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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas One and All

When I lived in India for a couple of academic years, I enjoyed the regular religious celebrations there. Some were celebrated nationally--Holi, Divali, Christmas, Eid--and some were confined to local gods or religious communities. (I was once told, persuasively, that a third of the days in India are devoted to religious celebration, though I can't confirm this.) On holiday days, businesses might be closed, or government offices, or schools, or all or some. The rhythm of days was obscure to the non-Indian. But here's the thing: India celebrates only three national holidays--Republic Day, Independence Day, and Gandhi's Birthday. The rest are acknowledged publicly, but not as national holidays.

The nice thing about India is that there's a lot of slop-over. I have been invited by joyful celebrants into mosques, temples, homes, and even the sea to join religious celebrations. On Christmas, I was taken into the shrine room of a Tamil family by a woman who plucked up a toy Jesus from her alter. It had been resting amid the images of Hindu gods. She said brightly, "See, we celebrate baby Jesus' birth, too!"

Religion isn't the problem. It's the commingling of religious observances and bank holidays. Let us consider them separate issues and allow ourselves to acknowledge the day for what it is, Christmas, a good and fine day that even Hindus in Tamil Nadu celebrate. Or Buddhists like me.

Merry Christmas, folks--

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