Silas, my six year old, wanted to know what Buddhist’s do to celebrate Christmas. We’ve been talking a lot about spirituality, and its distant cousin religion, lately, and I’ve been telling him and his brother Rio, 9, about the Christmas story. At random times of the day I’ll fire questions at them, pop quiz style, about the birth of Jesus, and offer them a range of ideas to ponder about his life and death. I want them to understand why people started celebrating this season, and how it came to pass that we associate it with the giving and receiving of presents.

I also weave in as many of the other holiday traditions around the approaching darkness, including the Hindu festival of Diwali, known as the festival of lights, and the Jewish Hanukkah when the nine branched Menorah is lit as a meditation on the meaning of the holiday.

Though all of this, the boys know what my beliefs are, but I insist that they should make up their own minds on spirituality. I remind them that belief in the teaching of the Buddha – that there is a path to the end of suffering – is not exclusive, and can be paired with any other set of spiritual beliefs we choose.

But Silas is persistent; he understands that there is something a little different about Dad’s beliefs and administers his own pop quiz as we walk to school one morning.

What can I tell him? I love Christmas, but not because of the birth of the son of God. I believe that Jesus Christ was born, possibly even in Bethlehem, on Christmas over two thousand years ago. But I don’t think he was the son of God in the literal way the bible would have us believe. I think he was a prophet and an Avatar, like the other great spiritual teachers Mohammad and the Buddha.

What I love about Christmas is that it’s a time of peace and good will and love towards one another. It’s possible that peace, good will and love were what was born as the “son” of God on that night so long ago. I have said elsewhere that I think that the bible should have stopped by saying that “God is love” and left well enough alone. I also believe that love is the infinite power of the universe to create life, and that all living things are manifestations of love’s will to exist in the vastness of time and space.

It’s not so much of a stretch, then, to say that Jesus Christ as the “son” of “God” was the emergence of very focused, intense love into the world at a time when humanity was particularly troubled. With true love comes peace, between nations, but also within. Peace was the prophet Jesus Christ’s greatest message; so it was with Lord Buddha: together they taught that peace within one’s soul is needed before we can have peace between nations. And from that comes good will towards one another.

That’s a lot for a six year old to think about, and the conversation diverges to a discussion about which Star Wars Lego set he might find under the tree.

I don’t know what Buddhists do at Christmas to be honest. I’m not part of the club. I know what I’m going to do at Christmas. I’m going to continue to greet every person I meet by silently saying Nameste, which means “the spirit in me greets the spirit in you.” What better way to welcome the spirit of the season into our hearts than through this benediction?

I’m also going to make an extra effort to bring peace, even just for a moment, to those who need it the most: the weary, the downtrodden, those who are suffering for whatever reason, big or small. I’ll do what I can to teach peace and be at peace during this time when we must be the light that shines through the veil of darkness. I’ll do this by telling perfect strangers and my closest friends with a smile, with small talk, and often without words, that they are loved.  I’ll likely slip-up and get frustrated or flustered over the holidays, trying to impose my notion of perfection on an already perfect world. That’s why God, who loves us and wants us to find peace, gave us rum and eggnog at this time of the year. Or maybe that’s the Buddha.

For more seasonal merriment see: Holiday Shopping with the Buddha Claus.