Friday, 11 December 2015

The Dilemma of "The Tree" at the Holidays

To tree or not to tree. That is the question.  

“The tree” has always been one of my favorite parts of the holiday season. It provides a comforting light in the darkness of winter. It adds sparkle to the world and reminds me that green and growth will return again soon. What’s not to love about the tree? Attachment, that’s what!

Randomly last week, I received two communications from two different friends who don’t know one another. Both expounded on their feelings about the tree.

Friend Number 1: A client. (I really hope he forgot I’m a part of his email address book, because honestly who exposes a business associate to a religious tirade. Oh wait a minute…never mind.) But I digress. I received an email from him excoriating people who call the tree a Holiday Tree instead of a Christmas Tree. He is apparently among those who feel there is some kind of war on Christmas and who takes offense to people who say Happy Holidays or excise the word Christmas in reference to the tree. 

Friend Number 2: A self-described born-again Christian. She wrote a post in social media stating that she will no longer put up a tree because it does not have a Christian foundation. She delivered no vitriol in her post. She simply shared her process of examining her past beliefs and behavior and talked about the ways in which she is trying to align her current beliefs with her behavior.

I'm a person who loves the tree, regardless of what you call it and I find this dance of opposites to be fascinating. It makes me think more about attachment.

The Holiday Season is replete with religious symbolism. Humanity’s need to celebrate the solstice in one way or another has resulted in an apparent universal desire to stake a claim to this time of year. There’s that word though - desire. Hence attachment.

I respect my second friend's decision to not have a tree, but it saddens me a little that her attachment to a symbolism that has long since expired is causing her to give up a tradition she previously enjoyed and around which she had built her own traditions.

The anger pouring out of my client and the distain he holds for people who choose to acknowledge that December is the home to more than one holiday reminds me of why attachment is considered the root of all suffering. He is making himself suffer with the anger he’s generating. He made me suffer when the shenpa hit me upon reading his words. He is making the participants of other faiths suffer by refusing to acknowledge space for them in his limited view of the holiday season. 

This December, I wanted to take a moment to remind us that the cultural call to desire and attachment is amplified at this time of year. The religious debates above, the pressure to buy gifts and concurrently think of something to want from others, attachment to having a particular family experience. It’s all pushed on us more intensely this time of year. Let’s make sure not to miss the forest for the trees. 

Who is Average Buddhist:
The Average Buddhist is a voice-specialized speech-language pathologist, health care advocate and singing teacher in Massachusetts. She writes the Average Buddhist blog at and moderates the Average Buddhist community on Facebook. Her book The Average Buddhist Explores the Dharma, a humorous tour of Buddhism for every day life, can be found at


  1. Since the very word "Christmas" has 'Christ' in it, I take it as understandable that a lot of Christians -- especially so older Christians -- feel that Christmas Time has lost a lot of that holy, holy 'celebrating the birth of Christ' feel that it used to have.

    Since I am fully detached from Christianity, I am more than OK with Christmas being a secular holiday in public spaces. And I'm OK that some families who have never been Christian, nonetheless, buy a tree and decorate it (and buy presents) such to get into that warm and cozy feeling that will take over the country as we get into the last part of this month.

    So. Having said that. A Merry Christmas, to All!

  2. Last year we bought a Christmas tree (or a Norwegian pine, at least) in to the temple and decorated it. This year I wondering whether to do the same thing or not.

    We've just finished our Bodhi celebrations (we celebrate on the 8th of Dec, and had a week long gathering from that date), and everyone has gone home again. That was a wonderful but tiring exercise and part of me is ready for some quite and simplicity, I always used to love taking Christmas decorations down as much as I loved putting them up.

    However a bit of decoration in mid-winter (or the perpetual autumn we are having) doesn't go amiss and it's true that I'm happy to honour the Christian celebrations.

    I imagine that once I feel a little more recovered from the Bodhi gathering, some kind of tree will go up.