What Christmas Means to Baha’is

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Do Baha’is celebrate Christmas? This question is a bit of a tricky one to answer because Christmas means different things to different people.

Based on the understanding of Christmas as a commemoration of the birth of Christ, the day is clearly of significance to Baha’is, who believe that Christ was a Manifestation of God. Baha’is do not, however, celebrate Christmas within their communities as one of the Baha’i Holy Days.

While the principle of progressive revelation means that Baha’is believe in the divine origin of the other world religions (and consequently, the significance of each of their Holy Days), the Baha’i Faith is an independent religion with its own Holy Days. Baha’is – while believing in the divine origins of all other world religions – follow the teachings of Baha’u’llah, whom we believe to be the latest in the line of Messengers sent from God with laws to address the needs of humanity in this day and age.

That being said, however, Baha’is are free to participate in the celebrations observed by their friends and family who adhere to other religions. Christmas is a tricky one because of what it has come to represent in much of Western society – the  true meaning of Christmas is, unfortunately, often lost amidst the Christmas tree decorations, Santa-and-elf motifs and endless Christmas sales advertisements.However, as many Christians pause to celebrate the birth and life of Jesus, Baha’is too can stop to reflect on the significance of this day. The Writings speak beautifully about the life and station of Jesus. Baha’u’llah says:

Know thou 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… We bear witness that through the power of the Word of God every leper was cleansed, every sickness was healed, every human infirmity was banished. He it is Who purified the world. Blessed is the man who, with a face beaming with light, hath turned towards Him.

This passage is close to my heart because I was raised as a Christian and was first taught to know and worship God through the teachings of Jesus. I often find it hard to focus on the spiritual aspects of Christmas because of the heavy cultural significance it has acquired.

But these words of Baha’u’llah remind us of the real significance of the life of Jesus. The Christmas story is an exciting story in the religious history of the world. The birth of Jesus marked the fulfillment of Jewish prophecies about a new Manifestation of God. It marked the beginning of a very special childhood made distinct because of the innate wisdom that all Manifestations have, even as children. It heralded the life of yet another Manifestation of God who would suffer great tribulations and suffering to bring humanity towards God.

The life and ministry of Jesus transformed the lives of individuals – both in His lifetime and for centuries after – as well as humanity as a whole. His love and sacrifice infused the world with a new spirit. Blessed, indeed, are those who recognize the immense gift of His divine teachings.

A very blessed Christmas to all our Christian friends!

 

About the Author

Preethi

In her professional life, Preethi has dabbled in various combinations of education, community development and law. At heart, though, she's an overgrown child who thinks the world is one giant playground. She's currently on a quest to make learning come alive for young people and to bring the world's stories and cultures to them, with educational resources from One Story Classroom. She was part of Baha'i Blog's founding team and served as Editor for a few years before having to relinquish the role. She still pokes her nose in to work on Baha'i Blog from time to time, proving she's unable to stay away for too long!

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Discussion 32 Comments

  1. The ACTUAL ANSWER: NO!

    98: HOLY DAYS OF OTHER RELIGIONS
    “As regards the celebration of the Christian Holiday by the believers; it is surely preferableand even highly advisable that the friends should in their relation to each other discontinueobserving such holidays as Christmas and New Years, and to have their festival gatherings of this nature instead during the Intercalary Days and Naw-Rúz….”

    Directives From the Guardian
    page 38

    1. Hi KM, thanks for sharing this quote!

      As this article states, and as this quote from The Guardian refers to, the Baha’i community as a collective do not celebrate Christmas – “the friends… in their relation to each other”. However, there is nothing, as I understand it, preventing us from joining in the celebrations of our Christian friends or any other religious celebrations of friends from other religions in a spirit of love and unity. Especially since we believe that all religions come from the same God. As Baha’u’llah said, “Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship”. 🙂

      1. Hi Preethi,

        Any holiday and/or celebration is good.

        I wish Fridays, was also part of weekend too, as it is a Muslim holidays, and we all could only work 4 days a week !

        KM, point was that, bahai’s don’t celebrate xmas, how ever I like the festive season …

    2. Precisely, KM. Thanks for posting that. Those in households composed only of Baha’is need to start making the Baha’i holy days (holidays) special. May I say, especially those homes with children. There is a new world being built and we each need to do what we can NOW, not leave it to another generation.

  2. Please add a comma on the fourth line down after the word “Baha’is” to avoid a reading that those of the Baha’is who happen to believe in Christ, as opposed to the others….
    A super contribution to aid us at this holiday time!

