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The birth of Jesus, the real reason for the season, put Christ back into Christmas are reminders for us to consider the true or original intent of Christmas. From the perspective of our current focus on consumerism as being the sole purpose of Christmas these are good reminders. They can shift our focus away from the stress and excessiveness of buying gifts providing an opportunity to remember the original intent with focus on family, friends and love.

Remembering the teachings of Jesus at this time of year would be a good thing for everyone regardless of ties to one specific religion or having no ties to religion or faith at all. Although now viewed as the exclusive purview of the Christian faith, I believe that the vision of Jesus was bigger than that and that he includes everyone in his teaching about kindness and love of all mankind and nature. His was an inclusive not an exclusive philosophy.

My recent expansion of knowledge about the winter solstice (Winter Solstice, December 22, 2011) has added to my thinking about the importance of this time of year. I now see it as an additional opportunity, one to honour our link to nature and to the natural rhythms and flow of the planet and of the universe. A wonderful opportunity is offered to us, an opportunity that I have not taken full advantage of in the past. My natural inclination to be in the woods during the Christmas season now seems to make sense. Further exploration of how to honour the winter solstice is on my to-do list.

What struck me with the winter solstice and my contemplation about the true meaning of Christmas was the global recognition of this time of year as being special. There are also other rituals and celebrations that coincide with the winter solstice that are celebrated by various cultures around the world. I have frequently wondered how this significant time of year could be restricted to people of the Christian faith. The fact that so many people celebrate Christmas yet do not have any ties to Christianity added to my confusion. I know that this is partly linked to the current focus on consumerism and pressure to “jump on the bandwagon”. Even some Christians have drifted away from the original meaning of the holiday now solely focusing on the “buying thing”.

There is drift and discussion about not using the term Christmas in schools and other public arenas and referring to the season as “the holiday season”, “a winter celebration” and other ways to take the religious connotation out of the Christmas season. I think this takes us in the wrong direction away from the value of the season. Similar to the winter solstice Christmas offers us an opportunity to reflect, to acknowledge our love for one another, to share time with others. Enhancing these activities and this focus is the direction to go towards.

This brought me to thinking beyond Christ and about the other founders of the major religions of the world—Moses, Krishna, Buddha, Muhammad, and Baha’u’llah – and about all the similarities in teachings offered to us by each of them. The similarities across and among these key figures are not easily dismissed and in fact I believe they deserve more serious attention and consideration. If they are all delivering the same messages why are we focusing our attention on one at the exclusion of the others? 

We live in a global environment where people of all races and creeds live together both figuratively and literally. With technology and the ease of travel we have the option for easy access to information about all the cultures and the corresponding customs around the world. Learning from one another, sharing traditions and acknowledging the similar origins and intent of philosophy and customs is an exciting opportunity.

From my perspective I wonder why in this global environment we could not recognize and honour the learnings from all of these great teachers rather than just honouring the teachers themselves. What if we were to honour, remember and reinforce the virtues that each of the founders speaks to in their teachings? What if we were to pay attention to their common messages which urge us to integrate these virtues into our lives?

The common areas of concern of the founders include the following (as categorized by Harold Rosen in Founders of Faith and interpreted by myself):

Loving kindness & compassion

Caring for one another and recognizing our common humanity

Service & responsibility

Helping others whenever or whoever we can be it our family friends or people we do not know

Respect & tolerance

Respecting each other and being tolerant of differences in opinion, culture and creed

Peace & unity

Focusing on peaceful actions and moving away from all forms of violence, recognizing that we share the planet

Trustworthiness & honesty

Being truthful to ourselves and others, keeping our promises and supporting others

Moderation & balance

Focusing on acquiring what we need but not more than we need and striving for balance in all areas of our lives

Generosity & hospitality

Giving to others as we can, treating others as we wish to be treated and being contributing members of our communities and our world

Earthcare & stewardship

Caring about the environment and how our actions impact nature, the planet, taking action to be respectful of the earth

Creativity & beauty

Acknowledging our creativity and beauty and that of others as a manifestation of the wonder of the universe

Gratitude & reverence

Being grateful for what we have in our lives and acknowledging our blessings

Wisdom & discernment

Taking responsibility for learning, for gathering information to be able to make good decisions that do no harm

What if the messages rather than the messenger were the object of our focus? What if we also honoured our relationship with nature? What if we paid attention to these virtues as we celebrate Christmas or however our particular culture or belief defines this time of year?  

I believe we would have a very rich time indeed.

“a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”

 Irene McDermott © 2011

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