A Buddhist's Wishes on Christmas Day

For two years in the late 1980s, when our children were little, our family lived in Malaysia. We enjoyed many things about that experience, including the fact that there were sizable numbers of at least four major religious groups in the local population: Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Christians, plus an assortment of others. The Malaysian calendar was thus dotted with religious-based holidays -- and an admirable practice was for people from any religion to note all religions' holidays. Thus we would wish our Muslim (and also non-Muslim) friends "Happy Hari Raya" on the appropriate day. And Happy Deepavali, Happy Buddha's Birthday, etc. Across religions, everyone celebrated Christmas as a major commercial event.

I've carried that practice back to America, giving specific-seasonal greetings on each relevant day - Happy Hanukkah, Happy Easter - rather than the anodyne "Best Wishes for 'the holidays.' " I mention this background both to wish Merry Christmas to all observing the occasion today, and to introduce this note below, from a reader in California who is Japanese-American and Buddhist. She is responding to my saying that, despite complaints from some quarters, I admired Barack Obama's eulogy for Sen Daniel Inouye, including the part that described what Inouye's example had meant to the 11-year-old schoolboy Barack Obama of Honolulu:

As a church organist and having buried both my parents, I'm seen many, many funerals and heard many, many eulogies.  The ones that seem to affect and comfort the mourning families the most are the ones that speak directly to how the departed one had a specific influence on the life of the speaker.  When the eulogist is the President of the United States .... that's powerful to the nth degree. I like the contrast between the story of Sen. Inouye's influence on him before he knew him personally and after when he did.  Like you, I was completely impressed that the President was able to produce this wonderful eulogy the same week as the Newtown eulogy...

The Watergate hearings were the first time I saw Sen. Inouye "in action" at the Senate.  I was so proud and impressed with this fellow Japanese-American.  There weren't that many JA role models in the 60s, Sen. Inouye and Pat Morita were the first two I remember making me feel more American than Japanese and making me proud to be both.

I was very touched seeing the honor of the Rotunda viewing and National Cathedral funeral coming to Sen. Inouye.  Somehow, even as I knew he was an icon in my life, I wasn't sure that others saw him in the same way.  Thank you for noting his service and place in the history of this country. It means a lot.

It's Dec. 22 and my grown children made their way home from NY and MI.  It tickles my children that I put so much effort into Christmas decorations and gifts when I'm a life-long Buddhist, as were my parents, who taught me that we celebrate other people's birthdays, why not Jesus Christ's when it brings a message of joy, peace and goodwill towards all? So to you and yours, as our Family New Year's Card always proclaims, sending you wishes for a year of Health, Peace, Music and Nothin' But Net.


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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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