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What Christmas Meant


Christmas has meant many different things to me throughout the course of my life. Every year, with one exception, I eagerly await for December 25. Once that day passes, I usually endure a small window of mourning brought on by the realization that it won't be December 25 again for a long time. December 25, 2015, I wasn't really looking forward to Christmas. Not in a sad way, it was just that I was in Taiwan, far from my family and everything else that I previously associated with Christmas. Little did I know, I was about to experience a Christmas better than I had ever imagined.

As a kid, December 25 meant presents. I waited all year for that day so I could receive presents. That was my source of joy for December 25. As I got older, the comfort of family and friends coupled with good food and vacation days became my reason for enjoying Christmas. Through college I began attending church and studying the bible, Christmas then gained new meaning as it was the day that, as the story goes, the founder and perfecter of my faith was born. These things, along with snow, are what I equate Christmas with. December 25, 2015 was going to be different.

A few days before Christmas, I received an invitation to visit Fo Guang Shan from a group of young film makers. This was not going to be a Christian setting, my family and friends were a 16 hour flight away, I had no reason to expect any gifts, and in the south of Taiwan, you could bet your last dollar that there wouldn't be any snow. On this particular day, it was the Reunion of Religious Associations. I have always known about the several Christian pilgrimages that take place around the world, and the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca known as the Hajj. The Reunion of Religious Associations at Fo Guang Shan was something like this, only it garnered participation from all religions. This was spectacular. Fo Guang Shan is a must visit for anyone, but on this particular day, it was extra special. All day my senses were fully engaged, there was plenty of food, firecrackers, dancing, speeches, plays and more.

It's funny how life works sometimes. The pastor at my church was the one who connected me with this group of people that invited me to Fo Guang Shan. Although my immediate family was miles away, I felt like I was among my larger, global family, made up of people from all different countries and religious beliefs. I even received a few gifts! I hope to see this event grow each year and would encourage anyone reading this to visit Fo Guang Shan for the Reunion of Religious Associations.

Patrick McKinlay AKA Mike

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