The Christmas Question

Naturally, at this festive time of year, people like to ask whether or not Baha’is 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 is appropriate to the question, “Do Baha’is celebrate Christmas?” because that particular question is really an umbrella for several related-but-different questions.

To clear things up a bit, 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 Baha’is celebrate Christmas, and my undoubtedly imperfect answers to those questions.

Do Baha’is believe in Christ?

Yes, we do.

Here’s one of the beautiful things Baha’u’llah wrote about Jesus:

     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 . . . Blessed is the man who, with a face beaming with light, hath turned towards Him.

So yes, we revere and adore Christ, and believe in Him as a Divine Messenger of God.

Do Baha’is celebrate Christmas as a religious community?

No, we don’t. We accept Christ wholeheartedly, and therefore honor the idea of celebrating 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 Baha’i calendar.

But CAN Baha’is celebrate Christmas?

Yes, and many of us do joyfully celebrate Christmas with our families and friends who do so. As individuals, we are free to partake in any religious activities that don’t directly interfere with the Baha’i 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 Baha’u’llah: “Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship.”

So do Baha’is have Christmas trees, bake Christmas cookies, put up Christmas lights, exchange Christmas gifts, etc.?

Maybe. Sort of. Sometimes. 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 Baha’is, it’s sort of both and sort of neither, depending on what angle you’re looking from.

I know some Baha’i families who put up Christmas trees, but I would say most do not. I personally LOVE a good cookie exchange. Some Baha’is exchange gifts with their families and circles of friends, especially those whose extended families are not Baha’is. 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. As an adult and a parent, I kind of hate Santa. (This is not official Baha’i teaching, here, just so we’re clear.) 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, he breaks into your house at night. Just a wee bit creepy. Third, 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. Fourth, the lying to the children thing 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. To me, Santa fits that bill.

I have a few more beefs with the big guy, but I’ll leave it at that for now. I know, I know. It’s a harmless tradition and I’m a big old Scrooge. Bah Humbug.

Actually, though, I love Santa movies. I must have watched Miracle on 34th Street a dozen times as a kid. And I 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.

It may also be because I’m a wee bit tired of perfect strangers asking my kids what they got from Santa every time we venture out of the house after Christmas. Why do people make the assumption that 1) we do celebrate Christmas, and 2) if we do, we must do Santa? Is it because we’re middle-class white folk? I know people mean well, but it puts the kids in an awkward position of first wondering why Santa doesn’t bring them toys, and then, when they’re old enough to understand, of trying to explain to perfect strangers why Santa doesn’t bring them toys.

People get all up in arms over the “Merry Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays” word choice. I’m not in the least bit offended if you want to wish me a Merry or Happy anything, and I’ll happily return the sentiment. Please just don’t ask my kids what Santa brought them, for crying out loud.

OK, sorry. Rant over. Back to the questions.

So now that you’ve explained how Baha’is 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. 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. We also have a big family dinner, since everyone’s off of work and school at this time.

Oh, and we make rockin’ awesome gingerbread houses with the kids’ cousins. Super fun.

I hope that clears things up a little. Wrapping this up, I feel an overwhelming urge to write Santa an apology letter. My mind works in goofy ways.

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

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Annie writes about life, motherhood, world issues, beautiful places, and anything else that tickles her brain. On good days, she enjoys juggling life with her husband and homeschooling her children. On bad days, she binges on chocolate chips and dreams of traveling the world alone.

Comments 11

  1. I take time off from reading your blog every now and then just ’cause life so crazy, ya know? Then I read a ton of them to catch up! So, this one was extremely poignant for me today. I sent out Ayyam-i-Ha cards this year, (um, perhaps you’ve seen them, 😉 One of my family members got very offended and send me a text stating that not only does she not practice the Baha’i Faith, she does not believe in it, so I need to stop sending her cards for Baha’i Holidays. (Now, please remember that this is the first and only Baha’i Holiday card I’ve EVER sent out, and, I have seen her at least once a week for the last 10 years… never has she told me about her feelings on the Faith before.) She then when on to say that she will take me off of her Christmas card list to “extend me the same courtesy”. I’m not ashamed to say that I cried for a while over that. I was so shocked and afraid that every other non-Baha’i that I sent Ayyam-i-Ha cards to would be just as offended as she was. Then, after the Hubby talked me down, and I got several just as unsolicited Thank You texts from other non-Baha’i family members because they appreciated the cards, I started to feel better. Now, today, I read this wonderfully thought provoking and beautifully articulate post! I started yelling “Yes!” at my computer screen with your answer for “Do Baha’is believe in Christ?”, and your answer for “CAN Baha’is celebrate Christmas?” had my in tears 😀 What I loved most, though, was, “People get all up in arms over the “Merry Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays” word choice. I’m not in the least bit offended if you want to wish me a Merry or Happy anything, and I’ll happily return the sentiment.” You helped my to realize that what I had done by sending her a greeting card was done out of love and kindness. I don’t have anything to feel guilty about anymore. Thank you for allowing me to vent, this was very cathartic…aaahhhh…

    1. Oh, Kelly, that is such a humongous bummer. No need to be ashamed over crying about that – I’m sure I would have, too. I’m glad you got some positive feedback as well. You’re an inspiration, girl!

