Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas as a Baha'i

Celebrating Christmas, as a Baha'i, is a very personal matter.  I love attending the Lessons and Carols held here on the island in the Episcopalian Church (along with most of the islanders, no matter their faith).  I love seeing the lights and decorations, although I usually do not put up any myself. (Well, I have decided that next year I might put up some lights around the windows.)  I look forward to the loving times and meals with my family - our family rituals and foods that make it so special (including making gingerbread houses with the grandkids each year).  We do exchange gifts, but not outlandishly.

The following article truly articulates what this season, and its festivities, mean to many Baha's.  It certainly resonated with me, and may help to untangle some confusions.

Whether you wish to read it or stop right here, may I wish you a joyous season, special times with your loved ones, and a renewed lift in your spirit, no matter what your personal belief system may be.  Christmas blessings!!


Do Bahá’ís Celebrate Christmas?
Naturally, at this festive time of year, people like to ask whether or not Bahá’ís celebrate Christmas. And the simple answer is: No. Yes. Sort of. Sometimes. It depends.
How’s that for definitive?
The confusion here, I think, lies more in the question itself than in the answer. My befuddled answer above is appropriate to the question, “Do Bahá’ís celebrate Christmas?” because that particular question is really an umbrella for several related-but-different questions.
To clear things up, I thought I’d try to break it down to the best of my ability (with the caveat that these answers are based on my own understanding, which is hardly infallible). So here are some questions that are usually wrapped up in the more general question of whether or not Bahá’ís celebrate Christmas, and my undoubtedly imperfect answers to those questions.
Do Bahá’ís believe in Christ?
Yes, we do.
Here is a synopsis of the Bahá’í view of Jesus:
As to the position of Christianity, let it be stated without any hesitation or equivocation that its divine origin is unconditionally acknowledged, that the Sonship and Divinity of Jesus Christ are fearlessly asserted, that the divine inspiration of the Gospel is fully recognized, that the reality of the mystery of the Immaculacy of the Virgin Mary is confessed, and the primacy of Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, is upheld and defended.

The Founder of the Christian Faith is designated by Bahá’u’lláh as the “Spirit of God,” is proclaimed as the One Who “appeared out of the breath of the Holy Ghost,” and is even extolled as the “Essence of the Spirit.” His mother is described as “that veiled and immortal, that most beauteous, countenance,” and the station of her Son eulogized as a “station which hath been exalted above the imaginings of all that dwell on earth,” whilst Peter is recognized as one whom God has caused “the mysteries of wisdom and of utterance to flow out of his mouth.”
“Know thou,” Bahá’u’lláh has moreover testified, “that when the Son of Man yielded up His breath to God, the whole creation wept with a great weeping. By sacrificing Himself, however, a fresh capacity was infused into all created things. Its evidences, as witnessed in all the peoples of the earth, are now manifest before thee. The deepest wisdom which the sages have uttered, the profoundest learning which any mind hath unfolded, the arts which the ablest hands have produced, the influence exerted by the most potent of rulers, are but manifestations of the quickening power released by His transcendent, His all-pervasive and resplendent Spirit. We testify that when He came into the world, He shed the splendor of His glory upon all created things. Through Him the leper recovered from the leprosy of perversity and ignorance. Through Him the unchaste and wayward were healed. Through His power, born of Almighty God, the eyes of the blind were opened and the soul of the sinner sanctified…. He it is Who purified the world. Blessed is the man who, with a face beaming with light, hath turned towards Him.” — Shoghi EffendiThe Promised Day is Come, p. 109
So yes, we revere and adore Christ, and believe in Him as a Divine Messenger of God. (For more info about the Bahá’í relationship to Christianity, go here.)
Do Bahá’ís celebrate Christmas as a religious community?
No, we don’t. We accept Christ wholeheartedly, and therefore honor the celebration of His birth, but we do not celebrate Christmas as a community. We accept and honor Moses, Buddha, Krishna, Zoroaster, Muhammad, and other Divine Messengers as well, and if we celebrated all of their births and other holy days associated with each of them . . . well, we’d be partying all year long. And as fun as that sounds, it doesn’t really make sense logistically. And it wouldn’t make sense to only celebrate some and not the others. So as a community, we only celebrate the holy days and holidays associated with the Bahá’í calendar.
But CAN Bahá’ís celebrate Christmas?
Yes, just not in relation to each other. Many of us do joyfully celebrate Christmas with our families and friends who celebrate it. As individuals, we are free to partake in any religious activities that don’t directly interfere with the Bahá’í teachings. In fact, sharing one another’s spiritual traditions is one of the best ways to form bonds of fellowship and unity among people of all faiths, which is one of the central teachings of Bahá’u’lláh: “Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship.”
So do Bahá’ís have Christmas trees, bake Christmas cookies, put up Christmas lights, exchange Christmas gifts, etc.?
Maybe. Sometimes. Sort of. It depends. Part of what gets confusing is that Christmas has really become a cultural holiday for many people. Every atheist and agnostic I know still puts up a Christmas tree, sings Christmas songs, and gives Christmas gifts. For most Christians, it’s a very holy holiday. For non-religious folk, it’s a time for family and tradition. For Bahá’ís, it’s sort of both and sort of neither, depending on what angle you’re looking from. Sorting out the cultural practices of the holiday season from the religious ones is enough to make your head spin.
I know some Bahá’í families who put up Christmas trees, but I would say most do not. I personally LOVE a good cookie exchange. Some Bahá’ís exchange gifts with their families and circles of friends, especially those whose extended families are not Bahá’ís. We have a major gift-giving holiday called Ayyam-i-Ha at the end of February, so we usually save the big gift-giving until then.

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