Recently, a secondary school student asked about the rituals and meanings of Buddhist marriage. We had to tell him that the Buddha saw marriage as a secular matter, and that monks and nuns did not perform weddings. Unlike in the Catholic church, in Buddhist countries, marriage is not a sacrament. In fact, none of the rituals that some religions see as central are seminal to the Buddha’s teachings or Buddhist practice. Instead, people in each of the predominantly Buddhist countries tend to follow local custom in matters of birth, marriage and death.
And so it is with Christmas. There is no conflict or contradiction between the Buddha’s teachings and the rituals of Christmas, Hannukah, or other “religious” holidays. The common elements are giving, helping, making peace, remembering, learning, and joy.
Really, what could be more “Buddhist” than a holiday that celebrates giving, compassion, and human warmth! Here’s a little “present” for you, a quote from a 16th century Italian monk:
I salute you! There is nothing I can give you which you have not;
but there is much, that, while I cannot give, you can take.
No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today.
No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present instant.
The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet within our reach, is joy.
And so, at this Christmas time, I greet you, with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and the shadows flee away.
–Fra Giovanni, 1513