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.

How about Santa?

You know, I have to admit something that’s going to irk some people. As an adult and a parent, the whole Santa thing kind of irks me. (This is not official Bahá’í teaching, here, just so we’re clear.) Part of it is because strangers constantly ask my kids what Santa brought them for Christmas. We don’t actually do Santa, so that gets awkward.

The other part is just my own personal analysis. I think Saint Nicholas (the real one) was a wonderful inspiration, giving generously to the poor and saving young girls from having to prostitute themselves. But the Santa that we’ve traditionalized doesn’t, in my eyes, hold up so well under much scrutiny. First, he supposedly only gives gifts to kids who are good. Well, there goes the teaching of generosity to all. Second, in any other context, an old man asking children he doesn’t know to come sit on his lap and offering them candy would be . . . well, creepy. Third, routinely asking children what they want for Christmas seems like it perpetuates the materialism and consumerism everyone complains about during the holidays. I think it would be cool if Santa asked what kids would like to give instead. Fourth, the tendency to lie to children to keep the fantasy going gives me pause. Fifth, when cultural traditions take hold and then get mixed up with commercial pursuits and nostalgic sentimentality, it’s far too easy for them to morph into something that only vaguely resembles the original idea, so that we end up calling something an important long-standing tradition without questioning it.

I know, I know, it’s a harmless tradition and I’m a big old Scrooge. I do think it’s important to let kids have their fantasies. But our kids have very rich fantasy lives (almost too much so, sometimes) without Santa. I grew up without believing in Santa, but still enjoyed the holiday season. So I don’t think our kids are missing much. The history of Santa Claus is actually really interesting, and we use the ubiquitousness of Santa as an educational opportunity. We also teach them not to ruin it for kids who do believe in Santa Claus. So I’m not a complete monster. 🙂

Actually, and perhaps ironically, I love Santa movies. I must have watched Miracle on 34th Street a dozen times as a kid. And we really like the Tim Allen Santa Clause movies. It’s just since I became an overly analytical parent that the jolly old fella has gotten under my skin.

Do you mind if people wish you a Merry Christmas?

Not in the least. I personally love all of the good wishes of the season, and I don’t really understand people being offended by any of it. What I would really love to see, though, is people wishing others a merry/happy whatever their holiday is. Wish your Christian friends a Merry Christmas, your Jewish friends a Happy Hanukkah, your African-American friends who celebrate it a Happy Kwanzaa. And there’s nothing wrong with a blanket Happy Holidays. It’s all said in good will, and I think we should take it as such.

So now that you’ve explained how Bahá’ís kinda/sorta/maybe/sometimes/don’t really celebrate Christmas, as well as completely vilified the beloved institution of Santa Claus, what does your family do for Christmas?

We enjoy the festivity and warmth of the holiday season, and ooh and ahh over all the pretty light displays and our friends’ Christmas trees. As I said, we enjoy Santa movies because sometimes things we do don’t make perfect sense on paper. Havarti’s a big LEGO fanatic, and we have a LEGO winter village that we put up on the mantle. I’ve also always loved nutcrackers, so we have a small collection of nutcrackers we put out during the winter months. I also like to decorate with snowmen, which I think helps the kids not feel like such oddballs not having some sort of holiday decorations during December. We teach the kids the stories of Hanukkah and the Nativity and Kwanzaa, partake in any festivities we are invited to, and talk about the importance of honoring everyone’s celebrations.

Oh, and we make over-the-top gingerbread houses with friends and family. Super fun.


I hope that clears things up a little. Wrapping this up, I feel an overwhelming urge to write Santa an apology letter. Poor fella.

May you all have a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, a Joyous Kwanzaa, and a warm and festive holiday season, whatever you celebrate.

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Annie writes about motherhood and other hilariously beautiful things. On good days, she enjoys juggling life with her husband and three children. On bad days, she binges on chocolate chips and dreams of traveling the world alone.

Comments 68

  1. Betsy Laswell

    Totally agree on Santa. The holidays have become a commercialized and materialistic. I grew up in a parsonage, but my parents were eclectic and accepting of all faiths. In our home we celebrated the birth of Christ with sharing gifts, attending church services, decorating with hundreds of nativities, and sharing meals with family and friends. We hung stockings by the fireplace and had a Christmas tree with many decorations. But Santa was a spirit of giving not a man living at the north pole. We were never threatened with “only good girls and boys receive gifts”. We raised our children in the Baha’i faith and traditions. We celebrated and honored the Christian faith both my husband and I grew up in by attending church, having a Christmas tree, giving gifts, hanging stockings, and having family meals. Personally, I like the greeting of wishing everyone Happy Holidays.

