I wrote this a few years ago, but it still seems right for the season. Merry Christmas!
I have blogged on a Taoist view, or my Taoist view, of Thanksgiving. But what about Christmas? What would a Taoist make of that?
First, and most obvious, a Taoist would stand apart from the central function of the holiday: celebrating the birth of the earth-bound expression of a singular, transcendent God. On both the question of birth and the question of God, a philosophical Taoist (as opposed to a religious Taoist) would have reservations.
Philosophic Taoism does not recognize a transcendent God in the manner of Christianity. God might be found in Taoism (i.e. we could read Him into Taoist texts), but God was not a part of the Taoist worldview in ancient times, and need not be a part of a modernized Taoism. As to birth, the Tao Te Ching tells us that Tao (Way) encompasses both being and non-being; so, the passage from pre-birth (whatever that might be) to birth, and from birth to death, are not all that important: we (or the stuff we are made of) are still part of Tao even as we make these transitions. That is why Chuang Tzu was able to get over the death of his wife fairly quickly: he realized that she had simply moved into another form along a ceaseless path of continual change. Birth, then, need not be celebrated, and God need not be celebrated. Not much room there for Christmas.
But there may be one element of the Christmas story that a Taoist could relate to: the child in the manger.
Taoism views the infant as closer to Tao than most adults. As we grow, we fill ourselves with all sorts of human learning, much of which takes us away from our natural selves and catches us up in shallow social conventions. The mind of an infant is empty, and it is precisely that sort of emptiness that Taoism strives for. Thus, in passage 55 of the Tao Te Ching, we read:
Embody Integrity's abundance
and you're like a vibrant child
hornets and vipers can't bite,
savage beasts can't maul
and fierce birds can't claw,
bones supple and muscles tender, but still gripping firmly.
The child, in all of his innocence, cannot be harmed by human knowledge and practices, which are utterly alien to him. The child, then, is something to celebrate.
And the idea of a poor child, a child of meager means, born in a manger, resonates with the Taoist notion that the low will be high, the dark light, etc.. All the more reason to rejoice at the Christmas scene.
But the purpose of Taoist rejoicing (which, in any event, would be circumspect) would not rest on the promise of the ultimate transcendence of the Christ child. Rather, the child would be celebrated for his immanence; that is, in recognition that each thing holds within itself the fullest expression of itself and, under sufficient conditions of freedom, will grow into itself fully.
This may not be too far off the Christian message of the equality of all things before God, just without the God. Chuang Tzu tells us that in Way (Tao) everything "moves as one and the same." Each thing has its place in Tao, its Integrity, and Tao is the perfect summation of all things. Each thing thus deserves equal respect. Furthermore, we should strictly limit our actions, lest they interfere with the integrity of other things. The meaning and significance of each thing comes from within it. We cannot improve upon anything and we should nothing that might dominate or impose our expectations on it.
So, it would be in that spirit - a cautious, respectful, inward-looking spirit - that a Taoist would celebrate the integrity and beauty of the child in the manger.