    1. Thanks so much Bonnie! I’ve added that very important comma now. That was definitely an “eats shoots & leaves” moment – changes the whole meaning quite drastically.

  3. “Later, on Christmas day, He visited Lord Lamington. In the evening He went to a Salvation Army hostel, where some five hundred of society’s wrecks were gathered. He spoke to them, and donated twenty guineas to the hostel to provide them with a good meal and another night, as His guests. He also inspected the sleeping accommodation of the hostel, and a children’s home as well. When He reached Cadogan Gardens that night, it was apparent that the sight of the condition of the unfortunate had distressed Him. A good many of His talks, in His drawing-room during the Christmas week, were concerned with the Birth and the Advent of Christ and the significance of baptism. One day He walked for an hour or so in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. Afterwards He went to a Christmas party for the impoverished. Wherever He came across children He showed them such kindness and consideration that some of them thought He was Father Christmas, and sang a song in His praise. At His London home, that day, He related an incident of days long past in ‘Akká:

    ‘I encountered a number of the poor who were very hungry, and they came to me a-begging. I pointed out a grocer’s shop to them that was well-provisioned, and told them to help themselves and eat all they could; I would be responsible. As soon as they heard me say that, those hungry ill-starred people made a rush and looted the shop. The shopkeeper was screaming that he was being robbed, but no one took any notice of him. They were eating even the uncooked rice, and took provisions away with them.’ Later, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá compensated the grocer.”

    (H.M. Balyuzi, Abdu’l-Baha – The Centre of the Covenant, p. 351)

  4. The absence of traditions hinders the observance of the Baha’i holy days. There are no special foods, no special decorations, no stories, no legends, nothing to warm the heart and provide memories. When I sit down with family at Christmas, I know the foods, I remember past Christmas and past celebrations.

    My children watch Elmo’s Happy Holidays, the children tell Elmo what their favourite holiday is and why it’s important. I would feel sorry for my children if they only had Baha’i holy days. There is nothing to tell one holy day from another. The readings are long, far too long, even for adults. There are no special memories, no foods to associate, just some generic potluck with predictable contents. They are boring. Baha’i central figures have become stone statues and all traces of their humanity removed from them. Birth of Baha’u’llah celebrations always have passages from Baha’u’llah detailing how much He suffered. Why? Why can’t we just celebrate? Why can’t we remember the good thing on good days and the bad things on bad days?

    Christmas has got it right, it has the bittersweetness of life honed to perfection. Thank God for Christmas. It helps me to keep Faith. There are beautiful songs, short readings and the carols. It has family, life and love. And yes, it has food!

    1. Hi Jonathan, thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      My family is Christian and so I still try and spend Christmas with them. I generally have a really good time but I find that the holiday has become largely about family traditions and family time. And there’s nothing wrong with that, in itself – it’s great to have a day associated with family!

      However, this Christmas, I did find myself longing for there to be a bit more reflection and tranquility amongst the hustle and bustle of the festivities and dinner preparations. And I found myself actually looking for passages about Jesus to read. It was the passages about his life, his ministry and his suffering that I found actually made me feel the most connected to Jesus. So I found myself really appreciating the fact that we tend to read passages about the Central Figures on Baha’i Holy Days.

      That having been said, though, I definitely do agree that we need to think about how to make Holy Days more interesting and relevant for children! Check out this fantastic article by Corinne: http://bahaiblog.net/site/2011/09/09/5-easy-ways-to-involve-children-in-community-activities/

      She talks about how to involve children in community activities and makes specific reference to Holy Days.

    2. Jonathan,

      Wow it was a great comment from you. Specially about the boring holidays with long reading from writings and same as last year.

      I am Persian Baha’i and exactly think the same.

      Well done for saying it.

      I really want change change on the same old boring baha’i gatherings !

    3. I love Christmas too, as it is a special family time, when we remember the birth of Jesus, who was our saviour.
      However, when our children were Baha’is (A long time ago. They are now grown up and although they respect Baha’u’llah and A.B. they do not think of them as Messengers of God) we got very creative with the Holy days; had wonderful picnics, sleepovers, fancy dress parties with themes, and special candle festivals. We created holy days that were magical, full of poetry, stories, dance and song. We can all do that. At Christmas we bring in the tree which has grown in a tub on the patio all year, to remind us that the dark of winter will pass and look forward to the coming Naw Ruz. It is a pagan thing, but to us it does not smack of superstition, but is a thing of great beauty, an appreciation of our former heritage. Maybe as a Baha’i I am wrong to hark back to the delights of my own childhood, but as long as we are not a slave to outworn traditions and celebrate the Baha’i Holy days with vigour and imagination, I can see no real harm. This year we are having a World Peace Meditation in our home. People from many faiths have been invited. There will be a Christmas tree with the lights of each Faith symbolising the unity of all Faiths and lots of silly games and wonderful food afterwards.