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  3. Behzad Jamshidi

    Imagine a day in the future where all religions of God will be celebrated all in one day. That is how our vision should be, this is how God destined religions to be, to unite all past religions and make us aware of their creator.

  4. Nedz

    I really enjoyed this article. As a bahai child I never had a Christmas tree or celebrated the holiday with family and I always felt like I missed out. I think this article has taken a lighter approach to its celebration and the concept of Christmas trees and can’t help but feel that any practice that is positive and joyful and community embracing cannot be too damaging. Whilst the writings steer us towards not celebrating the traditions of other religions (mind you we have a haft sin every year… Hmmms) I don’t want my children to feel socially isolated at this time of year. I have been brought up in Australia so technically a haft sin and a Christmas tree both represent traditions outside of the bahai faith.

    1. Veeger

      I get what you’re saying – I live in Australia too, where it is assumed that *everyone* celebrates Christmas. *Everyone*. Even if you’re not Christian (and most people aren’t!). Saying that we don’t celebrate ’cause we’re Baha’is… people we know overseas could at least understand that, but here? It just doesn’t compute.

      And yeah, it’s especially tough on the kids. My son has an intellectual disability and can’t really get his head around what “Baha’i” is or how that’s different or anything like that. All he knows is that everyone else in his class puts up a Christmas tree and decorations, and we don’t. I don’t know… we tried once, putting up a tree, but it felt really wrong. I don’t want my kids to be socially isolated, either, but I can’t get into the materialistic retail holiday it’s become.

  5. Yvonne Murphy

    I thought that as Bahá’ís there is no judging, yet almost every comment I have read has been quite judgmental. Nobody has the right to tell anyone else how to observe their faith. I loved all of the traditional Christmas observations, including Santa..and no, I never found the idea of him creepy. I never thought of it as lie, it was magical. I became a Bahá’í about ten years ago, when my daughters were 3 and 11 years old. I chose to continue our Christmas traditions ( never considered them superstitions) because I wanted to. I don’t think there is anyone who has the right to tell me not to.

    1. Veeger

      One of the most painful lessons I had to learn was that while the Faith is perfect, individual Baha’is are not. In fact, they’re a lot like everyone else in the world. As you see evidenced here.

      Anyway, enjoy the season – and I mean that sincerely! All the best!

  6. Neisan

    Hi Allen,
    Skilled Psychologists have helped many people with delusional-thought-process issues just like the one you displayed in your comment.
    With therapy, you may be able to get rid of yours too

  7. Neisan

    The “lie” regarding Santa, is no more a lie than the existence of some Divine imaginary friend, which religious parents have been force feeding to the most vulnerable, most impressionable members of our societies.
    It’s most unfortunate, how Bahais (the most moderate of Twelver-Shia-sects), pick and choose which specific lies to inject in children, but have the audacity to boldly refer to such as “independent investigation”.
    Consider how irrational it is to anticipate positive change in the world, when the applied ingredients remain the same, genetrtion after generation.

    I am an atheist with twin daughters in second grade. My family and I live in a very religious community. My kids are not atheists, agnostic, or humanists. They are not Bahai, Muslim, or Christians. They are just children, without labels, born to parents who work hard to provide an environment, where kids can focus on play, arts and sciences. Maybe a time will come when as young adults, they will research adult subjects like religion, philosophy, and branded-spirituality, and I hope that by that time, they will possess the ability to use reason and evidence (not inherited faith), to INDEPENDENTLY research adult subjects like religion.
    We didn’t have a x-mas tree until my kids were introduced to it in school by teachers and by classmates. They asked to have a tree, and I didn’t want them to feel left out, so I got a big plastic tree, and see how they really enjoy decorating it. Personally, I don’t care for “holy” days, but for the sake of my kids, we celebrating harmless cultural, even religious traditions.
    I was born to Bahai parents, and of course I was indoctrinated as a child to accept and practice their beleifs, which my parents themselves simply inherited.
    I am also using this opportunity to ask you, and your readers to consider world peace, through delayed indoctrination. Religion is harmless only when used for ceremonial purposes, like in Scandinavian nations, and most destructive when used as guideline on daily basis, like in Middle Eastern. Nations. ……Wage peace, delay childhood indoctrination, please.

    Neisan Rouhani

    1. Post
      Annie Reneau

      Neisan, there is a difference between a lie and a belief, though. It is universally recognized among educated adults that Santa does not actually exist, and the fact that he doesn’t exist is easily proven. Not so with God. The existence of God is neither provable nor disprovable. The only truly intellectually defensible position when it comes to God is agnosticism. Both atheism and religious belief in God require a leap of faith to accept something that can’t be proven.

