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Bringing Buddhism Into Your Winter Holidays

gold buddha statue with incense smoke

I’m a midwest girl who practices Bud- dhism. Since I live several hours from the nearest Sangha (Buddhist Community) most of my Buddhism is done privately and I can easily adapt it to fit our lives. Since Buddhism is a phi- losophy and not a religion with dogma and deities it lends itself nicely to personalization. One way we do this is adding Buddhist tradition into our secular Christmas traditions by celebrating Bodhi Day.

On Bodhi Day Buddhists celebrate the day in 596 BCE that the historical man, named Siddhartha Gautauma, meditating on the morning star found enlightenment, and with it the teachings of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path that are the basis of all Buddhism. On that day Siddhartha became The Buddha which means“Awakened One.”

Bodhi Day is celebrated on December 8th (the Japanese Zen word for the holiday, Rohatsu, literally means ‘eighth day of the twelfth month.”) and for the ante ceding 30 days.Here are 8 ways you can celebrate Bodhi Day with your kids.

1. Decorate with colored lights.

Buddhists decorate with brightly colored lights to represent the light of Enlightenment. The multicolored lights represent the myriad paths of the dif- ferent schools of Buddhism.

2. Light a candle.

Every night beginning on Dec. 8 and continuing for 30 days, light a candle in the evening to represent the Enlightenment of The Buddha. This is a great time to read stories about The Buddha and about the buddhist precept of compassion. We like Buddhist Animal Wisdom Stories by Mark W.McGinnis and you can get free stories to read at Buddhanet.

3. Decorate your own Bodhi.

A Bodhi tree (bodhi means awake) is a ficus religiosa (if you can’t find a ficus religiousa you can get a ficus benjamina). It is traditionally decorated with three bulbs to represent the Three Jewels of Buddhism: The Buddha, representing Enlightenment; The Dharma, representing the teachings or path to Enlightenment; and The Sangha, representing the community of practicing Buddhists.

4. Meditate

My kids see me meditate and sometimes join in but for Bodhi Day we do child-centered meditations. Our favorite is A Handful of Quiet: Happiness in Four Pebbles by Thich Nhat Hanh and Wietske Vriezen which guides kids in mindfulness using four ordinary pebbles.

5. Make Bodhi Leaf cookies.

Bodhi leaves look like hearts so you can repurpose your Valentine cookie cutters and switch to green icing!

6. View the morning star just like Siddhartha!

The morning star Siddhartha saw the morning of his Enlightenment is the same “star” we call the morning star, the planet Venus. In December Venus is visible before sunrise in most northern latitudes. Check out for viewing times for your area.

7. Watch The Legend of Buddha for free on YouTube.

This animated, feature-length film makes the story of The Buddha accessible for kids and was nominated for an Academy Award. Remember that Buddhists generally take their origin stories (such as the “divine” birth of Siddhartha) as metaphorical stories and not literal events as western religions often do.

8. Volunteer with your kids.

The story of The Buddha’s life (he left a life of unparalleled privilege as a prince to find the solution to human suffering) and his Enlightenment all focus on compassion for our fellow humans. Whether you are helping with Toys for Tots, cleaning up the neighborhood streets, or serving at a soup kitchen the message of compassion will resonate with your kids.

Whether you blend Buddhist traditions with your own faith tradition or use it as a lesson in multi-culturalism for your kids I wish you a warm and happy holiday season. Namaste.

About the author

Paige Lucas-Stannard

Paige Lucas-Stannard is a parent educator and coach specializing in social justice and feminist-focused, respect-based parenting practices. She is the author of Gender Neutral Parenting and the upcoming book, based on her popular online class, Transformative Parenting. She and her partner unschool their three kids in the rural mid-west. When not writing, she loves to travel and spend time in nature with her family. Follow her on Facebook at Parenting Gently and on Twitter @parentinggently.