Hindus and Christmas

There are many, many Hindus who don’t feel defensive about the holidays of other religions and happily join in celebrations for any festival. It is often said that Indians love to celebrate and will participate in any holiday that’s available!

It strikes me that you must be really secure and confident in your religion to be able to embrace and enjoy the holidays of other religions. I strive to be that way.

hindu christmas

For me it’s hit or miss. Each year around Christmas is different for me. Some years I’m happy for the people whose holiday it is and wish them well, enjoying the spirit of joy. Other years I feel defensive and frustrated that Christmas is such a big deal, known and understood by everyone in America, while my holidays go by with hardly anyone even knowing they exist.

It may be easier in India where our holidays are firmly established? Maybe then celebrating a minority religion’s holiday like Christmas wouldn’t feel like giving in to the Borg who want to assimilate us all. Maybe.

Last year was a rough one for me for some reason. This year I’m feeling a lot more at peace.

My mother-in-law asked me recently if we were going to celebrate Christmas. Even though she knew from the start that I’m Hindu, I think it was the first time she realized I might not do Christmas. For her it isn’t religious, it’s social. My husband was raised not religious and Christmas was a time for spending time with family and lots of great family rituals. There are fond memories of those times.

I’ve been reluctant to bring Christmas traditions into our home. Brad would like to do a tree. I have a very difficult relationship with Christianity and I feel pretty uncomfortable about bringing a Christian ritual into my home. So maybe we’ll just re-frame a tree decorating as a solstice/pagan type thing. That I wouldn’t be upset about! The only issue with Christian things is that I have this feeling frequently like Christians are steamrolling through the world, crushing everything that isn’t them. In a country that is predominantly Christian, it’s hard not to feel like you’re being squashed by its huge machine.

On the other hand, it bothers the very religious Christians that Christmas has become pretty secular and more about family time and family rituals than about Jesus, so maybe me doing a very non-religious Christmas will be a way of fighting back too.

Another option for Hindus in America is a holiday made up by the gurus at the Himalayan Academy. The Hindus behind Hinduism Today, they also worry about Hindu traditions being crushed by the overwhelmingly Christian atmosphere of America and so they came up with a new Ganesha Holiday: Pancha Ganapati (Five Ganesha)

Pancha Ganapati How To

This is a five day holiday starting on December 21 through December 25th and each day celebrates a different aspect of Ganesha.

As a home festival, one would put a Ganesha figure in the central living area. Preferably a large wooden or bronze statue showing Ganesha in his five-face form. “…the importance of this festival as a new beginning and mending of all mistakes of the past”

ganesha

Because Ganesha is connected to the forest you can decorate with pine boughs or durva grass. It is also fine to add tinsel, blinking lights, and hanging ornaments to this shrine!

Each day the Ganesha is dressed (preferably by the children of the household) in clothes that match the color of that day. Each morning a tray is prepared to offer puja to Ganesha with sweets, fruits, and incense. Each day wrapped gifts are added around Ganesha’s feet and all the gifts will be opened on the final day. (“Ganesha does not want gift-giving to promote Western commercialism but to further the great Hindu culture.” ) The offered sweets are given to the children and family members as prasadam. Ganesha songs are sung and Hindu-themed greeting cards created and sent.

December 21st: Yellow. On this day the family gathers and resolves any tensions or conflicts. They spend time expressing the things they most love about one another. Forgiveness is the theme of the day.

December 22nd: Blue. On this day it is time to seek forgiveness and make amends with any friends, relatives, or neighbors we may have upset.  Clearing up misunderstandings is the theme of the day.

December 23rd: Red. On this day the family clears up any debts and spreads goodwill among coworkers, merchants, and the general public. It is a time to honor and thank employees and employers.

December 24th: Green. This is a day for the arts. Family gathers to sing songs, play instruments, dance, and cultivate creativity. Ways to bring more art into everyday life are discussed.

December 25th: Orange. On the final day there are five special pujas that welcome Ganesha’s blessings into our lives…

6:00 AM “Before the puja, personal offering trays are prepared and placed before His shrine. After the puja, each one gives verbal testimony about prayers that were answered during the past year. Hearing testimonies strengthens the faith of everyone. Then vows of sacrifice can be verbally made. Vows should improve the quality of the life of the individual, such as giving up smoking or correcting other harmful habits.”

9:00 AM, 12:00 PM, 3:00 PM

6:00 PM This is the grand finale of the holiday. After this puja, all the gathered gifts are opened and then it is time to feast!

