Dec 2010 20

by Brad Warner

Only a few more days before the annual War On Christmas ends! So get your shots in quick!

Ever since returning to the United States after spending eleven years of my life in Japan, the furor over Christmas has been especially amusing to me. Add to this the fact that I’m a Buddhist and not a Christian or an atheist – those being the two groups who are most upset about the matter – and I find it extra double-double hilarious (with whipped cream on top).

[Elora in Naughty Santa]

SuicideGirls recently ran a piece about rival billboards on either end of the Lincoln Tunnel, one purchased by a Christian group and one by an atheist group with pro and anti-Christmas messages respectively and all the resulting hub-bub that caused. I live in New York now, but I haven’t been near the Lincoln Tunnel so I’ve missed all the fun, but it’s yet another example of the seasonal silliness.

These days even devout Christians will admit that there’s no real reason to believe that Jesus was born on December 25th. That day was originally a Pagan holiday to celebrate the winter solstice, their calendars being a couple days off from the actual date. This celebration was co-opted in the Middle Ages by the Catholic Church as a way to spread their influence. Even those who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible admit that it says nothing to indicate Our Lord and Savior was born in late December.

Oddly enough, it is the fact that the two birth stories presented in the New Testament are so contradictory that has led most serious Biblical scholars to conclude that there really was an actual guy named Jesus, or Joshua or Yeshua if you prefer, upon whom the stories in the Bible were based.

For a time there was some serious speculation that Jesus was an entirely fictional creation. Now it seems more reasonable to believe that he actually existed and that he was born and raised in Nazareth. Later on it became important to establish that he was born in Bethlehem in order to fulfill Old Testament prophecy. So stories had to be constructed to account for how he could have been born in Bethlehem when he was known to be from Nazareth, some 80 miles away with a few hostile towns between them.

The familiar Nativity scenes that cause so much furor when they’re erected in certain public spaces are actually a composite of elements from the conflicting accounts in the gospels of Luke and Matthew. Luke talks about shepherds coming to worship the baby, but says nothing about the wise men or about Herod’s slaughter of all male children in Bethlehem, these elements appearing only in Matthew’s account. It’s the slaughter of the innocents that really gives the game away. It’s impossible to believe that such a heinous and terrible event would go unrecorded in any history of the time apart from the New Testament. But we have no other records of it. That even Luke fails to mention it pretty much seals the case. The gospels of Mark and John say nothing about Christ’s birth at all.

Christmas is a big deal these days in many parts of the world where Christianity is a very small minority religion. It’s huge in Japan. It’s not a national holiday. But people love all the iconography. So the streets of Tokyo are almost as loaded with Christmas decorations every year as those of New York. The way you celebrate Christmas in Japan is you order a big bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Christmas cake from your local bakery. Then you go out and have a big drunken party.

I spent one Christmas in Hong Kong where I was supervising a holiday themed Ultraman live stage show. The hotel across the street from where I stayed has a three-story neon display of Santa Claus swinging a baseball bat. I have no idea what that means either. In the park nearby I watched a group of children performing a pageant based on the story of Noah’s Ark.

Buddhism doesn’t have anything equivalent to Christmas. Though there are a few festival days associated with events in Buddha’s life, they tend not to be such a big deal. At least they aren’t in Japan. Last weekend I spent three days staring at a wall in celebration – if the word “celebration” is appropriate – of the day Buddha’ supposedly attained his enlightenment. Commonly this is commemorated on December 8th. That also happens to be the day in 1980 that John Lennon was assassinated and the day that the Japanese think of as Pearl Harbor Day. Americans say it was December 7th, but in Japan it was already the 8th when the attack happened, due to the fact that the International Date Line lies between Hawaii and Japan.

As in the case of Jesus, there are some myths surrounding Buddha’s birth. A bull elephant is said to have somehow walked into the right side of Buddha’s mother. The little tyke emerged from a slit in that same area several months later. He took seven steps and said, “I alone am the World Honored One!”

Unlike in Christianity there have never been any strong attempts by the Buddhist clergy to make the general populace accept these legends as literal truths. Some scholars these days even speculate that these birth stories only came into being when Christian missionaries began to show up in India. The Buddhists heard the stories of Christ’s miraculous birth and countered by making up miraculous birth stories for their guy too.

The insistence that the stories in the Bible must be accepted as literal truths has never made a whole lot of sense to me. The folks who insist on such beliefs seem to fear that their entire religion stands or falls on whether the stories in their book are historically true or not. But I always figured that if the lessons Christ taught were valuable it doesn’t really matter if he was actually capable of miracles or not. It doesn’t even matter if he actually existed. The lessons would be just as true if he was a fictional character. And anyway you can never hope to prove this stuff one way or another, so why waste your time and effort trying?

The whole War on Christmas is a complete joke. So what if a few atheists protest nativity scenes and insist on saying “happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas?” It’s not going to change anything in any major way. Apparently Best Buy, Home Depot and Dick’s Sporting Goods employees aren’t allowed to say “Merry Christmas” while the folks who work for Macy’s, K-Mart and In-N-Out Burger are. You can find a more comprehensive list HERE, though I think it may be a couple years out of date. But even if that’s true, so what? These major retail chains know they have a lot of Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist and atheists customers as well as customers of Christian denominations like the Jehovah’s Witnesses who don’t celebrate Christmas.

Me, I like Christmas. I like the songs. I like the lights. I like the trees and the presents. It’s fun. I like A Christmas Story and Bad Santa on TV. I like the old Rankin-Bass Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer special. I don’t really care if Jesus is the reason for the season or not.

So have yourself a merry little Christmas this year, whether you believe in it or not!


Brad Warner is the author of Sex, Sin and Zen: A Buddhist Exploration of Sex from Celibacy to Polyamory and Everything in Between as well as Hardcore Zen, Sit Down and Shut Up! and Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate. He maintains a blog about Buddhist stuff that you can click here to see.

You can also buy T-shirts and hoodies based on his books, and the new CD by his band Zero Defex now!

And remember, Brad’s books, apparel and CDs make great Christmas gifts!!



  1. […] Ian in Commentary I ran across this post, Jesus is the Reason for the Season, by Brad Warner on his Suicide Girls Blog and it got me to thinking a bit about Christmas.  So I […]

  2. […] Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Jesus is the Reason for the Season? Only a few more days before the annual War On Christmas ends! So get your shots in quick! […]