Last Children's Day, my children and I were living in the Baca, in southern Colorado. My wife Judith had died four months before. The loss was fresh and vivid, and we had been living a retreat-like existence - it felt like what we needed. But as I read the Vidyadhara's teachings, the message I got over and over was that we have to go out, we have to expand constantly. So we decided to have a big reception on Children's Day.
Children's Day had become a very rich tradition in my family, though it wasn't that way in the beginning. I remember the first few years when we had both a shrine and a tree - the shrine was always somehow insignificant. Then Lady Diana sent a letter saying perhaps as Buddhists we shouldn't have a tree, that we should separate Children's Day from the Christmas tradition. I agreed in principle, and yet giving up the tree was almost more than I could bear. Each year Justin and I would go out into the woods and cut a tree, carry it home, decorate it - it was a whole ritual, and besides, it was the tradition I had grown up with. After three or four days of agonizing soul searching, and finally at Judith's insistence, I sat down with Justin (he must have been six at the time) and said, "Maybe we won't have a tree this year."
He said, "Will we have a shrine?"
"That's fine, " and he went on his way.
I realized that the tree had been all my trip. Indeed, not having a tree really clarified a lot of confusion about the holiday and allowed the "new tradition" of Children's Day to flourish.
When Children's Day approached in the Baca, we all worked hard and built a three-tiered shrine and covered it with satin and glass. As we started to decorate, we had a big argument about who would do what - perhaps an unfortunate Children's Day tradition in my family. But out of the chaos the whole world of the children's shrine began to manifest in our home. As usual, it started out very vajra, but as we went along it became more padma and finally downright ratna.
By Children's Day, the shrine had a completely magical quality - from the king and queen illuminated by candelight to the horses (which that year seemed to dominate the middle tier), the toys and various thingies, the bowls filled with candy, down through the flashing coloured lights around the shrine.
Other than one Vajradhatu family, no one we invited knew anything about Children's Day. As children came in, they were immediately attracted to the shrine, and we told them they could have candy from the shrine whenever they wanted. This seemed to surprise them; eventually they took all the candy, but with respect. For the adults we had hor d'oevres and eggnog. I myself sipped sake, thought of the Vidyadhara, and was very nervous - I had never tried to do anything like this before.
At some point we all gathered around the shrine and let the children share stories and jokes. We sang the few Shambhala songs in existence, ending with the anthem. We gave each of the children a pouch made with gold paper containing a chocolate candy and a small polished turquoise stone. They valued the stone in particular, which I suggested might help them become warriors if they kept it in a special place. There was a marked sense of upliftedness about the children - in contrast to the speedy greed that seemed to dominate various Christmas events in the community.
The adults without exception commented on how refreshing it was to have a children's celebration free from the heavy conceptualization and materialism connected with Christmas. Several wanted to keep the words of the Shambhala songs. Three families said they would like to have children's shrines next year.
Maybe they will, and maye they won't. I suppose the point is that the reception worked beyond my fears and expectations. There was real magic. I realized that we have a rich tradition, new as it is, and that we can share it with others.