We are back home from Myanmar just in time for Christmas, and it really is the season to be jolly.
However, it is much more than that.
After traveling the world and seeing how many folks live, it seems the Christmas spirit in Hawaii continues all year thanks to the constant reminder that we choose to live aloha. The basic teachings of Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed and other spiritual leaders all come together here.
Diversity is mostly respected. Faith, hope and love are emphasized in Christian, Muslim and Hindu ethics.
Buddhist teachings reflect this as well, but go one step further. Some folks might disagree, but as Buddha is quoted, “We are shaped by our thoughts: We become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.”
Put all this together and we have aloha!
In Myanmar, the population is 90% Buddhist, but Dec. 25 is still a national holiday, with decorated trees, gifts and all the trimmings. The weather is perfect with the monsoon finished and the countryside green.
The notable difference is that the holiday is low-key with little commercial emphasis. It is a bit like Hawaii, without all the crazy shopping.
In Hawaii, we often see the same activities we might in July. The surf and beach are still the big attraction. Folks might even take the holidays to catch up on gardening projects.
Some folks miss the snow and the bite of frost in the air. They miss the cold, dark days, when all life is dormant. They long for the coziness of an open fireplace and the smell of turkey, ham or roast beef cooking in the kitchen.
But think about it. Most of the customs now associated with Christmas have little to do with the real meaning.
In fact, the very day we celebrate is probably not the actual birth date of Christ. In Europe this particular date was celebrated long before Christ was born.
The celebration was associated with the winter solstice, or the shortest day of the year, and the fact that the days were getting longer.
Most of the customs now associated with Christmas go back thousands of years, when people worshiped pagan gods.
The use of the Christmas tree is thought to have originated in Germany. During the eighth century, a missionary, St. Boniface, was trying to stamp out the rite of sacrificing people to the oak tree.
He led these tree-worshiping people into the forest in the dead of winter to show them the only tree with no cursing stain of blood upon it. This was the evergreen fir, which lives and grows when earth is darkest.
He showed them the tree pointed upward, toward the Christ Child. He told them to take this tree into their homes as a symbol of their newfound faith.
Now let’s look at a couple of other plants we associate with the special holiday.
The holly for thousands of years has had all manner of mystical charms and qualities attributed to it. The use of holly at Christmas was likely to have come from the Teutonic custom of hanging holly in their houses. They did this so the tree sprites might have a warm, safe shelter from winter storms.
The mistletoe originally had nothing to do with Christmas. It was considered sacred by those same tree worshippers because it grew on oaks. To this day in Europe amulets and rings of mistletoe are worn as an antidote against sickness.
Since we can’t plant mistletoe over the threshold here, we can find joy in gardening.
Yuletide gardening will be the top activity for many folks through the holidays, so even if you live in a condo you can turn your attention to indoor plantings.
That last-minute gift for someone you love also can be a living gift for the home or garden. Stop by a local nursery or garden centers for some creative ideas.
Merry Christmas and the best holidays ever to all. Don’t forget prayers for a super aloha year in 2020.