      That’s a bit beside the point, though. Surely if you were raised by Baha’i parents you are aware that children are not supposed to inherit the beliefs of their parents and that independent investigation of truth is the responsibility of every individual. I wouldn’t describe raising children with the faith my husband and I share as “indoctrination.” It would be pretty silly for us to exclude them from our religious celebrations and observances and for us not to enjoy those things as a family. Our children are free to explore whatever beliefs they wish, and we encourage them to do their own investigating. But of course we teach them what we believe to be true and explain to them why we believe it to be true. Will you not teach your children things that you believe to be true and why? Is that not indoctrination?

  8. Natashalh

    This is kind of a random comment since it’s not even the “holiday season” yet, but I just wanted to echo so many people and say great piece! We don’t have kids yet, but I intent to tell future children what my dad told me (and what his parents told him); There is a historical Saint Nicholas, but “Santa” isn’t some guy who’s going to come give you stuff. Instead, he is a personification of the spirit of giving. Or, at least, that’s what one would hope! As you point out, frequently it seems to be more a “spirit of getting.” Anyway, great piece and I’m glad I found your blog!

    1. Post
  9. Lucki

    BTW, since you enjoy Santa movies, have you seen “Santa & Pete” with James Earl Jones as Grandpa, Hume Cronyn as St. Nick, & Flex Alexander as Piet. It’s a fun look at the Santa-origin myth &, IMO, probably the most Baha’i Christmas movie ever.

  10. ruthiechan

    I’m Mormon. I grew up without believing in Santa Clause because my dad felt so betrayed by it all that he convinced my mom to not do it. So, I’m doing the same with my kiddo. I have the same issues with Santa that you do. I also figure, wait, I want my child to believe in a God she can’t see. You never see Santa either, so why would I want her putting faith in a false God? So yeah, I’m glad my husband agreed not to do Santa. I’m often seen as a big Scrooge too. We can be Scrooges together. 😉

  11. Alan

    The last Baha’i I spoke with seemed to continue the Moslem teachings about Jesus: Like Adam, a Divine manifestation. Christ’s teachings were replaced by Mohammed’s because Mohammed was more recent…

    It is hard to think that any Baha’i would believe in Jesus when a recent appearance of Sri Krishna (Sai Baba) was condemned by the senior Baha’is who misunderstood Bahaullah’s comment about reappearing again after one or two thousand years. If u will check the teachings of Swami Yukteswar in the “Holy Science,” u will see that Bahaullah’s birth happened after a period that can be observed as one or two thousand years. The comment referred to the present birth and when it would be repeated….

    When Sathya Sai Baba was born, all of the musical instruments in the house played by themselves. He raised the dead and fed multitudes by multiplying small amounts of food. He caused the end of Russian communism; the Gorbachevs were personal devotees.

    Baha’i supremacism tragically proclaimed Him false.

  12. Myriam

    Querida Annie :
    Me ha encantado como has explicado el asunto de las Fiestas de Navidad y los Bahá’is. En casa todos los somos, bahá’is, digo. Y desde pequeñas mis padres nos hacían regalos el día de Reyes Magos (en España, se celebrá más que Santa Claus, al que vemos más como una invención anglosajona) Con el tiempo, al hacernos mayores, la costumbre se fue difuminando. Ello no significaba que no fuéramos bahá’is, sino que vivíamos en una cultura cristiana, que hacíamos nuestra. Nuestra “extended family” era cristiana. Ello en ningún momento de nuestras vidas ha supuesto más o menos en nuestras creencias. Y eso es lo bueno. Somo Bahá’is y por lo tanto, cristianos, y por lo tanto, musulmanes y por lo tanto judíos ….etc . Merry Christmas, by the way ! 🙂

  13. Robert


    St. Nicholas while being the patron saint of children is also the patron saint of sailors and thieves. I feel being honest with kids about Santa Clause is necessary rather than following tradition. Thank you for your message.

  14. Pingback: Pondering Christmas 2014 from a Bahá’í Perspective | Bahá'í Communities in Horry & Georgetown Counties

  15. Bill

    Would that our family had this informative and insightful discussion available
    back in 1979 when my wife and I enrolled together as Baha’is.

    As enthusiastic new Baha’is, we quickly made changes in our family’s Christmas culture, e.g., no Christmas tree; gift-giving moved to Ayyamiha. We felt that our family’s celebrations now needed to follow the Babi calendar. Our daughters were 7, 8 and 11 — identity-forming years when cultural anchors are so important. Feeling different, we later learned, fostered insecurity and resentment.

