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!


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About Ambaa Choate

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.

  • Ajit Joshi

    You can bring normal Ganapati for 2 or 5 or 10 days (like Indians do in Aug/Sept) and decorate it with all Christmas type decorations like bells, trees etc. also call all friends and relatives for feast and Aarti. Remember Lord Ganesh has big tummy and like to eat lot of sweets. However as an Indian Hindu Brahmin whose wife’s native has one of most important Ganesh temple, I can tell you this pancha mukhi Ganapati looks scary to normal people in India

    • Ambaa

      I love your suggestions!

  • http://www.deafdrummer.org Stephanie Ellison

    Gah!! I forgot to reply in another post of yours, in which someone has an issue about cultural appropriation. I think that what is going on is that to me, Christianity is “not very me,” and lots of other people are feeling it, too, and they are feeling their way along, trying to find their way out of religious darkness which results from being raised, in this specific example as Christians, and yet they feel like it is not them. Sometimes, this can be a backlash at Christianity for making them the latest victim in a 2000-year line of victims dating back to the time when Christianity began to be spread by force, by trickery. So, they look for things that is “not Christian” in order to distance themselves from it. It becomes something that is not Christian, but not Sanaatana Dharma, either. Just like Christmas is not very Christian, but pagan, from the eyes of the Puritans who even had it banned for a time in history.

    We were once “not-Christian,” Pagan, folk, otherwise country, nature-oriented, just like the Native Americans, but in our own European way. We had our own way of being in the midst of nature, and we lost that much earlier than the Native Americans did, who in turn have lost that for the most part, and then Hindus are next unless they see what is going on and stop it in its tracks. I hope that Rajiv Malhotra succeeds in galvanizing the Hindu world into action and learn from the Native American example as a fairly recent example, and especially the African phenomenon in face of the Christian missionaries who are VERY ACTIVE over there right now. I will say, though that the Native Americans and some Europeans are working to reclaim their languages, cultures, and beliefs in the aftermath of Christian conquests. There is a LONG WAY to go on the Native American front, especially for Cherokees because the vast majority of enrollees are Baptist and know very little in the way of Traditional, Pre-Contact beliefs. They even live like white people and want to stay that way!

    The holidays are very hard for me because it’s rare that I celebrate the Winter Solstice with anyone; usually, it’s by myself… And some people I know look down on Paganism and tell me, “Why don’t you practice Cherokee beliefs, as it’s more acceptable than that crap you’re into?” Looking down their noses and judging. It has been hard in light of working retail for years, when the holidays come ’round again and again. The Christmas music which I don’t hear very well because it’s noisy, but mostly, the decorations, the cards for sale, and people constantly saying, “Merry Christmas.”

  • http://www.deafdrummer.org Stephanie Ellison

    I see it that way, but for a very different reason, because it came from Sanaatana Dharma, and the people practicing it in America for the most part don’t understand the SD part of it and how it applies to Yoga to start with, especially Hatha Yoga (they can’t even pronounce it right!), which is really a neo-Hindu creation, if I’m not mistaken. For these people, there is NO connection back to SD whatsoever. I am quoting someone I know, and she was once Catholic, but withdrew from that church as part of her journey through life. So this is another attempt in the early stages of “groping one’s way out of Christianity,” especially CATHOLICISM. It’s a former Christian’s way of saying, “I am doing this not because it’s cool or exotic, but because I am NOT Christian, ” even though you see a lot of things that define them as Christian because of their exposure as subjects of a given faith. They would have to examine their own beliefs in order to extricate themselves from being subconsciously a Christian; once a Catholic, always a Catholic.

  • @@walker

    Religions to me are a silly delineation created not for self-advancement but for political, military, and economic reasons only. Christmas is Pagan and probably has some origin in India as all other custom. In their root all are more similar than they are differnt. http://hindufocus.wordpress.com/2009/09/20/abraham-brahma-sarah-saraswati/

  • Madhu K Agnihotri

    OM Namah Shivaya… Gan-Ishaya namaha

  • Friend

    For me as a christian I don’t care if Christmas started out as a pagan festival or how people perceive this now. I understand that Jesus might not have been born on this day but it is a day that I can celebrate his birth. It could have been in June or August I would still celebrate his birth. I have many friends of all difference religeons and I respect their beliefs and they mine. A lot of my friends live in India and a few of them I call family as we are that close. I have been there on many occassions and if my family are celebrating then I am there with them. I respect my Indian brothers and their beliefs and I as a christian can embrace all cultures and condemn none.

    • Ambaa

      Thank you! It is so refreshing to hear your point of view on this!

      I have several Christian friends with a similar attitude and I so value being able to enjoy the friendship of people of other religions!

    • Dispal

      Good reply…for a Christian it doesn’t matter whether Jesus Christ was born on 25th December or not..It doesn’t matter He was born in a particular place in Bethlehem or not…For a true Christian He lives in his heart..and a true Christian spreads the message of true unconditional love by performing service to the humankind…

  • meekinheritance

    It’s ironic that the Christians lay claim to the Christmas tree, especially since it’s explicitly forbidden in the Bible.
    Jeremiah 10:2-4:
    2 Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.
    3 For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.
    4 They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.

  • Dispal

    Really good reply…We need not feel defensive when festivals of other faiths are celebrated…In India all festivals are celebrated and people of other faith too enjoy them…If your faith is strong you will not feel defensive…That shows the level of tolerance one has for other faiths..May be it is extreme right wing thinking…Recently in one of the Churches in Mumbai Raksha Bandhan was celebtated and it was appreciated by all. In Catholic Churches in India, Bharatanatyam, Aarati etc are performed during soecial occasions…Christians wish their Hindu brothers for Diwali, Dussera..They wish their Muslim brothers for Eid…there is no question of feeling suffocated…One needs to grow up and leave behind extreme right wing mentality…

  • Steven Keys

    I was doing a Google search on Hinduism and the Christmas holiday, curious if there were calendar similarities on celebration / worship and found your article. I know almost nothing of Hindu, most non-Judeo / Christian faiths for that matter, but found your write to be informative (“Ganesha”) and very readable. It’s a start for me, anyway. Peace.

    • Ambaa

      Awesome! Thank you for reading. Hinduism doesn’t have a big solstice holiday like many other religions do, but we have Diwali in November, which can be pretty big.

  • http://www.deafdrummer.org Stephanie Ellison

    Thanks for this article. I was really surprised this month to see such a tree in my spiritual advisor’s house. It may be because either he or his wife have family members who aren’t Sanātani, or they just do it. If it’s because they like to see other holidays and don’t feel threatened by it, I certainly wouldn’t have a hard time believing that as an answer, as they have the confidence in their beliefs (Śaivites) and feel secure about it. I just haven’t had the nerve to ask them, as it feels like a very personal thing.

    Me, on the other hand; I still do feel threatened and steamrolled as you have felt, Ambaa, as it is everywhere, and people assume that I’m Christian, when I’m not. It probably would be some time before I feel that level of security, especially since I do a lot of reading of contemporary books on SD (meaning, books like those by Rajiv Malhotra, Sita Ram Goel, Koenraad Elst, Ibn Warraq, etc.). It’s hard to feel comfortable about it since I have this feel of SD being besieged upon to wipe it out.

    • Ambaa

      Exactly!


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