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Is Christmas a Good Idea for Sikhs?

December Holidays and Guru Gobind Singh's Gurpurab

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Ornament Depicting Guru Gobind Singh

Ornament Depicting Guru Gobind Singh

Photo © [S. Khalsa]

Christmas in America

If you live in America it’s difficult to ignore Christmas. Many schools involve children in class art projects involving Christmas themes and may even have gift exchanges. Shops begin putting up Christmas displays in late October which include a vast variety of Christmas icons featuring cards, strings of lights, evergreen trees, ornaments, poinsettias, stockings, Santa Claus, and Nativity scenes depicting the birth of Jesus Christ, a Christian deity. Songs about can be heard in shops and on the radio. Work place and other social activities may include gift exchanges. Sikh immigrant’s new to America may be wondering what just what Christmas is all about. Many Sikhs especially families with young children may wonder whether it’s a good idea to get into the Christmas spirit. Before making such a decision it’s a good idea to have the facts. Christmas is celebrated on the 24th and 25th of December and has the influence of both Pagan and European traditions. Christmas is celebrated about the same time of year as the birth of Guru Gobind Singh and martyrdom of his fours sons and mother occurred and are occasions traditionally observed with Gurpurab or commemorative Sikh worship services.

Paganism Influence Winter Solstice and Evergreens

Decorating the tree is thought to have originated with the Druids, who were worshipers of nature. At the time of the winter solstice, Druids draped the branches of ever greens and other trees with fruit berries seeds and offerings of sacrificial meat. In European countries many people used the boughs of evergreen trees as bedding and to cover their floors during winter.

Christian Influence and Birth of Christ

At some point in history due to Papal influence of the Catholic Church, the birth of Christ became associated with the winter solstice celebrations. It’s not known for certain when the birth of Jesus occurred, except that it did not take place in winter, but most likely in the spring. Mary, the mother of Jesus, and her husband Joseph, were required to pay a tax in Bethlehem. Unable to find lodgings they were given quarters in an animal shelter where Jesus was born. A group of shepherds and several astrologers (wise men) are believed to have visited the family bringing gifts for the infant. The word Christmas is a shortened form of Christ Mass and is a religious ceremonial holiday of Catholic origin honoring Christ. Christmas day December 25th is a Catholic Holy Day of Obligation, and is the beginning of a twelve day festival concluding with Epiphany, on January 6th.

European Influence and Saint Nicholas

The tradition of Santa Claus who brings toys to children at Christmas time is thought to have originated with the Catholic Saint Nicholas, also known as Sinter Klaas, who sometimes secretly slipped coins into the shoes of children in the congregation. The practice of cutting and decorating trees is that to have begun sometime between the 16th the 18th centuries in Germany, possibly with Martin Luther, an early protestant reformer.

Modern Day Mythology and Commercial Christmas in America

Christmas in America is an amalgamation of tradition and mythology. The holiday may or may not be religious in nature depending on who is doing the celebrating, and has become a very commercial event. The modern day Santa Claus, or Saint Nick, is a mythical figure, a jolly elf with a white hair and beard clad in a red woolen cap and coat trimmed with white fur, matching red pants with black boots. Santa supposedly lives in the North Pole with a group of elf toymakers. Reindeer pull a sleigh full of toys on Christmas Eve to the homes of all the children of the world. Santa magically pops down the chimney, whether or not there is a fireplace, to leave treats in stockings and toys beneath the tree. The myth has grown to include a Mrs. Santa Claus and Rudolph, a reindeer with a red nose. Parents and do-gooders act as Santa's helpers. The Christmas holiday revolves around the cutting of trees, trimming them with every manner of decorations, frenzied shopping for cards and purchasing gifts to exchange. Many charitable organizations supply Christmas toys to underprivileged children and meals to needy families.

December Gurpurab Commemorative Events

The birth of Sikhism's 10th guru, Guru Gobind Singh, which occurred on December 22, 1666 A.D. is observed on January 5 as per the Nanakshahi calendar. The two elder sons of Guru Gobind Singh were martyred on December 21 Nanakshahi (December 7, 1705 A.D), and the two younger sons on December 26th Nanakshahi (December 29, 1705 A.D.) These occasions are traditionally observed with an all night worship service of devotional singing in late December and in The USA often on 24th or 25th, depending which is most convenient as it is a time that most people are on holiday.

Deciding to How to Spend Your Holiday

Sikhism has a code of conduct, however the Sikh belief is that no one ought to be compelled, there is no forced conversion. Adherence to the Sikh faith is entirely voluntary. A Sikh arrives at a personal decision a based on understanding and willingness to follow Sikh principles. An initiated Sikh is part of Khalsa order and renounces all other ways of life, and therefore would have no ties to celebrations and festivities which are not an essential part of Sikhism such as Christmas. However celebrating with others is not considered a breach of conduct in the strictest sense. One’s intent and focus is what counts.

A true Sikh remains centered on the divine whatever occurs. When deciding how to spend your holidays consider the company you wish to keep and the direction you wish to grow. Reflect on how you actions may affect your family, whether it will cause a strain or breach in relations between family or sangat (spiritual companions). What ever course of action you decide upon do so with humility, so that you cause no hurt. When face with a situation which may compromise your commitment as Khalsa gracefully refuse. Giving is part of the Sikh way of life and is not restricted to any particular day of the year. If you take part in activities which do not violate your oath, be not reluctant, but join in wholeheartedly and give your all, with love.

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