I have to admit: I am generally not a big fan of the holiday season. Busy streets, crowded stores, mass consumption... I often wonder in all the frenetic shopping, how much true authentic connection and meaning is occurring.
Yes, the holidays encourage us to give, but whose is to say that giving is motivated by a true sense of connection?
Yes, the holidays often bring families together, but whose to say that this coming together will be one of discord or harmony?
Reflecting on this, I remembered a quote from the Buddha when he said, "The greatest gift you can give another is the gift of Dharma." I like to think of Dharma not just as the teachings of the Buddha, but the teachings of the truth, or the ways things are.
Now, if I said to my child, "I am only giving you the gift of truth this year," I think he would be greatly disappointed. At the surface, he does not want the truth; he wants the new Super Mario Brothers for the wii game. That's what matters to him.
I do not think the answer is to deny children the things of this world or boycott Christmas. After all, most spiritual teachings encourage giving. The Buddha said:
Giving is the noble expression of the benevolence of the mighty. Even dust, given in a child innocence, is a good gift. No gift given in good faith to a worthy recipient can be called small; its effect is so great.
Jesus did as well, explaining that it is easy to give out of abundance, quite another to do so when we cannot afford to, but that the latter is when it is really tested.
I realize though that I can buy my son the gifts that seem appropriate and that I can afford, including the latest Wii game, and at the same time remind him that the object is also impermanent, just like everything else in the world and that it can never provide him true happiness. While on the surface, he wants the latest toy, I know deep down he, like all of us, wants to be happy.
The challenge in the holiday season is not only to buy gifts, though that is nice too, but the deeper challenge is to also give the gift of truth, realizing both the momentary joy objects can bring and the more enduring happiness that is possible when realize that there is a spiritual dimension to being that can be accessed no matter the number of objects or toys in our lives. In fact, we can likely enjoy them more when we know that our well-being does not depend on them.