    Thanks so much for posting this blog. It should especially help newly enrolled Baha’i parents to carry forward their family’s holiday traditions and encourage their children to radiate the spirit of Christmas in their lives.

  16. Barbara

    Thank you for this great discussion. Is anyone familiar with what ‘Abdul-Baha said about celebrating with a (Christmas) tree? Google it. You may be surprised.

    1. Karen

      I have looked several places for Abdu’l-Baha’s comments on Christmas trees and I have been unsuccessful. Could you please send me a link to that information because I’d love to read it. Thank you!

        1. CAt

          I am waiting for the passage were it tells Persians to stop their five-thousand year old Zoroastrian “superstitions” at Naw Ruz. Us former Christians would appreciate that kind of excellent example of detachment from “superstitions” when told every year by someone or other to leave our old traditions.

  17. Robin

    This is a wonderful blog to answer all those queries! As a teacher, I’m often confronted with the lack of sensitivity on the Santa issues, with teachers assigning letters to Santa Claus etc. Sometimes I’m able to address it in the larger context that there are students who do not celebrate and should be given choices, and other times not…it depends, sometimes, maybe…

  18. Nadia

    My name is Nadia. I am a persian bahai but my children have been born and raised here. I started doing Christmas tree and gifts few years ago. My children know that this is just to celebrate and be joyful. They know our main celebration is NawRuz and Ayamiha. They enjoy the lights and they enjoy the “Haft sin”. Lots of people questioned why i do put tree up but i still did it. I loved the way you brock it down and explained it. Well done and thank you. I enjoyed reading it.

  19. elena

    Hi! My name is Elena. I’m a Baha’i and I do celebrate Christmas but we do not celebrate it as fully. We have a holiday in February called Ayyam-i-ha that is like Christmas . It is our special time for giving.

  20. badi

    I read an article about the history of Xmas decoration. Story says that “St. Boniface of Crediton (a village in Devon, UK) left England and travelled to Germany to preach to the pagan German tribes and convert them to Christianity. He is said to have come across a group of pagans about to sacrifice a young boy while worshipping an oak tree. In anger, and to stop the sacrifice, St. Boniface is said to have cut down the oak tree and, to his amazement, a young fir tree sprang up from the roots of the oak tree. St. Boniface took this as a sign of the Christian faith and his followers decorated the tree with candles so that St. Boniface could preach to the pagans at night.”
    In my understanding Christmas decoration promoted by Churches and it became tradition for European and later in America -it is purely a religious base and it has begun for the reason of attraction of people to Christianity.
    Diana, just for clarity, celebrating Aid or Naw-Ruz in a Muslim country is not celebrating a Muslim religion radition. Going to Mecca or observing Aid-e- Fitr or Ramadan…or similar for a non Muslim is following a tradition to Muslims.

    1. Annie Reneau

      Hi Badi,

      This link explains the history of Christmas trees quite thoroughly. The story you mentioned isn’t addressed here, but I think there are a lot of stories about how Christmas trees became a tradition. Most everything I’ve seen (including the article below) point to the origins of Christmas trees not being religious—or at least not Christian—in nature. Note that up until the 1840s, Christmas trees weren’t widely accepted in the U.S., as they were seen as a pagan symbol. It wasn’t until German immigration to the U.S. increased that it became more of an American tradition.

      We don’t have a tree, so I’m not attached to the idea, but I do think it is arguably more cultural than religious.

  21. Vafa

    I am a Persian Baha’i who is married to an American for the last 30 years. My wife is Baha’i but was raised Catholic. We participate in Christmas activities at work and with her family but we have never celebrated Christmas as a family. We give a gift to my mother-in-law for Christmas but that is the extent of Christmas shopping. We have two grown up children that never saw a Christmas tree in our house. Ayyam-i-Ha and Naw-Ruz was and continues to be big part of our family. My kids are not scared for not celebrating Christmas! They turned out to be two amazing, loving, caring and well-rounded individuals whose goal is to love and serve humanity.
    My personal view (not a Baha’i view) is that Christmas no longer represents a religious holiday or for that matter a traditional holiday. It has turned into pure consumerism. It is period of buy and buy more. It is a time of high anxiety for a lot of people who spend hours shopping whether or not they can afford it.

