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Bill Gardner

I'm married to a Methodist. My daughter is Buddhist, our four sons are either Methodist or hell-raisers (or both).

We alternate Buddhist and Christian graces at dinner. We celebrate Christmas, including all the standard decorations. I usually attend midnight Christmas Eve services with my wife. I was an Episcopalian and still know most of that beautiful liturgy by heart, so I really enjoy being being in church on Christmas.

None of this has ever been a problem for me, but I'm probably the lucky exception. My father also broke away from the family religion (Mormonism), and no one had a problem when I made my own choices.


Bill, I think I'm really dealing with two issues here... Mainly the fact that my choice to be Buddhist (well, really my choice to raise my daughter as Buddhist) is not supported. The really interesting thing about it is that she chose Buddhism for herself without any pushing or prodding from me. Christmas is really a secondary issue... the byproduct of the first. It's not that I want to boycott Christmas... I just want my daughter to understand why I'm uncomfortable with certain aspects of this holiday season.

How wonderful that your family is able to share each others religious persuasions with such respect and consideration.

Bill Gardner

Thanks, and I see that I did address only one of your points.

I thinks it's possible to exchange gifts on Christmas, while gently and patiently sending the message that it's not an annual toy lottery. Like other parenting messages, it may take years of repetition to think through. We were stunned, however, when our oldest (23 years, Methodist / hell-raiser) called last night and said that he wanted us to contribute to a Pakistani earthquake charity as his gift.

Thanks for the wonderful blog; and have a happy Christmas.


That's really cool about your son...

I think my daughter gets it. I'm watching her start to internalize her precepts... she is very conscious of sharing and wasting. When we talk about these things, her thought process just astounds me sometimes. I think communication is key for us and I love that we can talk about things and share our thoughts and ideas.

When it comes down to it, I care more about that than I care about my parents (or anyone else) behaving in ways that make me more comfortable. I would rather not have this conflict but I can't control their feelings or their actions or their speech. I guess it doesn't do much good to worry about it.


Oh, and Bill I forgot to say... I wasn't trying to point out the fact that you didn't address any particular issue... I was really just making a distinction for myself.


Chalip, Bill, nice thoughts. I've purposely raised my six year old to be mindful about "religion." He goes fairly regularly, although not always, to the Unitarian Universalist church here for Religious Ed. My wife is teaching there. But he also knows about meditation, about being mindful, about why I don't believe in God, and how there are multiple perspectives on these questions. In general, I don't even want to say to him that Buddhism is the path. But that goes with my deep agnosticism/atheism.

We do tend to make Christmas more about the "spirit of this season" than about the presents, or Santa. He bought two presents yesterday to put under a Giving tree in a local place here. We made a list of things he could give, and for which he was thankful. But he also has a long list of things he wants, although we've talked about the difference between wants and needs!

We have a Christmas tree that we cut ourselves here in Oregon. Oregon produces so many Christmas trees it is incredible. It is sold here as a renewable enterprise, that helps the state and folks in it. We got ours from the tree farm of a family in town that only sells to individuals, no big harvesting. We decorate our tree with a peace theme (lots of doves in our tree), and home-made decorations. We are working on making the decorating itself be a metta meditation. We'll make an ornament and place it as an offering of metta and compassion, as a way to remain mindful of those in need, in suffering, etc. I don't want the tree, nor the presents to take away from our being mindful of the suffering that exists, nor to take away from a deep sense of gratitude for what we have, for how lucky we are.

This year we are not exchaning gifts formally with my wife's side of the family. Too expensive to do so. We tend to get little things for members of our family, but less formally. My wife and I hardly give each other anything. We give the kids things, but, as you do, we are reducing the amount of things, and decentering the "presents" approach. We like to be thoughtful about presents so we do enjoy getting something special for abuela (grandma), and so on.

