A Merry Little, Little Christmas


Some Christmases past, I illustrated an essay written by Sonia Shah about her childhood as Jainist whose family meekly accepted some Christmas holiday traditions.

[T]he highlight of the holiday was the exchange of heartfelt gifts. This couldn’t have been a more foreign idea to my parents. My father to this day doesn’t know when his real birthday is, and never in their lives had he or my mother celebrated a birthday, let alone exchanged gifts. In keeping with the Jain tradition, they didn’t accept presents even on their wedding day, a hot, sunny Dec. 25 in Bombay. Still, for the sake of us kids, they relented at Christmas.

The essay, “My Fake Christmas,” was intriguing as I knew very little about this ascetic Indian religion and its precepts.

I came to learn that Jainism is one of the oldest religions in the world, and it prescribes a path of non-violence that emphasizes equality between all forms of life. Jainists believe that non-violence and self-control are the means by which they can obtain “liberation.” Two other primary principles of Jainism are non-absolutism and non-possessiveness. Non-absolutism refers to the principle of the multiplicity of viewpoints – truth and reality are perceived differently depending on ones point of view, like the parable of the blind men and an elephant. “To ignore the complexity of reality is to commit the fallacy of dogmatism.”

Non-possessiveness, of course, emphasizes “taking no more than is truly necessary. Followers should minimize material possessions and limit attachment to current possessions. Wealth and possessions should be shared and donated whenever possible. Jainism believes that unchecked possessions can lead to direct harm to oneself and others.”  My information about Jainism comes from Wikipedia – so I gave them $3.

I have to go buy a dead tree for my living room now and then to the mall to buy more stuff for Christmas. Hope I don’t run over a squirrel on the way.