  22. Mary Wilson

    such a delightful article! When I was growing up and when my mother became enamoured with the Faith, she would wean us out of Christmas gradually. Presents were still exchanged but our “big” present was given at the Feast held on December 31st. Instead of the usual Christmas tree, we would plant a blue spruce – her favorite tree in our yard or we would just put up a tree sculpture that my cousin had made.

    Jumping to the next generation and in raising our two girls in the Baha’i family, Christmas was the time spent to get ready for Baha’i school – in our case, we traveled to LouHelen where my husband and I would teach children’s classes at the winter session. That to us was a life- saver and a time of stepping away from the holiday todo and a way to find joy basking in the spirit of community and love. And we really played up the Bahai holidays – AyyamiHa, oh gosh, was a marathon of fun activities, gift-giving, presenting the meaning and gifts of AyyamiHa to the children’s school, and baking/decorating cookies for the soup kitchen. It was exhausting but exhilarating! I think our main goal was to instill a Bahai identity in our children.

    Now that we live in an empty nest, it is so nice not to be bothered or affected by the consumerism of the holidays and to live more simply, enjoy the carols, and watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” once again.

    1. kimberly lang tanudjaja-smith

      oh, how i miss those Baha’i winter schools! they are an integral part of my core identity. and were actually more fun than the anticipation and let down of material Christmases i have celebrated. thanks for being teachers!

  23. J

    Dear Annie,

    Thank you for sharing the Baha’i views on Christ and Christmas in your article. It is always important to turn to the guidance provided in the Writings to answer some of these difficult questions. In this particular case, the Gaurdian was quite clear in his Directive in 1973. While your article touches on this point, I think it is important to underscore what the Gaurdian has stated: “As regards the celebration of the Christian Holiday by the believers; it is surely preferable and even highly advisable that the friends should in their relation to each other discontinue observing such holidays as Christmas and New Years, and to have their festival gatherings of this nature instead during the Intercalary Days and Naw-Rúz.”

    The Gaurdian has further explained: “The Bahá’ís should give up the celebrating of Christian Holy Days such as Christmas. The same applies to Bahá’ís of Jewish and Moslem extraction etc. However, this is not a thing for the Spiritual Assemblies to enforce now; but each one should conscientiously begin to do this―otherwise, people will never know we are members of a new religion, but will think we are just people believing two or three things at the same time.”

    While your article beautifully illustrates some of the modern predicaments one faces during the season, it may mislead some readers into thinking that celebrating Christmas as a “cultural” holiday is advised.

    This is not to discount what you have correctly stated about Baha’is being encouraged to celebrate with their friends and families, as unity is the overarching and ardent desire of the Faith.

    1. Husayn

      I think what Annie is sharing here (please correct me if I’m wrong!) is that it’s a bit more muddled than a dichotomy where we either celebrate Christmas or we don’t. I’d be interested to know what ‘celebrating Christmas’ meant in Shoghi Effendi’s time. Did it mean lights and a tree or did it mean going to a Christmas Mass? My perspective living in the US is that it’s almost become a holiday like Halloween or Thanksgiving, a kind of ecumenical, even non-religious, to an extent, celebration of family togetherness and, ahem, food. I feel like more and more the lights, the tree, the music, the Santa’s in every mall, are less Christian and more cultural/commercial expressions of a festive season.

    2. Annie Reneau

      J, Thank you for your comment.

      It might be helpful for clarification to refer to a letter from the Universal House of Justice to an individual dated November 29, 2002. It quotes the passages from Shoghi Effendi from Lights of Guidance, and elucidates a bit on the question of cultural aspects of holidays.

      “You have explained that as a result of an email discussion group there is a differing of opinions whether Baha’is are permitted to celebrate Christmas, and you have expressed your understanding that while there is no harm in sharing the festivities with friends, the Baha’is themselves should not be putting up Christmas trees, exchanging gifts, etc.

      As one member of your discussion group pointed out, a letter written on behalf of the House of Justice has indeed indicated in the past that although most of the cultural or religious festivals of other religions or communities have no doubt stemmed from religious rituals in bygone ages, the believers should not be deterred from participating in those in which, over the course of time, the religious meaning has given way to purely culturally oriented practices.

      In deciding whether or not to participate in such traditional activities, Bahá’ís must guard against two extremes. The one is to disassociate themselves needlessly from harmless cultural observances and thus alienate themselves from their non-Bahá’í families and friends; the other is to continue the practice of abrogated observances of previous dispensations and thus undermine the independence of the Bahá’í Faith and create undesirable distinctions between themselves and their fellow Bahá’ís. In this connection there is a difference between what Bahá’ís do among themselves and what they do in companionship with their non-Bahá’í friends and relations.”