Pancha Ganapati should be celebrated in a distinctly Hindu way. The items which should not be used are Christmas trees, Santa Claus or symbols of other religions. These symbols carry connotations that are to be avoided in Hindu worship. Season’s greeting cards should be Hindu in design and content. Season’s greetings to friends in other religions can continue with thoughts of Hindu wisdom or quotes from Hindu scripture. If properly chosen they will be appreciated and cherished. - http://ebooks.gutenberg.us/HimalayanAcademy/SacredHinduLiterature/lg/lg_ch-15.html

This is so subversive I just have to laugh. I love it!

 ***

Here is a Hindu family with a Christmas tree and the mom explains why: http://beingrudri.com/2009/12/21/a-hindu-christmas/

Some tips for Interfaith families: http://marriage.about.com/od/holidaysinterfaith/a/interfatrad.htm

This shop offers Hindu “Christmas” ornaments! http://www.zazzle.com/ganesh_ganesha_ganapati_hindu_elephant_deity_ornament-175915729155694144

There is a concern that celebrating Christmas would be confusing for American Hindu children, but as much as I do worry about that I have to admit that I grew up celebrating Christmas and it certainly didn’t make me into a Christian!

About Ambaa

Ambaa is an American woman of European ancestry who is also a practicing Hindu. She is fascinated with questions of philosophy, culture, and the meaning of life. Join her in the journey to explore how a non-Indian convert to Hinduism experiences her religion.

  • J N

    December 25, shortly after winter solstice, was in Mediterranean region celebrated as “Dies Natalis Invict” (Day of Unconquerable One), an appearance day of Vedic-Persian-Roman sun god and savior of mankind Mitra. “Mitra” means in Sanskrit “friend” or “friendship” and his life resembles that of Jesus’.

    When the Christianity moved to new regions it pushed out aboriginal religions (mainly forms of lower Vedic systems like nature and ancestor worship whose features survived in many still extant folk customs). It was done also by covering their holidays by Christian ones of similar nature. This also happened in case of Christmas, now mainly celebrated as an appearance day of Jesus.

  • siddharth

    Amba ji , Do you know ?
    We also celebrate Christmas by making special dish, visiting church & their we en-light candles. Santa-clause also gives varieties of chocolates.

    • Ambaa

      I didn’t know that! What kinds of special dishes does your family make?

    • http://amarchotoprithibi.blogspot.com/ Andrea

      My husband’s family also has a Christmas cake every year. No birthday cake – that was the day for payesh – but Christmas cake, yes. I want to make a buche de Noel this year even though we’ll be travelling Christmas day.

      • Ambaa

        I’ve never heard of a buche de Noel. I’ll have to look it up!

        • http://amarchotoprithibi.blogspot.com/ Andrea

          LOL, Yule log

          • Ambaa

            Oh! To be honest, I’ve heard of that but don’t know what it is :)

          • http://amarchotoprithibi.blogspot.com/ Andrea

            It’s a cake dressed up to look like a log. And adorable little mushrooms made from meringue! http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/bche-de-nol-10000000521114/

          • Derek_anny

            This is the food “Yule Log.” It’s namesake is a particularly large log that was burned throughout the longest night. Various traditions sprang up around that, best known is that if it burns all night: good luck the following year, but if it goes out: bad luck.

          • http://amarchotoprithibi.blogspot.com/ Andrea

            Yeah, and I’m totally not making one this year like I said :( Maybe next year.

  • myownashram

    I’ll be writing about this in week or two! I think it’s silly to avoid all trappings of the dominant culture. Christmas can be celebrated in a very secular way – I mean, Christmas trees have Pagan/pre-Christian roots! And yet, I adore Ganesh and find the values set forth in Pancha Ganapati positive, so I have no problem adding this in to my family’s holiday observance.

  • http://amarchotoprithibi.blogspot.com/ Andrea

    Christmas trees are totally Pagan. It’s the Christians who borrowed them. :)

    I like Christmas trees, twinkling lights, and all the trappings of the holiday because it’s my personal culture, and there’s so much nostalgia surrounding it. I have so many good memories of Christmases past that have very little do with religion and much more to do with family and giving. These are the things I want to pass down to my own kids, and I see no harm in them. Plus, it’s everywhere in the culture I live in as well, and just as I’d celebrate Durga Puja in Kolkata or Eid in Dubai, why not celebrate Christmas in Seattle? :)

    As a religious studies student, I remember reading some about how religion and culture intertwine. Some people intertwine religion and the culture they live in, some reject the culture in favor of the religion, some reject the religion in favor of the culture, and some use the religion to attempt to change the culture. I think there’s room for all at the table.

  • Y. A. Warren

    Commercialism and capitalism are what drive the holidays. Sacred rituals are what drives holy days. There is so little actual religious understanding or observance of Christmas, or any other of the holy days in the United States, that I found it sacrilegious for so many to call the United States a “Christian” culture. I have come to the more charitable conclusion that many “Christians” are simply not following Jesus as their “Christ.”

