I believe that each of us should celebrate the holy days of our friends and neighbors of all religions. We celebrate friends’ birthdays, graduation ceremonies, the births of babies, wedding engagements – moments of joy and transformation. So why not the religious holidays of others? I’ve done this all of my life: though born into a Hindu family and having embraced Buddhism as a young man, nevertheless every November I ask my brother what I should get – or not get – for my nephews for Christmas. Not for “the holidays,” but specifically for Christmas. I wish people “Happy Holidays” and often “Merry Christmas.” Years of saying “Merry Christmas” and getting presents from Santa Claus as a child have in no way shaken my Buddhist beliefs. In fact, I would say these experiences have been a way of embracing my Buddhism, because they confirm what I consider a fundamental truth – that we are all, at our core, the same. I thank my mother for teaching me this simple lesson. For nearly fifty years she has worked as a pediatrician and mentor, training medical students at the University of Maryland and taking care of economically disadvantaged children, primarily African American and Christian, with whom she shares neither ethnic nor religious ties. For her entire professional career, she has quietly demonstrated that the similarities between people reach far deeper than the differences. All of us laugh and love and sometimes hate; we are at times selfless and at other times selfish; we harbor fear, anger, and hope for love; we feel loneliness and joy; we wish for better lives for our children than the ones we have lived; and we wish we had more time – just more time. And, many of us pray. So why separate religion from all the other aspects of our otherwise integrated emotional and spiritual lives? If I could, I would follow my Muslim friends on the Hajj. I would gladly light the menorah candles with my Jewish friends during Chanukah. And I would feel honored to join my Catholic friends for midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Why? Because I believe that if each of us spent more time celebrating the faith of friends – and so called enemies — rather that berating and challenging them, then we as members of the Human Race would understand one another better and create a calmer, more peaceful – and more loving — world. And in the end, isn’t that what most religions want us to achieve?
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