  5. Wow! Great post! Thanks very much for this! I hear so many Bahai’s that are scared about celebrating because of what others may think! Everyone needs to read this!

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Yasmine! I’m glad you enjoyed this.

      I think it can be a tricky one – on one hand, it is important that people understand that the Baha’i Faith is an independent religion rather than an amalgamation of all religions (which is distinct to the concept of progressive revelation, and often confused) and on the other hand, it is important that we still “consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship” based on our belief in unity and in the oneness of religion!

  6. @ jonathon
    I think you are right Bahai Holy days are “boring” to kids. When we left the birth of Baha’u’allah celebration in our community my 4 year old remarked “well that wasn’t a very fun birthday party!”.
    I took it to heart.
    We need, we MUsT work to make our Holy Days fun and meaningful for our children.
    I urge you to work with your community and ind ways to make AyyamiHa as magical as Christmas.
    start your own family traditions too.
    In our home we give gifts, make cookies, we’ve even done a gingerbread temple before!
    We also always plan some type of service project so that it doesn’t just become a celebration I the material.
    be creative. reach out to other families in your area I bet they feel the same way.
    good luck!!

    1. This is a wonderful conversation. I was shocked when I found the question on the very top of this commentary says ”does Baha’is celebrates Christmas?” .I became Baha’i three years ago, still confused if we are allowed to decorate and provide food as much as we can and create dramas, musical entertainments or other sorts of activities which make our holidays live.i am very agree with you Jen that Baha’i holidays are “boring”. I urge everyone to prepare all the best they can for the Festival of the coming Naw-Ruz-March 21st 2015, which the Baha’i World will mark yet another historic step in the manifestation of the unity of the people of Baha’i and the unfoldment of Baha’ullah’s World Order.

  7. why do we Bahais love to complain about mostly anything that is done as a community? why can’t we just own it and make the change we want. if we think the way we celebrate our holidays are boring then make it fun by doing something about it. may be that’s why the holidays seam to be boring and predictable. too many people just sit and complain about it. i can see how hard it can be to let go of the material things like Christmas trees, lights, gifts and food….etc. don’t for get that we are trying to move forward and build a NEW WORLD ORDER so just wake up and do something about it!

  8. I love what Tyrone said. Let’s focus on the joy of being a Baha’i in these early days of the Faith 🙂

    I’m mainstream Australian and have always celebrated Christmas each year as my mother’s family aren’t Baha’i and it’s the only time of year they all see each other (and of course culturally quite important). But my parents and siblings never exchanged gifts with each other, we only did that at Naw Ruz. We gave gifts to my cousins etc and they gave presents to us in their tradition and it always seemed to work well. But if my grandmother and co were Baha’i, we definitely wouldn’t celebrate it at all, and I expect that when I have my own family I will stop celebrating Christmas.

    I think it’s really important to read the reading KP quoted by the Guardian though. In general, Baha’is really shouldn’t be celebrating Christmas. The Baha’i Faith is NOT a mixture of all the different religions. And if we’re going to celebrate the Christian holy days, are we also going to celebrate Eid, Hannukah etc as well? If you love the idea of family getting together, exchanging presents, sharing bon-bons, gorging themselves on roast potatoes and dozing off in the afternoon to recover before eating more fruit salad & cream/Christmas cake…….. (and the list goes on!), then what’s stopping us from doing just this on March 21st or during Ayyam-i-Ha? The Baha’i Faith, as I understand it, is all about celebrating cultural diversity, so why not pride yourself in your cultural heritage while celebrating a Baha’i Holy Day at the same time?

