Christmas is an interesting phenomenon. There’s no denying its transformative power, if you look beyond commercialism there’s no denying that it brings people closer together and makes them want to be better men. Christmas spirit is a real thing, the joy of giving and caring and all that, but is it really real and where does this spirit come from? This is where it gets complicated.
Is the secret of Christmas in its religious roots? Not likely, the exchange of presents and taking care of the less fortunate ones is a tradition of Santa Claus, and Santa Claus is believed to be based on Saint Nicolas, a compassionate fellow who lived somewhere in Turkey and slipped some money in children’s stockings left out for drying. He was a religious man but his gesture has nothing to do with religion – you don’t have to believe in God to feel empathy with other human beings. Soviets had their own version and their festivities were absolutely secular.
Most people partaking in Christmas spirit nowadays don’t believe in God either and don’t need Him to have their Christmas fun.
What about Christians? They celebrate the birthday of Christ, a genuine religious occasion, that must be the source of their inspiration. Okay, but Christ wasn’t born on Christmas, there are no clues to the actual date in the gospels and it’s too cold in Israel at this time of the year for shepherds to stay with their sheep in the pastures overnight, which was the reason the barn was available in the story.
So the date itself has no spiritual significance. This is different from our Ekadashis because those are cosmic events – fasting between two certain time points brings certain spiritual benefits. On the other hand I feel that our other festivals don’t have any connection with an actual calendar, too.
Maybe the connection is there, in Kali Yuga we shouldn’t trust our under-developed feelings in matters such as this, but the fact is that we can create a festival out of nothing any time we want, have a massive kirtan and distribute lots of prasadam, and everyone would feel that.
Is it what’s happening with Christmas, too? Lots of people getting together and creating atmosphere of a holiday?
If they have no particular spiritual reason, then how is it different from us? How is it different from our Janmashtami or Vyasa puja? Are those real holidays with their own spiritual powers, like Ekadashi, or are they just excuses for us to have a big party?
I mean what would happen if we move Janmashtami or Gaura Purnima by one or two days? Anyone would notice? I think not.
What I mean to say is that Gaura Purnima happens when we celebrate it, not when a certain number of days have passed since the last festival.
I’m not very comfortable with this conclusion, I hope there’s a better explanation but it’s eluding me.
PS The main difference is that our festivals, unlike modern Christmas, are meant for the pleasure of the Lord. That fully justifies them. What can justify a secular Christmas I don’t know.