In my culture we celebrate the feast of the epiphany (Three Kings Day), and that is an opportunity for presents also, but we've been, again, not putting too much emphasis on the Christian story, and focusing more on the promise of a new year full of learning, of seeking and opening ourselves to goodness, compassion, loving-kindness.

My wife and I prefer to see Christmas rather broadly. We went to a wonderful Christmas concert the other day and she joined in singing Carols. I didn't know the words well enough! But we also understand Rohatsu -- and the promise of Bodhi day. We are are very friendly to Earth based practices that recognize the WInter Solstice and Autumn as periods of gathering when we come together as families, as friends, to celebrate our unity, our love, our bounty, our gratefulness. We like to make the tree, garlands, greens, etc., be a sign that we are all children of the Earth, that we are one with mother nature.

We are trying to decenter the heavy duty approach to Christmas by also creating celebrations around Summer Solstice, and the Vernal equinox (we celebrate Easter in a very secular way).

I tell you though, that kind of parenting, one that combats the intensive and persistent bombardment of children with ads and commercialism, is difficult. Requires lots of attention and creative ways to pull the kids away. It is always a negotiation. We are always negotiating that divide. We fail often, we give in too much to it. At other times we work it out quite well. Mostly serendipitously. Thank you for doing what you are doing, taking your daughter to the Zen center, and raising her to value understanding, compassion, loving-kindness.

I realize this sounds as if we have it together, but no, it is always something haphazard, some of it is chaotic, some of it happens wonderfully, some of it quite contrived, and some of it in community with others here is just awesome. We are always thinking about how "next year we will do it this way instead..." : ) But we try, and will keep trying! My wife and I are giving cards offering our friends gifts of service and friendliness. We don't have much money, but we can give of ourselves, and we want to.

Have a wonderful season Chalip. Same to you Bill. Thanks for a wonderful post!


As a new member of the buddhist community I can certainly relate to how you feel. I live with a mainly catholic family and a pagan fiancee.
My family thinks I am a weirdo, my fiancee is totally acceptig of my zen beliefs.
Due to my financial restraints and because I am now a Buddhist and believe that toys are just temporary pleasures, I have limited my gift list to 2 presents per child. 2 for my kid and that is it. The kids of today are so wrapped up in commercialism and materialism it is scary. It's all about them and gimmie. gimmie. gimmie.
mmmmy son is 17-months old and still has most of the toys he had as a younger baby with exception of the ones I have donated or tossed in the trash. Funny thing about my kid is that he may not have many toys but he has his favorites; his soccer ball, red dump truck, and he just added my yoga blocks to his list. I want him to learn that it is not how much you have, but what you have that matters. Before he gets any new toys I will be cleaning his toy box and donating the things that are in good condition.
As for the christmas tree, yes we have one only because my mom puts it up. I admit, I love the tree but if it were up to me, it would be smaller, simpler and maybe have a few less presents under it.


Nacho, Tonya... Thanks for adding your thoughts...

Nacho, while it will be a challenge, I think we can teach our kids to be free of the compulsive materialism that plagues so many of us in the West. Any progress I want to make with respect to my child begins with me.

My retail therapy is not about couture. I am allergic to hair and nail salons. I'm too hard on shoes to buy them for anything beyond necessity. My excess consumption comes in the form of books and gadgets. If I ever want to teach my daughter how to be happy consuming less, I have to consume less. I've made some strides but there is more I can do.

Tonya, I think you make a few excellent points. Limit 2 toys? Not a bad idea. What I like even more is that you've reminded me to look at what will really capture the imagination of my child. Every child has those few things that they love and return to again and again. The key in gift selection is finding those things that will be appreciated, treasured and used rather than gushed over temporarily then forgotten.

Oh, and Tonya... welcome to the community of zen bloggers.

Bill Gardner

Nacho, Tonya, Chalip...
You've given me so much to think about.

