Christmas Offerings

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukah

I grew up in a conservative Jewish family in St. Louis, but Christmas offerings were all around. Like the Christians in our neighbor, my father decorated the house with Hanukah adornments and we had at least one gift for each of the eight nights of Hanukah. We lite the candles, one for each night, ate lotkes until we were stuffed and sang Hanukah songs. We felt totally connected with the holiday season and reveled in the two weeks off of school.

My wife grew up in a house that celebrated Christmas with all the trimmings, but she didn’t know that her mother was Jewish until her mother passed away when Mala was 16. Her father, who was Catholic, passed away when she was 9.

Freedman Family Christmas Tree from 2005.

So now, while our girls were growing up, we had a Christmas tree similar to the one to the left. This continues to this day, the 24th of December, 2016. Jessica, now 32, is here with her Italian husband and they are preparing Christmas feasts for tonight and tomorrow.

I’m writing this article because a dharma friend of mine sent around this lovely letter from Father Giovanni Giocondo to Countess Allagia Aldobrandeschi on Christmas Eve, 1513, and I thought you would enjoy reading it today and tomorrow.

His poem resonates with the teaching of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh on the value of the present moment.


“I salute you. I am your friend, and my love for you goes deep.
There is nothing I can give you which you have not. But there is much,
very much, that, while I cannot give it, you can take.

No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take heaven!
No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant.
Take peace!

The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within
our reach, is joy. There is radiance and glory in darkness, could we but see.
And to see, we have only to look. I beseech you to look!

Life is so generous a giver. But we, judging its gifts by their covering,
cast them away as ugly or heavy or hard. Remove the covering, and you
will find beneath it a living splendor, woven of love by wisdom, with power.
Welcome it, grasp it, and you touch the angel’s hand that brings it to you.

Everything we call a trial, a sorrow or a duty, believe me, that angel’s hand is there.
The gift is there and the wonder of an overshadowing presence. Your joys, too,
be not content with them as joys. They, too, conceal diviner gifts.

Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty beneath its covering,
that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven. Courage then to claim it; that is all!
But courage you have, and the knowledge that we are pilgrims together,
wending through unknown country home.

And so, at this time, I greet you, not quite as the world sends greetings,
but with profound esteem and with the prayer that for you, now and
forever, the day breaks and shadows flee away.”
~ Fra Giovanni Giocondo ~

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