Posted by: Chandali Vinyard, Political Section, U.S. Embassy Kyiv
December is a special time of year for all Americans, no matter what part of the country one lives in or religious background one has. My favorite part of the holiday season in my hometown of Boulder, Colorado is the giant star lit up on the side of the mountain above the city between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Boulder, well known for being one of the most unusual towns in the United States, is situated at the foot of the majestic Rocky Mountains. It attracts a wide variety of people, especially those interested in alternative health and lifestyles and passionate about outdoor activities. My parents both moved to Boulder in the 1970s, and as young adults, became part of the Shambhala Buddhist community there, which is one of the largest Buddhist communities in the United States.
While my mother’s family has Jewish Eastern-European roots and my father’s family has Christian English-French roots, at our home we celebrated a mix of Christmas and Children’s Day, the Shambhala Buddhist holiday that falls on the Winter Solstice, December 21. Decorating for the holidays usually started sometime in mid-December, whenever my mom was ready to go out and look for a Christmas tree at one of the lots around town. My mom truly has one of the most beautiful collections of Christmas ornaments I’ve ever seen, including beautifully decorated glass balls that my grandmother’s family brought from Poland to the United States, as well as newer ornaments that my grandmother, mother, my sister and I have carefully picked out over the years. I vividly remember getting the boxes of ornaments out of storage and opening up each meticulously wrapped ornament, hoping that it would be one of my favorites so that I could find the perfect prominent place for it on the
tree. We always saved our lovely tree topper, stacked onion-shaped golden balls with red and silver adornments, bought in Russia by my great grandmother, for last. Once the tree was done, it was time to set up our Children’s Day shrine. We used a small table next to the tree, spread with a golden-yellow satin cloth, as gold is a royal color in Shambhala Buddhism. Then came the King and Queen of Shambhala, two exquisitely-dressed cloth dolls, and a number of special objects and offerings, including candles, juniper branches, incense, candies and other small objects sacred to our family.
Since we celebrated both Christmas and Children’s Day, in my family we never opened any gifts on Children’s Day, though I had friends who did. Our family would go together to the Buddhist center in Boulder, the Shambhala Center, for the Children’s Day events. The main event was the Children’s Day play, featuring community members as the Rigden King and Queen of Shambhala, and the tiger, lion, dragon and garuda (a fictional Buddhist animal). The play centers around the magical city of Kalapa, which is the capital of the Kingdom of Shambhala. Generally every year the play and story are slightly different, but always emphasize upliftedness, generosity, kindness and cheerfulness, with the King and Queen hosting a grand banquet for all the children and families of the Kingdom to celebrate the specialness of their children and to bring warmth, light and cheerfulness to the end of the year. The story may also have the King and Queen delivering gifts to children, similar to the way that Santa does in the Christian tradition. The Shambhala community’s celebration of Children’s Day is inspired not only by pagan celebrations of mid-winter but arises also out of the Japanese holidays of Boy’s Day and Doll’s Day, two separate days in spring when boys and girls of a certain age are presented to the temple and honored with special gifts.
For me, Christmas Day on December 25 is not a religious holiday, but a day to spend enjoying time with family, opening presents, admiring our beautiful tree, and eating. Our family spends weeks picking out gifts for each other, and we also take a lot of joy in wrapping every gift, be it tiny or large, in pretty, artistic wrapping paper and ribbon. After opening presents, we often go out to a movie in the afternoon, or play board games before dinner. While our family doesn’t have any particular dinner that is a must for Christmas, the day is not complete without cookies. My mom and I usually select a few cookie recipes from her old collection of Gourmet magazines to make every year in the days leading up to Christmas. Dinner on Christmas is usually something like roast beef and baby potatoes, a French baguette and a fresh green salad, with pie and cookies for dessert.
Now that I’m an adult living away from home, my holiday celebration has changed. When I’m not able to go home for the holidays, I have my own slowly growing collection of ornaments to put on a small tree. I don’t celebrate Children’s Day anymore since I don’t have any children yet and am not a practicing Buddhist. However, I would love to celebrate it again when I have my own children, because it is special to my heart and I like the messages in the Children’s Day story.
Cheerful Children’s Day and Merry Christmas to all!