    As far as celebrating Christmas goes, I might not celebrate it on December 25th in the future but there’s no way I’m missing out on my roast lunch and all the joy that comes with it! 🙂

  9. Members of my family were Catholic before declaring their faith in Baha’u’llah. This might mean that somebody occasionally still crosses themselves when they pass in front of a Catholic church (we’re talking altar boy here), they might love egg-knocking at Easter and a big meal, passing out presents to the kids Christmas morning with other Christian family members; But with us, we celebrate the Intercalary days, celebrate and commemorate Holy days, and live as Baha’is in our daily lives. It is just a matter of consorting with members of all religions in absolute harmony and peace.
    We were very lucky to live in a community with two assemblies who shared the expense to have children based celebrations at Naw Ruz-the New Year and Ay’yami-Ha (sp) the Intercalary days. Often a piñata or some other central game of gift giving could be involved, and a gift for every child was a given. Along with song and families looking on it brings back warm memories.

  10. Your article came, as they say almost”…a day late and a dollar short.” As a new Baha’i, coming from a Christian home and married to a Jewish man, I felt it appropriate to repress the feelings of gladness and anticipation that the season brings. I did not bring out my long-loved and treasured Christmas ornaments. I did not spend countless hours working a list of what to buy for whom. I did not send Christmas cards. I DID, however, waste precious energy mixed with way too much angst torn between wanting the warmth and joy of Christmas and working hard to live a Baha’i life. After reading your article, my heart has been opened (again) to the beauty of this time of year that I can enjoy. Thank you for a beautiful gift.

    1. I have to agree with you. My family converted from being Catholics when I was five, and our large extended family was none too pleased. We downsized but did not do away with Christmas. It helped to reassure our relatives that we were not anti-Christian (because that is what many of them thought), and we could join in their celebrations. Once I was grown and married to a Baha’i man, though, we were not living near any family and we did not celebrate Christmas at all. I found that I really missed home the most at Christmas time and didn’t have anything fun to look forward to where I was living to make up for the festivities I was missing. I just thought about the events happening at home and it really made me sad and lonely.

      Once we had our children we moved back home. We were still not celebrating Christmas at this point. Once the kids started preschool they started to learn about it, of course, and kind strangers began asking them if they were ready for Santa, etc. The kids felt left out and we began to realize that we were actually becoming really negative and grouchy each year as we resisted everything Christmas. It really wasn’t worth the battle every year. My husband and I discussed it and decided that besides it being a religious holiday, it also was very much a cultural holiday. We know people of all different religions (even atheists) who celebrate Christmas to one degree or another because it’s just culturally what people in North America (and elsewhere) do. So now we get a tree, and buy a few presents for the kids, and have Christmas dinner with our family, and the kids don’t feel left out and we don’t get grouchy trying to resist enjoying the season. We’ve also found it’s a great way to teach the kids about other religions since questions always arise about why different religions have different holidays and what they mean.

      We are developing our own traditions for the Baha’i holy days as well, so that Christmas doesn’t overshadow them. For Ayyam-i-Ha we have special decorated photo boxes that we use year after year, one for each family member, in which we all put a small treat for each other each day. We open them after supper and everyone looks forward to it each day. The kids tell all their friends about Ayyam-i-Ha and think it’s pretty neat that they have that special celebration that is different from the other kids at school.

  11. Wonderful blog and comments. My parents became Baha’i’s when I was four, so my childhood was a transition from Christian to Baha’i. We continued to observe Christmas as it was a long beloved holiday for us all. When I became an adult I realized that I would be raising the next generation of the Faith and wanted to help my children create strong identities with our faith. My husband and I, along with other relatives and friends, have gone to great effort to create our own traditions. We make special meals, decorate our home, bake cookies and share gifts. We have to choose to make a holy day festive and celebratory. It’s not very hard to make children happy. Perhaps those who would like uplifting stories and readings should volunteer to make the selections. There are so many stories filled with both love and lessons. God bless!

  12. loved all the comments. Bahai’s spreading all over the world and that being said their life surly have some impacts from their friends and families whine they are not bahai’s. However, sharing others their celebrations will show how much we are interested in being part of their life and appreciate that and in the same time when our holly days comes we can involved them and celebrate with them and make our holly days big too, gifts, decorate the house which kids would love to do and hey we all can cook the exact same food that we like its a matter of cooking it in different time. Ayam Ha is one huge celebration you all can open house concept and cook and invite neighbours, family and friends whether they are bahai or not. I don’t see why we don’t decorate the house when our holly days comes do it it’s so much fun. In celebration of Rizwan we build a small tent and decorated with flowers and kids will tell story about that 12 days and sing songs and draw maps showing Bahaulla trip. We get our kids new clothes and some of them make gifts to give away to others even if they are not bahai. Thanks all

