Pin It
Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

Is Christmas any less Christian if you put up a Bodhi Day tree?


One of my daughter’s Jewish friends from preschool once said that she liked coming to our house this time of year because we were the only other people who did not have a Christmas tree, either. Her mother described the conflict her child felt at school having to do Christmas-themed art projects such as decorating trees, which, regardless of what you call them, are still Christmas trees. Even a five-year-old could see this. Is Christmas any less Christian if you put up a Bodhi Day tree?

It felt good to know that she found comfort in our home, although I had to confess that the real reason we did not have a Christmas tree at that time was that we used to always travel over the holidays. I was raised Catholic. We do celebrate Christmas. However, we did it reflexively.

So then I nearly scared my children to death with the pronouncement, “Now that we’re Buddhist, maybe we shouldn’t celebrate Christmas anymore.”

You can imagine their response, “NOOOOO!!!!”

Curious, we did some research and discovered that some Buddhists put up Bodhi Day trees on December 8 to celebrate the day of the historical Buddha’s enlightenment. Bodhi Day trees are ficus religiosa trees (or an evergreen in a pinch) decorated to represent the Jewel Trees in the Pure Land, which are encrusted in precious gems, fruit, and flowers. Bodhi Day trees are wrapped with multicolored lights to represent enlightenment, strung with beads to symbolize the way all things are connected, and hung with shiny ornaments to represent the three jewels of Buddhism–the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. The star on top represents the morning star to mark the moment of the Buddha’s enlightenment. Candles are lit and presents are exchanged.

It looks suspiciously like a Christmas tree.

Still, the discussion did open up doors for us to think more deeply and deliberately about Christmas, Buddhism, and what we wanted to create together for our family traditions. Both Christmas and Buddhism have become more meaningful to us because of this conversation. The kids sometime joke about our Bodhi Day tree, but we all know ours is an unabashed Christmas tree with Buddhist ornaments.

Lucky for us, Christmas is not philosophically incompatible with Buddhism (as it is philosophically incompatible with Judaism, Islam and the Jehovaha’s Witness faith). I do not envy those families trying to make their way through the Christmas season with both children and integrity intact.

In a very thoughtful and insightful article, second-generation Muslim Palestinian American writer, Hadeel Masseoud, wrestles with whether to put up a Christmas tree for her preschool-aged son, “A Very Muslim Christmas: Would having a tree betray our faith?” My favorite passage:

I mentioned these childhood memories of Christmas once to my former law school classmate, Eric, who grew up Jewish in Connecticut. After I described how we used to celebrate Christmas like any other Christian family up until I was 12, he looked at me in shock and said, “What? You used to celebrate Christmas? I am a bad Jew and even we never celebrated Christmas!” I felt a bit ashamed that a Jew who enjoyed pepperoni pizza was chiding me for putting up a Christmas tree as a kid.

In “Baha’i gift-giving season follows different cycle,” Baha’i writer Ellen Price flips the perspective around and shows how a Christian friend saves “Christmas gifts” until the appropriate Baha’i gift-giving season. What a great idea.

Sometimes people are defensive about being able to celebrate Christmas without having to worry about the feelings of others, but I find that the more I learn about why other religions do what they do, the more meaningful my own choices become.

© 2010 – 2011, Frances Kai-Hwa Wang. All rights reserved.

More Great Stuff You'll Love:

6 Favorite Children’s Books about Ramadan

Our top picks for Muslim and non-Muslim kids alike

Ramadan Star and Moon Craft

A craft recycled from your kid's art work!

Breastfeeding Around the World

In photos and figures

The African Guide to Co-sleeping

10 must-read tips on co-sleeping from Africa


Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Michigan and Hawaii. She is editor of Asian American Village, a contributor for New America Media's Ethnoblog, Chicago is the World, JACL's Pacific Citizen, InCultureParent and Multicultural Familia. She is on the Advisory Board of American Citizens for Justice. She team-teaches "Asian Pacific American History and the Law" at University of Michigan and University of Michigan Dearborn. She is a popular speaker on Asian Pacific American and multicultural issues. Check out her website at She can be reached at

Leave us a comment!

Notify me of follow-up comments via e-mail.
Or leave your email address and click here to receive email notifications of new comments without leaving a comment yourself.

Get weekly updates right in your inbox so you don't miss out!

Why My African Feminist Mother Gave Me the Identity of My Father's Tribe

She gave me an identity so different from her own.

2 Children’s Books about Jamaica

Explore Jamaica with your child.

Costa Rica with Kids: Two Weeks of Family Travel

Two weeks of Pura Vida in a country with so much to offer families.

Should I Worry about My Child's Accent in Her Foreign Language?

See why Dr. Gupta takes offense to this question and where children learn accents from

How to raise trilingual kids when exposure to Dad's language is limited

My kids only get 1-2 hours of the minority language per day-help!

What Cultural Norms Around Bare Feet Taught This Mother in Guatemala

Her baby's bare feet ended up being a lesson on poverty and privilege.

Why We Need to Read Multicultural Children's Books

Children need to see the world around them reflected in books.
Hi Chelsea, I did a Dip Ed at the University of Papua New Guinea and taught school in Papua New Guinea in 1970s. I was shocked how few children went to primary school and even less students to sec...
From Bilum Craft: Learning about Papua New Guinea
[…] InCulture Parent, an online magazine about global parenting, has posted an excerpt from Dina’s book and has also featured it in their New This Month category. Additionally, Adoptio...
From Finding Aster
This article is great and gives me hope that I can somehow get my marriage back on track after almost four years of living with my MIL. My mother in law is great and if I didn't have to live with he...
From How I Reclaimed My House from My Mother-in-Law
I'm half French, half Italian, raised in Australia - my husband, has Scottish and Maori bloodlines and was raised in Canada - We find that we tend to default to the Italian and Maori parenting style...
From French versus Italian Parenting in One Multicultural Family
I guess this is a common problem. I am American. She is from Europe. We had our (first) kid 11 months ago (I've been happier than I ever imagined at being a father. Let's see, what could ruin tha...
From How I Reclaimed My House from My Mother-in-Law
[…] Dunque ecco 10 valide proposte su come “uscire dal tracciato” e perché dovrebbero esserci più libri che puntano sulla  multiculturalità. […...
From Ten Reasons Parents Should Read Multicultural Books to Kids
look full european to ...
From Amazing Portraits of Biracial Kids
I remember the days and years of being orlewhvemed and feeling that I wasnt doing enough! After 20 years of homeschooling now, it is good to be reminded that parents often feel this way! We are so b...
From Awesome Summer Activity: Explorer Journal
These books are fantastic! You will love reindag them yourself or with your little ones. The stories, illustrations, and Armenian isms fit together perfectly. An enjoyable and creative way to keep ...
From Eco-Friendly Children’s Books for Earth Day

More Adventures in Multicultural Living