      I always appreciate the House’s guidance to guard against extremes, to leave the specifics of matters such as this up to the discretion of the individual, and of course to keep unity at the forefront. For some people, the question of whether certain aspects of the holiday season are cultural is clearer than for others. Some people might have family traditions surrounding Christmas that would fall under the category of “harmless cultural observances.” My feeling is that none of it is worth getting into a tizzy over one way or the other (not that you were getting into a tizzy at all, but I’ve seen it happen). 🙂

      1. Alice

        I have a young Granddaughter, who has no issue telling friends, and other family members, “No, we don’t celebrate Christmas, but we help those who do…” I don’t think she’ll turn down an invitation to your Christmas dinner, and will thank you for a gift you happen to give her.

    3. Rose

      Dear :J”

      Thank you so much for pointing out what I was about to say. I am surprised that there are still some Baha’is who try to convince themselves they are ok to do what they do. I mean they just follow so called Christians ( I mean believers or not) and put up Christmas tree, put presents under it, make their children believe in Santa, etc…etc… and say well, our children were born here and or this is just a cultural thing not religious. Well, I agree it is not quite a religious one as it is not even in the Bible but you cannot quite call it cultural either, as it has a religious name attached to it, what do you say about that?

      Besides when Christians live in Muslim or Jewish countries they do NOT celebrate their religious/ cultural celebrations just because they live there or their children were born there, why should we do that specially where we have plenty of our own?

      I think, we as Baha’is are better advised to read the writings and behave accordingly rather than bringing excuses to satisfy ourselves.

      BTW, The article is great as everyone says but it did lack the Guardian’s advice. Still, I believe those of us who have Christian families should make provisions to keep unity. Needless to say, I only gave my own personal view and not a religious one.

      Thank you for reading.

      1. Post
        Annie Reneau


        Did you see my reply to J regarding the guidance from the House of Justice as well as the Guardian? My post didn’t lack the what Shoghi Effendi said—I stated clearly that Baha’is don’t celebrate Christmas “in relation to each other.” And even the Guardian said that it’s not something to be enforced, that it’s something for individuals to come to on their own. Some people seem to feel that what I wrote is incongruous with what Shoghi Effendi said, whereas I feel that his guidance was actually less stringent than what some people interpret it as.

        We also have to remember that many people come to the Faith from Christian backgrounds, and the institutions of the Faith have always been very patient and forbearing in easing people out of what’s familiar to them and into Baha’i behavior and practices. Again, see the Universal House of Justice’s letter above about guarding against extremes and “harmless cultural practices.”

        As I said, we don’t actually celebrate Christmas in our house, but we do put up snowy decorations, some lights, and other traditional wintery decor. At what point does it become specifically Christmasy? If people see my nutcrackers, are they going to be confused about my faith? I don’t think so. And I just don’t think any of those details are worth getting into a fuss about. Policing other people’s choices is a major cause of disunity, which is probably why the House of Justice doesn’t come out and say, “Don’t put up a Christmas tree.” They offer the guidance to consider, and leave it to the discretion of individuals to decide how to apply that guidance in their own lives and circumstances.

        1. Rose

          Dear Annie,

          While I sympathise with “people who have come to Faith from Christian background”, I take offence by you saying ” policing other people’s choices”. This is because I was just giving my personal opinion like you did!

          As to why HOJ has not mentioned Christmas tree, one might say, there is no need as we have the writing of our beloved Guardian. Perhaps we should just read the writings.

          I am also a little confused to read your new comment. May I ask you who are this “we” you are referring to? Please do NOT generalise as most Baha’is including myself do NOT ” put up Christmas decorations even if we chose to change it’s name to “snowy decorations” !!

          Although I respect your personal opinion, I can see that our understanding of the writings is not the same. For the sake of unity, it is best to agree to disagree on this matter.

          Thank you for reading this,


          1. Post
            Annie Reneau


            I didn’t mean to offend with the phrase “policing other people’s choices.” I wasn’t referring to you specifically; I meant that statement generally, as there are some who take it upon themselves to judge what is okay and not okay for others. It seems clear to me that the specifics of what constitute “harmless cultural observances” are left to individual discretion; therefore what I choose to do and what others choose to do might be different based on our own understanding and circumstances, and it’s not my place to judge those specifics. Shoghi Effendi even said it wasn’t for the Spiritual Assemblies to enforce at that time. The House of Justice repeats his guidance and includes advice about guarding against extremes. If the institutions of the faith are not judging or elucidating on the specifics of what that means, who am I to?