      My eldest was feeling a little nervous about giving out Ayyam-i-Ha cookies to their neighborhood friends, feeling like some people who hadn’t heard of it might think it was weird. I told her just what you said – we’re giving them something out of sincere love and kindness and goodwill, and if anyone thinks that’s weird, that’s their problem and not hers. It’s not easy being different. But if we are sincere in our giving and pure in our intentions, however people receive it is their issue. No guilt. 🙂

  2. Great point about creating a trust-question with Santa. My son heard so much about Santa coming on Christmas, he looked around the house several times today asking where Santa was lol! I didn’t respond much this year as he wasn’t exposed to much I don’t really feel I have to, but it’s been great to read your post and others to help figure out how to “deal with Christmas” next year and in the future. Well it’s all over here in Australia now, I guess your Christmas day is just starting 🙂 I’m currently writing up a Christmas post as well. Complicated stuff this religious turned cultural holiday.

  3. Oh, and this post had gotten me thinking, so I asked The Muse today at lunch whether she ever feels left out because we don’t do much for Christmas. She got a “huh?” look on her face and asked “What do you mean?” I said, you know, because we don’t have a Christmas tree and don’t get lots of presents and stuff. She still seemed confused, and said, “Um, no?” like “Why would I feel left out?” I think having so much family around over Christmas break, enjoying the festivity of the season, and the fact that we really don’t make a point of NOT celebrating Christmas, plus the fact that we really strive to make Ayyam-i-Ha and other Baha’i holidays special has really made it so that the kids don’t feel like they’re missing out. Then again, BoyWonder yells out, “CHRISTMAS!! LOOK, MAMA, IT’S CHRISTMAS!!!” every time we pass a lighted tree or wreath. Maybe he’ll be the tough one. 🙂

  4. Chelsea – I don’t have any specific books to recommend, as I usually go to the library and see what new books have come out each year. This year I got one that’s a story about a family celebrating Hanukkah, and one of the brothers is autistic. It’s an interesting combo of lessons. I’ve had some really lovely books in the past, but the titles of them all escape me now. 🙁

    I think one of the reasons the Santa movies are so enjoyable is because movie studios really know how to create that feeling of magic and wonder. The newer Miracle on 34th Street is done with this warm, soft lighting that makes everything glow with perfection, and other movies have that similar dreamy feel. They make you WANT to believe in Santa because it feels so warm and cozy. And that’s fine. I enjoy fantasy, and I’m a sucker for movies with happy endings. But my kids have more than a rich enough fantasy life as it is. I don’t think adding Santa to the mix would have benefited them in any way.

    I actually read something about Justin Bieber of all people the other day, about how his parents didn’t do Santa with him as a child. His mom told him that they didn’t because when he found out that Santa wasn’t real, he might also question whether they had been honest about other things, particularly about God, and they always wanted him to know that they were being truthful with him. It was kind of an interesting point.

  5. LOL! I hate the song Rudolph. A kid with an abnormality is shunned and bullied in the barnyard until the boss, who’s done nothing to stop it, suddenly finds his abnormality useful.
    My son always felt left out and somewhat resentful when his buddies talked about what they got for Xmas. Ayyam-i-Ha didn’t cut it for him, his buddies weren’t interested by then.

  6. From the time I was in high school I thought the idea of rich people giving rich people gifts at Christmas made no sense. Over the years I enlisted friends and family in service projects during the holidays and way downplayed the gifts part of Christmas. Santa? No way. I think that lying to a child is the worst possible sin. How can you raise children who are trusting and truthful if you model lying? But Christmas itself? Count me in on any of the fun that’s happening!

  7. When I was little, gifts were exchanged on Christmas Eve. Stockings were hung and Christmas morning they were always filled with nuts, some hard candies and an orange. I really don’t remember gifts in them. IF, however, there was a time for a BIG special gift, like a bicycle, it came Christmas morning, not Christmas Eve. We DID know it was from parents and it was more fun to get it Christmas morning. The stocking gifts were from Santa.

  8. great blog! I agree with the Santa issue, especially now that Santa gives kids Wii stations and IPads. Not only are bad children left out, but some privileged good kids get IPads, try to explain that. Santa is inside of us and gives to all. I love the stories about people paying off KMart lay-a-ways, now that is a Santa!

  9. Exactly how we have always approached Christmas, down to the distaste for the whole Santa myth. It’s very interesting to me that an imaginary white man gets all the credit for the efforts of very hard working mothers. My kids always got a full and fun Christmas stocking on Christmas morning, so that they can talk to friends about what was in it. But, except for maybe the age of three, there was never any question who filled it.

  10. LOL I totally agree on the Santa thing since having children of my own and am glad I’m not the only one, but what surprised me even more from reading your post was that I never realized that I too have really enjoyed Santa movies in the past – it never struck me as odd before now haha.

    I love the idea of having a few family (cultural versus religious) traditions ie seasonal decorations – though here in Australia it’s weird doing the typical winter Christmas type stuff, I guess I will have to think up some non-snow related things.

    I’d love to know any books you recommend for teaching the various traditions… 🙂

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