  13. I live out in the country, 50 km away from the nearest LSA, but with Bahá’í friends in some small towns 20-30 km away. We are all “isolated” believers but get together for 19-Day-Feasts and for Bahá’í Holy Days, which are always enjoyable. Why are they so good? I think it is because we all contribute (even if it is just food), we encourage the children to sing one of the songs (or teach us a new one) or play a short sketch. We all take part in the readings, we tell each other about our teaching activities (even very, very small ones). We don’t celebrate Christmas in our homes, but some of us have Christian relatives or relatives who are not actually believers but want a Christmas tree, cookies, carols and family reunion, etc. And when visiting them at Christmas time, we encourage them to remember what the origin of the celebration is. Some of us have Moslem friends and visit them on their holidays too.
    At Ayyam-i-Há we often have a White Elephant auction, which is a lot of fun, and once we all, from the youngest to the oldest, sat around my long kitchen table, and painted a cup for the person whose name we had drawn from a hat. (That was my favourite Ayyam-i-Há celebration.)
    One holy day I was unable to drive to the town where we were to celebrate. Nevertheless I wanted to celebrate the Holy Day. I baked a cake, and my daughter (9 at the time) and I put on nice clothes. We decorated the table with flowers and lit a candle. Then we invited my husband, who was not a Bahá’í at the time, to join us as we said prayers, read a short story and had refreshments. My husband was very impressed. (He became a Bahá’í just before he died.)
    And another story: It was the year (1989) when the Berlin Wall came down, and all along the East/West German border people from East Germany were pouring into the small towns and villages, just curious to see what it was like on the other side. An elderly friend of mine, also an isolated believer, who lived in a small town very close to the old border, wanted to celebrate the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh in a community some distance away, but somehow there had been confusion about who was to pick her up, and she suddenly saw herself without any possibility of travelling. Nevertheless she wanted to celebrate the holy day. She baked a cake, made coffee and tea and put a notice on her door:”You are most welcome to come inside to get warm” (It was quite cold outside that day, but still a lot of East Germans were coming into the town.) And indeed a family from East Germany knocked on the door, a little shy at first, but happy to enjoy the warmth, not only of the cosy living room, but also of their hostess. The father noticed a book by Bahá’u’lláh on the shelf and asked about the author. My friend then explained that actually that day was a special day, on which the Bahá’ís celebrated His birthday and she thanked her guests for helping her to celebrate. And of course, she ended up telling them more about the Faith. She told me later that she was so happy that she hadn’t been able to go to the celebration in the other town.
    Why am I writing all this? Yes, it’s true we don’t have traditions, special foods, bright lights around the houses, etc. Did the early Christians have them? We are like those early Christians, we are at the very beginning. So what do we have? The chance to start something new, to use our creativity, our diversity, our initiative in order to make a difference.

  14. I really enjoyed reading this article and all the related comments. I was born in Iran, grew up in a Baha’i family and migrated to Australia about 26 years ago. I feel really sad to see my family celebrating Christmas, put up Christmas tree, exchange presents, cook Turkey for lunch and so on. This is not even their traditions and reality. Unfortunately this is not just my family, I’ve seen a few other families doing the same. On another note I whole heartrely support the idea of having more interesting and fun programs and activities for our holy days and make it special for children.

  15. Indeed, the Christmas celebrations of today have been developed over many generations. Our faith is a baby by comparision. We’re still learning how to be a community; establishing our Baha’i identities. There’s a lot of room for growth, and we’ll get there.

    By the same token, I can understand being a new Baha’i wondering what we’re “supposed to do” on holy days. It goes to our core Baha’i identities: what does it mean to be part of the Baha’i community? Sure, we can say “just go out and create your own traditions”, but people need a frame of reference, too. People need to feel like they belong to something bigger.

    Anyway… December is tough. My son has an intellectual disability. Every year, he asks why we don’t have a Christmas tree, and every year we try to explain that we don’t celebrate Christmas, but it really doesn’t compute. In his world, everyone celebrates Christmas: his friends, his school, the people on TV, the decorations at the shops. The concepts of God and religions are hard for him right now. All he knows is that everyone else has a Christmas tree and we don’t. We tried it one year, but it just felt weird… and empty. I see so much materialism and commercialism surrounding “the festive period”. To quote the late great Dan Seals: “Everything that glitters is not gold”.

    Sorry, I know I’m rambling and I’m not sure if there’s even a point in any of this. Perhaps it’s that we all come from diverse walks of life and individual situations, so there’s no one-size-fits-all answers… at least, not to this question. Take care.

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