want to put up a tree!! Thanks for this post!

Sara said...

You know what gets me is that I am an Indian but also a Christian and I have to explain myself ALL the time! For what it's worth, I think it's fine for everyone to celebrate Christmas. MALLS celebrate Christmas. Like you said, it's more a piece of Americana at this point than it is a religious holiday.

Anonymous said...

Nice post deepa,

It reminds me of when I visited our grandma (hi, it's me, your cousin!) in India one year and saw that she had put up a picture of Jesus on her television-set, right next to the Ganesh figurine.

xox

shona said...

you know what? i've never actually thought about whether it's offensive to christians that we celebrate xmas! whoops! i grew up like you, doing all the paegan aspects of the holiday. when i asked my mom about it when i was older, she said that i asked for a tree because all my friends had one and that she didn't really mind one way or another whether we had one or not. i know people who put up "diwali trees" but i think that's sort of lame. do christmas, do diwali, do whatever you want but fusion all the time is not for me.

th said...

I think Hinduism is the only religion that does not try to convert and that accepts all other gods. So go ahead, celebrate Christmas, that's what we do!

Archana said...

Love that post - Christmas is just another occasion to celebrate for us Hindus! Especially now that I have a baby, all of the holidays feel more meaningful.

Uma said...

"Archana" took the words out of my mouth. Chill out naysayers! If celebrating Christmas means another night of gathering with loved ones, how can it be wrong? While I understand the concern about white-washing our children, I don't think Scrooging out on Christmas is the answer.

By the way, love the image of the Santa in the rickshaw!

Anonymous said...

I could have written this post myself! Great post! I plan to try to teach my kiddos that we celebrate Christmas as a fun holiday to spend with family and friends, but not a religious holiday....

s mohan said...

I grew up with a christmas tree and lights every year and secret santa. But I always knew that santa was a myth, although I never debunked it to other little kids. So now, when my husband (raised catholic) wants our soon-to-be-here baby to believe in santa, I am a little uncomfortable simply because it seems weird to lie for several years and then spring the "there never was a santa" line. But that's the only topic of discussion really. We're going to raise the baby as Hindu, but will still have a tree and lights and all. St. Nick, we'll have to see:-)

achattha said...

love krishnamas and gurunakah - and all the other festivas' that bring family, friends, and food together. nice post and story about the priest and missionary.

CoconutRice said...

Christmas is just another American holiday nowadays. We've always celebrated it with much gusto--often being the host to the Indian Community Christmas party. Since I started spending Christmas with my boyfriend's family (who actually IS Christian) my mom gets a little upset, and then I have to remind her that she's Hindu!

Christmas is the most festive holiday--every religion seems to enjoy celebrating it. Why can't we non-Christians also gather with friends and family and then have a disagreement blow out of proportion into a feud until some family member ends up crying?! Oh holidays...

parutron said...

i love this post. ok maybe it's because it just makes me think about hanging out with my family in our house (or elsewhere) on christmas (and drinking tea out of the same smurf and duck mugs we've been using for years), which is one of the best things on the planet. but also because it makes me remember funny stories of my cluelessness i only achieved because of my family's openness to and acceptance of other religions and cultures.

aside from assuming touristy stores had sold out of my name (it was always empty between pam and paul), instead of realizing they'd never sell it in the first place, i also once asked my 1st or 2nd grade teacher whether all people or just people of the pilgrim faith celebrate thanksgiving. teee heeee. i wish i remember her trying to explain it to me.

parutron said...

oh yeah and eventhough christmas isn't my favorite holiday, i can't imagine ever not celebrating christmas because, if for no other reason, it's an awesome excuse to get together with friends and family and relive all of the awesome christmas pasts.

and whenever i think i'm going to strangle myself if i hear another christmas carol, i also secretly hope the next one will be "little drummer boy" the one my mom and sister always sing. and whenever i get grossed out and elbowed enough with the scene in union square i think about my dad getting all of the flavors of jelly bellys in detroit and all of the big packages with golden bows my mom must have lugged out of hudson's. it's like whenver i decide i'm not into christmas, i remember why i totally am!

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