            Regarding the “we,” since you refer to decorations in that paragraph, that “we,” as I said, is my family. To elaborate on that point, we put out pumpkins and gourds and such during fall, to celebrate the feel and beauty and distinct nature of the season. Putting up snowmen, snowflakes, evergreen garlands, etc. for winter is no different. They are “snowy decorations” – I’m not rewording it to justify anything, that’s what they are. It’s seasonal decor, nothing more, nothing less. The House of Justice warns us to “guard against extremes.” For me, deliberately NOT bringing any winter decor into my home for fear of it looking like we celebrate Christmas would be going to an extreme.

            I don’t feel disunity in this discussion—I know your heart is in the right place wanting to follow the Guardian’s guidance. Perhaps our understanding is different, but I don’t think there’s any harm in discussing it. The truth is arrived after the spark of differing opinion, after all. 🙂

  24. neda

    Very we written.
    And i agree on the Santa thing we are a mixed religion family and although my husband puts himself in the agnostic category now everyone around us has been pushing santa on us. We had my kids understand (and not believe in santa) but now the peer pressure of friends have them believing. I guess im to blame too i do get them 1 small santa gift. But i said that Christmas and Santa are for kids who go to Church. Since we are Bahais we have Ahyamiha and Naw Ruz and thats why mommy and daddy buy you gift because out of respect for daddy family we celebrate a little. But i think the message is completely lost

  25. Winnie

    Wonderful explanation. We tried to get our kids to counter “What did you get for Christmas?” with “What did you GIVE for Christmas?” Unfortunately, ours is a very materialistic community and that went over like the proverbial “lead balloon”!

  26. Barbara MacMillan

    I used to tell my children that Santa was the idea of being generous made into a person (the personification of generosity). Now I think Santa is the personification of greed. I celebrate Christmas by listening to The Messiah and reading the story of the nativity in The Gospel According to Luke (King James version). Thanks for writing this, I shared it on my facebook page and have had 6 or 8 re-shares and some very wonderful comments from friends, both those who are Baha’is and those who are Christian or other faiths.

  27. Hari

    Comments about Santa Clause remind me of what Ruhiyyih Khanum said about the western view of Abdu’l Baha as a cross between Jesus and Santa Clause (Cue picture of Abdu’l Baha with the children).
    I personally prefer to read guidance from authoritative Bahai sources on the subject.

  28. Nabeel Kamal

    Born in Egypt into the Bahá’í faith from a Muslim Background, and raised in a Catholic school in Egypt. Yes me & my American wife celebrate Christmas for the joy and spirit of the holidays , and we have a big Christmas tree with lights. it is a family tradition and affair for us & our kids who are all Bahá’í faith followers to put us in the Christmas spirit; and yes, we eat pork also. Ham and Pork chops are my favorite meal.
    Happy Hanukah, and Merry Christmas every one. Peace on earth

  29. Sorrel

    Yes, exactly! I grew up in a bahai family who didn’t celebrate it (although we were still grateful for gifts from non-bahai relatives), but I married a non-Baha’i who does, and my mother in law is Christian, so I take my children to church with her at Christmas, so they connect a religious meaning to all the celebration. I’m getting used to having a tree, stockings, cards, presents etc – although yes, I still find the whole Santa thing a bit weird (its ok to have an old man in fancy dress come into your house in the middle of the night? Really?). As you say, every family is different, we celebrate whatever and however works for us.

  30. Sarah

    Thank you! How I feel, also! Especially since my husband is Christian and a little part of me always felt guilty for enjoying the Christmas season so much. Though we have Ayyam I Ha, it was never really celebrated in my family growing up. I hope to be able to celebrate both holidays with my children in the future.

    1. Annie Reneau

      No guilt, Sarah! We love the holiday season, even though we don’t expressly celebrate Christmas. We make Ayyam-i-Ha really fun and festive in our family, so our kids really don’t feel like they’re missing out on Christmas stuff. A lot of what kids want from the holidays is a sense of tradition. They see that in the trees, the stockings, the Santa stuff, the carols and all of that surrounding Christmas. As our kids have grown (our kids are 14, 10, and 5), I’ve seen how it gets easier every year as they identify with our annual family routines and the special things we do on our holidays and holy days. Starting your own unique family traditions I think is a key to countering the wave of holiday societal pressures. That, and kind of riding on top of the wave rather than trying to fight it. There are some really lovely aspects of the holiday season—lights, bringing greenery indoors, celebrating winter, the atmosphere of giving and goodwill—that we enjoy without any internal conflict. No reason to stress. 🙂

  31. Dan

    being raised a Baha’i and eschewing all religions now I am agnostic and celebrate Christmas as a cultural American holiday centered around family. I say keep the Christ out of Christmas. As a Baha’i child my holiday season was filled with feelings of jealousy and want not just for the gifts but for just the season itself and wanting to be a part of it all. My children are being raised without any religion clouding their minds, but they do participate in and love the Christmas season (minus church)! Depriving your children of a holiday that 95% of their friends celebrate will profoundly effect them as it did myself and all of my siblings. Merry Christmas!

