My mother is a devout Southern Baptist. She’s getting older, and we’ve begun having difficult conversations and planning to buy a house together. The last time she visited, I stood next to where she sat, making clear my expectations regarding her smoking, our privacy and our religious differences. I remember looking at her and saying, with far less gentleness than she deserves, “I don’t do Christmas. I don’t do Jesus.”
As a Buddhist, I am pressured constantly to reject what I believe. I can’t drive to work without encountering church signs telling me I’m lost without Jesus Christ. I can’t be politically active without being reminded that half of the population believes this is — or should be — a Christian nation, and that God has something to do with the day-to-day business of running the country. I am surrounded by people for whom Protestantism is the norm, and who do not apologize for assuming that the word “charity” is best preceded by the word “Christian.” Co-workers forward me religious e-mail.
When I walk into the student commons at my college, I am confronted by two, giant Christmas trees. Downtown, I am surrounded by lights and projections of bells and holly and Santa Claus. And it is hard.
It’s hard not so much because I don’t “do Jesus,” but because it seems like Jesus is the only thing worth doing. It is because of this that I must be almost militant in my refusal of Christmas. I spend a lot of time hoping that my response to Christmas will make others reflect on exclusion and begin working to dismantle the structures that harm those who believe differently. More often than not, though, I suspect they’re writing me off as a Scrooge in the War Against Christmas. After all, what sort of idiot hates Christmas? What am I, some kind of killjoy?
No. What I want is to walk into my student commons at Eid-al-Fitr and see a celebration. I want Hanukkah and Kwanzaa decorations downtown. I want a Yule parade, and I want more than just the Western calendar New Year. I want someone other than me to know what and when Diwali is.
Christmas is so terrible in its conspicuousness that it’s become for an oppressive force, reminding me that my beliefs are not as valid or worthwhile as those my local municipality spends thousands of dollars to celebrate.
The fact is, I want Christmas, too. I want glass ornaments, a flame retardant tree, and the right to howl the words “FIVE GOLDEN RINGS!” at any unfortunate soul who gets too close. I want to put plush antlers on my dog and decorate the house with lights. But I want to do it without feeling like I am contributing to and endorsing injustice or undermining others. I want to do it with love, in the spirit of peace and joy. I want to believe in Christmas.