There may be a number of good ways to work with the Christmas story. HH the Dalai Lama says that Jesus was "obviously a Bodhisattva," and that is not something he would say lightly. I don't think he meant that Jesus was a Buddhist saint, only clueless about who He really was. I think he would say that what comes first is having an awakened heart -- like Jesus.

And doesn't it seem like Christmas is a wonderful opportunity for practice!


I think it is wonderful you are even talking about it with your daughter. To get her to begin to see the holidays in a different light seems very important. You may not be able to change your parents' or friends' perspectives on how you raise your own daughter. But I think if you can explain to your daughter why gross materialism isn't good, and show her a mindful practice of exchanging gifts, at least the holidays will mean something different for her, and that is what is most important, isn't it? I know I wish my parents had done that for me.


Hi Folks, thanks for all the perspectives. Bottom line for us is that we don't want to add to the commercialism and crass "profit" "money" "get-get-get" and consumption mentality that is already too reinforced every day of the year. I'm sure there are many practices to help us do that, to recover a better way to relate to each other and to live the values we find central.

Chalip, I agree with you. A challenge it might be, but not one I shy away from. The good things in life are often very hard in coming. Indeed, I will be teaching a workshop on consumption and buddhism next Spring at my sangha! All these points we've discussed will no doubt be part of that. Oh, Chalip I share some of your obsessions... books... : ) and right now, unfortunately, food. Other than that, we really can't afford much more. : ) Might be a blessing in disguise.

I'll let you know how it goes this year!

Thanks again,



This is my first Christmas "out" as a Buddhist. My sister is fundamentalist Baptist, and refuses to get any Buddhist books for me, because she thinks it'll contribute to me going to hell. LOL. My Mom just pretends she doesn't know what's going on.

I have no problem with doing Christmas, I just want to do it my way. I've always hated that my family get so crazed about gifts. My sister lives 1300 miles away, and I've always thought that the focus should be on us being together. However, in spite of putting a 2-gift limit per person on the holiday, it always turns into this glut of stuff that no one really wants. I think it's silly, especially since everyone is so BROKE once they've bought all this STUFF that they can't afford.

At any rate, I'll go to Chrsitmas Eve service with them. I do beleive Jesus was a Buddha, so I'll go give him a shout-out. And I love the carols and the candle-light ceremony that my Mom's church does.

But I'm trying to find ways to inject some whimsy into my holiday. I think I'll do a treetop Buddha, because I think it would really please me. (It occurs to me that it'll piss off my Mom, but I have to get past that impulse to mess with her. LOL) And with a week off from work, I have plenty of time meditate and investigate the local Shambhala group.

Most of all, I think it's a chance to reflect on the year ahead... That's what I like about the week bewteen Christmas and New Year's. I just want some quiet contemplation, and that menas avoiding the stores and the madness as much as possible. That's the part of Christmas that drives me crazy, so I'm just rejecting it.

It took me 39 years to find my backbone, and I'm just not going to do anything that doesn't feel right for me anymore. The family just has to adjust.

j. brotherlove

I'm not a parent so forgive me for chiming in.

Are the feelings of discomfort and unsupportedness your feelings or are they shared by your daughter?


It's been almost a month and I'm just now responding to some comments here. Sorry for the delay, people...

How we spent the holidays... I found some Christmas spirit the week before Christmas and ended up buying a Christmas tree after all... We had a good time over the holidays. I ended up getting really sick for a couple of days, but we mostly relaxed. I spent a lot of time cleaning and getting organized... put up some shelves, unpacked some books, etc.

Once I got over the overwhelm I was feeling, all of this seemed less important. I'm not on a crusade against the Christmas season... I'm just irritated when people suggest that I should be doing something other than what I'm doing with my life. My response is typically, "You have your life to live however you see fit... and so do I."

J, my daughter just doesn't like the discord. She's uncomfortable with the tension. She doesn't feel particularly unsupported, though.

Thanks everyone who chimed in. Although I didn't respond as I usually do, I did read your messages and they all offered food for thought.

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