Cambridge, MA. My last two posts - on the baby Krsna and baby Jesus, and on a special poetic style in south India that praises God as an infant - have given examples of Indian literary and (Hindu, Christian) religious resources that can be of value to Christians in the West in re-imagining the powerful fact and meaning of the birth of Jesus. As a postlude to those posts, I recommend that you consider how Hindus in the West have and are responding to/adapting to the Christmas celebrations of the majority culture. Much like Christians in the majority Hindu culture of India, Hindus here have learned to celebrate in their own way, marking some similarities yet also differences.
To see how this works out, I recommend a recent column at the Huff Post by Deepak Sarma, professor at Case Western University in Cleveland, entitled: “Diaspora Hinduism and the December Dilemma.” Professor Sarma’s own comments are clear and to the point, on the various strategies for adaptation undertaken by Hindus; and be sure to notice too the comments by his readers at the site.
Some Hindu communities celebrate Christmas in their own way. A significant case is the Vedanta Society – check the web for their temples in Boston, New York, LA, Chicago, and other major cities, and you will see that they almost always have a special celebration on Christmas. You can find on the web is a typical Christmas reflection by Swami Nishtatmananda in India (in 2009) And you can even watch the video of celebrations of Christmas at the Vedanta Society’s headquarters in Belur, Bengal, India, for example in 2010.
Christmas is one of the absolutely central and distinctive feasts of our Christian calendar. Yet it something to mark and appreciate, and not be shocked by, how people of other faiths are also marking the occasion and celebrating the cultural/religious event in their own ways. The light is shared in many ways.
On a related note: It is also instructive to think about how Jews have founds ways to mark the holidays without celebrating Christmas as a religious feast, particularly this year when they are right now celebrating Hanukkah. I can’t resist calling to your attention a piece in the Wall Street Journal the other day by my Harvard colleague Professor Jon Levenson, “The Meaning of Hanukkah.” Among the interesting points in the column is how Hanukkah and the struggle of the Maccabees for freedom fits well into the American tradition of religious liberty – and how, remarkably, the old Catholic calendar (until the 1960s) celebrated the Maccabees as saints on August 1.
Francis X. Clooney, S.J.