Christmas Lessons

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Dear Still Water Friends,

I read today a talk that Thich Nhat Hanh gave in 1997, in which he appreciated that Christmas, much like Vietnamese New Year, brings families together.

This was true of my family. Even though we were Jewish, the generations came together at my parents’ house for a family dinner on Christmas day. I didn’t enjoy the gatherings very much. I felt painfully distant from my grandmothers and my great aunts and uncles who were raised in Eastern Europe and whose concerns were so different from the thoroughly American young person I considered myself to be. Nonetheless, at the dinner table I heard the family stories and learned about my roots, where I came from.

At our holiday celebration these days, the lessons I’m learning are more often about fruits than roots. As a husband, parent, and grandparent I’m aware that my attitudes and actions influence my family, and that the family influences me. In our coming together we teach each other; we grow together. The edges around “me” seem much more permeable than they did when I was a teenager in Los Angeles.

I’m also aware that the Still Water community is like a family. Our spiritual tradition nourishes us. We support each other in a multitude of ways. Day by day we are changing each other.

Thank you for being part of this community, whether you regularly attend Still Water activities or are a faraway friend enjoying our announcements.

An excerpt from Thay’s talk is below.

Warm wishes for the holidays.

Mitchell Ratner
Senior Teacher

Finding Our Roots
by Thich Nhat Hanh from a Plum Village Dharma Talk, December 25, 1997

According to the tradition on Christmas Day you have to go back to your family. When I look into Christmas deeply I realize that Christmas is very close to the spirit of the Vietnamese New Year. Because in our tradition you have to go back to your family before the New Year date.

You have to be a family again. You have to touch your roots deeply again. It is easier for you to touch your roots deeply if every member of the family is there. That is one of the wonderful things concerning Christmas. Everyone is urged to go back to his or her family on Christmas day. I hope that this practice lasts for a long time. When we come together as a family we have a chance to touch deeply our roots. To be together as a family is an opportunity. We should learn to make use of this opportunity in order to touch each other deeply, to reconcile with each other, because that is the best way to touch our ancestors. As you know a person cannot be a happy person if he or she has no roots. That is why to go home and touch our roots deeply is a very important practice. Christmas is an opportunity for us to do so. We have all kinds of roots. Christmas is an opportunity for us to sit down, to look deeply, and to realize that we have roots. To become aware that we have roots. We have more stability and peace and joy if we can be firmly rooted in our own ancestors, in our own culture.