2018.12.08 Borrowed Traditions

I have seen Christmas trees covered in hundreds of folded paper cranes.

The tree is a German tradition, the cranes are Japanese, and Jesus was strictly speaking a Jew. Most Danes and most Americans will get involved with such cultural hodgepodge at this time of year.

I was thinking of cultural appropriation when I was coloring in a mandala a couple of weeks ago. The Buddhist wheel-of-life representations require some concentration coloring in and even more concentration when they are done traditionally using colored sand.

It felt a little strange to be instructed by an American, but is it any more "off" to be taught about mandalas by an Caucasian American Buddhist than it is hearing about Christianity from an Argentinian living in Rome?

Is is any more "off" for a non-Buddhist to color a mandala than for a non-Christian - or a non-German - to have a lighted pine tree in the living room?

How do the Japanese feel about their cranes becoming universal? Or the Buddhists about non-believers coloring mandalas? Or the Germans about red trees in the White House?

I don't know.

At this time of year, many Danes enjoy frustrating their American friends by teaching them to fold paper stars like the smallest star in the picture. They are a Danish - or German, or Swedish, or ??? - invention. They are made from four long strips of paper. I still remember my frustration back when my father taught me the art.

(Why do we do this to our friends?)

As is evident from the picture, I eventually learned to fold the star.

Then a friend gave me the other two stars and I am frustrated anew. I do know how to fold a crane, so with the help from Youtube I will probably figure this out as well.

But, honestly, I am not sure how I will feel if my Buddhist friend later sports a tree all covered in "my" paper stars: Honored or slightly uncomfortable? And that is good to think about before the situation arises. Because me coloring mandalas may raise the same question to people from Nepal.

A hectic time is ahead. Do take "time off" now and again to focus on the here-and-now rather than on all the things that need to be done before the Holidays. I can recommend folding origami or coloring mandalas - but putting out a big jigsaw puzzle may carry less risk of cultural appropriation.

(Or perhaps we could try assuming good intent. After all, it is the season for Good will to man.)