    1. Annie Reneau


      I’m sorry you’re so bitter about missing out on Christmas as a kid, but I hardly think it’s fair to say that anyone else’s kids will be profoundly affected by not celebrating it. My husband grew up in a Baha’i family that did absolutely nothing for Christmas or the holiday season, and he and his siblings are all fine. I know lots of other Baha’i families in the same boat. Did they feel like they were missing out as kids? Probably a little, sometimes, naturally. But just because everyone else is doing it isn’t a reason to do anything in life.

      I have a friend who doesn’t do Halloween, and her kids don’t go trick-or-treating. It’s not for religious reasons (she’s agnostic), she just doesn’t like the holiday and thinks it’s stupid for kids to go around getting a ton of candy from strangers. Will her kids be profoundly affected by not celebrating Halloween? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, I respect her decision to choose that for her family.

      Every kid is going to respond differently to their upbringing, depending on their personality and on how parents approach things. Our kids look forward to Ayyam-i-Ha because we’ve made sure we create a special, festive atmosphere surrounding it and have developed our own family traditions over the years. They also love the beauty and festivity of the holiday season in December even though we don’t celebrate Christmas together. I just don’t think any of these things have to be that big of a deal, and if kids are “profoundly affected” by not celebrating Christmas, I’d guess there’s more going on in their upbringing than just that. Perhaps too much “legalism” in regards to religious teaching? Just a hunch.

  32. Tebby

    One of the most enjoyable ways that I participated with my children in the Christmas spirit was preparing boxes of Christmas presents for children in need . The Salvation Army arrranged a collection for presents that had to be done well in advance of Christmas. We choose as a family to have a big party on a Baha’i Holy Day, the Birth of Baha’u’llah, where my children and their friends, of every religious persuasion, came over and made up Christmas boxes filled with small treats to give away. It was quite a thrill for me to at once a celebrate our holy day with all our friends and be able to participate in the “Christmas Spirit”

  33. Debra Current

    Thank you. This is something I can put on my fb page and my friends can see if they wish. I do get asked that each year, or get the statement, OH, you don’t celebrate Christmas, I forgot.

  34. Diana

    I’ve had a variety of views about Christmas over the years, and am probably more comfortable with celebrating it again now ( having grown up Christian). I think it’s getting a balance between celebrating Baha’i Holy Days and making them special too a well as those which reflect the culture of the country you live in. Eg. if I lived in a muslim country I’d celebrate Eid. When I was in an Eastern European country for Christmas I celebrated on the day they did ( not Dec 25th ). I didn’t want my kids to be in a difficult position of getting nothing for Christmas, but I’ve never been overly materialistic about it either . We have stockings from santa, but it’s fun choosing nice, inexpensive gifts and developing that generosity and thoughtfulness is no bad thing. Moderation is everything!

  35. Louise

    I love this! Living in a part of the UK where the sun sets just before 4pm at the moment and on dull cloudy days it never seems to get properly light, I think I’d struggle to get through the winter without Christmas to look forward to! I have SAD too so really crave light! Non of my family are Bahá’ís anyway, but even if they were I’d still want to celebrate Christmas (or the winter solstice) but as the ancient holiday of Yule which is Northern European festival far older than Christmas and part of our cultural heritage. I realised one year that the most important bits of Christmas to me are bringing greenery, especially holly and ivy, inside, the lights and the Yule log burning in the hearth, plus of course the traditional Christmas dinner and special family time. Stuff like presents are fun but secondary. So glad you wrote this.

  36. Effie

    This is such a wonderfully written and truly appreciated explanation for those of us who are Baha’i and want to share the love, joy and spirit of the holidays with our Christian brothers and sisters. I am all about the baking and even dedicated a blog post to gingerbread houses. The kids and I love making them and donating them to a local charity. I pray that I am able to instill in my children a sense of gratitude and the understanding that the joy lies in the giving, not the receiving.

  37. Rose-reta

    Thank you so very much. Well said. Also fur me is materialism. When my children and grand children go back to school after holiday they were told to write about their Christmas and what they got.

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