    • Ambaa

      Good points.

      Commercialism doesn’t really reach me. Not having a TV and not going out to malls, I really avoid a whole lot of that kind of pressure!

  • JasonMankey

    Christmas is a combination of many things, some of them Christian, many of them pagan, and a lot of them purely secular. Christmas is what you make of it. Two of the most important sources in the revitalization of Christmas make make no mention of Jesus, and only one mentions Santa. Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” romanticizes a holiday about hearth and home and Clement Moore’s “A Visit From St. Nichols” is about Santa.

    I don’t like to promote my blog on those of others, but I wrote about several “Christmas traditions” just today. (Though the Christmas Tree is probably more Christian than pagan.)

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/panmankey/2013/12/christmas-traditions-pagan-or-christian/

    • Ambaa

      Thank you for the link! I enjoy your blog very much and that post really is perfect for the discussion! :)

  • Just Somebody

    I am one of those hindus that dont feel defensive about chirstmas but I do feel tad bit defensive about this pancha ganapati puja.. My humble opinion is that its unnecessary. It is for hindus who are “overwhelmed” during christmas or for kids who might get confused?I think the pancha ganapathi puja will confuse them even more. There is already “ganesh chathurthi” for ganesh.. why this one?? Isn’t hinduism call for “vasudaiva kutumbakam”?Whole world being one single family.. I believe that we can celebrate festivals of our extended family with whom we live without getting so overwhelmed. Or confused.Christmas is celebrated in India too, and in my house it meant hanging a huge neon lit christmas star in the balcony and eating Kerala coconut cake. It never confused me. I might even go as far to say that countering christmas with pancha ganapati puja is against hindu philosophy – which believes all paths lead to the same truth. Why block it with boundaries?

    • Ambaa

      Very interesting! Thank you so much for sharing your perspective.

      I’ve never been sure how I feel about this pancha Ganapati thing and you’ve given me more to think about.

  • Derek_anny

    I’m not a fan of creating festivals out of whole cloth solely because “they have a holiday now, and I want to enjoy the holiday spirit.” It’d be like if Christians (in India, for the sake of argument) decided they wanted to start throwing color at each other in early March to commemorate the Rainbow after the Flood. The new holiday isn’t strictly cultural appropriation because a dominant religion affects secular culture so much. But it’s pretty close.

    I’m also a hypocrite because I use NewYears as the closing of the Holiday Season, when the personified Old Year dies and passes His/Her wealth on to the newborn New Year.

    Now I must go contemplate my hypocrisy.

    • http://amarchotoprithibi.blogspot.com/ Andrea

      That’s a good parallel … and I don’t think that your seeing New Years as the closing of the holiday season is hypocritical at all… I see it very much the same way. I think it’s archetypal; universal. Ends are beginnings.

      • Derek_anny

        The hypocrisy comes from saying “I don’t like inventing Holy Days, and here’s a Holy Day I invented.”

        Some Hellenic Reconstructionists have their own version of the “I want a holiday, too” thing, called the Heliogenna that is kind of a Solstice festival. It just feels wrong to me, whereas making the secular NewYear a religious holiday doesn’t fell wrong. I think it comes from the fact that it’s already a celebration, and I’m not making it up completely, just re-interpreting it.

        • http://amarchotoprithibi.blogspot.com/ Andrea

          Yes… it is already a holiday, and people ascribe religious/spiritual meaning to mundane things all the time. I see no hypocrisy in that :)

    • Ambaa

      Did you know that they have color marathons now? People run a marathon and at the end everyone throws Holi colors at them. And it really does look just like Holi! I feel a little…weird…about that.

      Your parallel also reminds me of a woman who is doing Christian Yoga. Traditional Yoga poses renamed Biblical things and you recite particular Biblical passages with each pose. :(

      Anyway, I see your point. I think I may end up celebrating some version of Christmas just because my extended family does and my in-laws do.

  • Ambaa

    There are people who see Yoga as impossible to separate from Hinduism. It did grow originally as a Hindu practice. There are Christians who feel uncomfortable doing it as exercise because of its origin as a Hindu practice. See this article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-25006926

    • Just Somebody

      Oh.My.God. My mind is blown!! Thanks for sharing this information, I had no idea that some people had issues with names of the poses :D It is so silly that they think by changing names, Jesus or Allah would ok it LOL. I think it shows their insecurity in their own religion and religious beliefs, more than anything. Also, equally silly is that campaign to claim yoga as hindu, by some hindu american organisation. What authority do they have to decide whats hindu and whats not?

      • Ambaa

        It’s an interesting situation all around! The things that people take issue with will always surprise :)


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