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What Christmas Means to Bahá’ís

I write on diverse religious issues, often analysing perspectives from the Abrahamic faiths (Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Bahá’í).

A decorated Christmas tree: Christmas is characterised by colour, verve, joy, and laughter.

A decorated Christmas tree: Christmas is characterised by colour, verve, joy, and laughter.

Bahá’í Perspective on Christmas

This article is in response to questions posed by a group of young Christians who wanted to know the Bahá’í perspective on Christmas. In particular, they wished to know if, in the perspective of Bahá’ís, Christmas was to be condemned because it was instituted in place of a pagan festival (the Roman festival of Saturnalia) and could not represent the true birthday of Jesus Christ (as historical records do suggest, and most experts and theologians accept).

In short, they wanted to know what Christmas means to Bahá’ís.

Gift boxes under Christmas tree: Many Christmas traditions mirror those of the Roman feast of Saturnalia.

Gift boxes under Christmas tree: Many Christmas traditions mirror those of the Roman feast of Saturnalia.

The Bahá’í Mission

Let it be stated from the onset that it is not in the Bahá’í teachings or tradition to condemn anyone’s or any group’s religious beliefs and practices. Bahá’ís are not in the condemnation business. They never judge anyone as saved or lost, or going to heaven or going to hell, or any such thing. They don’t regard themselves qualified in any way to pronounce on that. The indisputable reality is that God is the only one who can decide who goes where, who is a true believer and who is not, and who is close to Him and who is not.

The Bahá’í mission is focused solely on bringing people together (be they of different religions, nationalities, races, tribes, castes, or genders) and striving for unity, peace, harmony, togetherness, and societal progress—for, at the end of the day, all are children of one heavenly Father.

Worshippers at the Bahá’í House of Worship, known as the Lotus Temple, in Delhi, India.

Worshippers at the Bahá’í House of Worship, known as the Lotus Temple, in Delhi, India.

A Divinely-Guided Enterprise

Any serious student of the Gospel will acknowledge that developments in the Christian faith, from its earliest years up to more recent times, must have been divinely guided. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that many undesirable things happened in the intervening period and are still happening within Christendom, but that is not God’s doing and cannot be attributed to Him. That, rather, must be a reflection of the frailties of men.

The crucial thing, when all is said and done though, is that the mission entrusted to Jesus by his Father and the goals he assigned to his followers were by and large achieved. And that, in the long run, is the most important thing.

Now, having witnessed the heroic manner in which Christians have achieved their God-given tasks to the benefit of all, what right will others then have to turn round and start pointing fingers at the faith of Christ and to criticise its festivals and holy day celebrations, or any of its other traditions?

What right do non-Christians have to criticise Christmas?

What right do non-Christians have to criticise Christmas?

The Mission of Jesus

The mission of Jesus the Christ was uncharacteristically short—only three and a half years. Comparing that with other Founders of religions, we see for instance that Moses had a 40-year ministry, Muhammad’s was 23 years, and Bahá’u’lláh, Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, also had a 40-year ministry.

Given that his ministry was so short and his teachings were orally given and not written, Jesus must, undoubtedly, have been constrained from instituting many laws and observances as happened in other religions. No wonder then that the responsibility for filling in the gaps in the structure of his faith fell to Peter and the other Apostles and, by extension, to those who succeeded them as popes, bishops, missionaries, evangelists, priests, etc.

Priests, missionaries, and other classes of believers had a duty to organise the Church as best they could to enable it fulfil its divine mission.

Priests, missionaries, and other classes of believers had a duty to organise the Church as best they could to enable it fulfil its divine mission.

The Mission of the Apostles

The responsibility given to Peter and his fellow Apostles by their Lord is spelt out in the Gospel of Matthew. In those well-known verses—and all biblical quotes in this article are from the King James Bible—Jesus confers primacy on Peter thus:

“And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18-19)

Here, in these exalted words, Jesus honours Peter with the mantle of Chief Apostle. And as part of his sacred responsibilities, Peter had the mandate to organise the Church as he saw fit, a mandate he naturally had to exercise collectively with his fellow Apostles. With this assignment came the assurance that whatever he (and his fellow Apostles) did in organising the Church would be blessed and accepted in heaven—that is, by God Himself. That is the implication of the words:

“Upon this rock [Peter] I will build my church… And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Monumental statue of St. Peter the Apostle holding a key, in front of St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City.

Monumental statue of St. Peter the Apostle holding a key, in front of St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City.

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The Traditions of the Church

So, although mostly man-made, such established church observances, institutions, and practices as relate to the Christian Sabbath, Easter, Christmas, the marriage ceremony, divorce, burials, fasting, pilgrimage, church services, the clerical order, etc., are acceptable to God, going by the promise of Jesus.

And just to clarify that these are not the essential spiritual teachings of Jesus but social observances, rites, and traditions of the Church.

Christians have developed a form of worship that is unique to their faith.

Christians have developed a form of worship that is unique to their faith.

The Christian Mission

Jesus’ mission had just three basic, interrelated elements. As to be expected, the goals he assigned to his followers, in the short time he was with them, were infused with the same three basic elements. And though few, these goals were certainly more far-reaching in scope than the goals given to other religious communities.

1. The Message of the Gospel

Firstly, the faithful were to appreciate the central message of the Gospel, which was about the coming of the Kingdom of God.

“Jesus came… preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand…” (Mark 1:14-15)

2. The Worldwide Dissemination of the Gospel

Secondly, in addition to living the life of a true believer, they were to carry the Gospel message to every corner of the globe. Thus were they exhorted by their Lord:

“Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15)

3. Preparation for the Return

And thirdly, they were asked to prepare themselves and the world at large for the day of the Return, the Second Coming. The Return was to mark at once “the end of the world” (Matthew 24:3) and “the regeneration” (Matthew 19:28). Regeneration must refer to a period of spiritual renewal, of revival, when the world undergoes a transformation and is made new.

We see this promise of renewal re-echoed in the Book of Revelation:

“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth… And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 21:1, 5)

Peter likewise refers to the time of the Return as “the times of refreshing” and “the times of restitution of all things” (Acts 3:19-21).

It follows from these promises, therefore, that the Second Coming is a time of spiritual renewal and restoration rather than the literal end of the physical world.

A new earth is coming.

A new earth is coming.

Bahá’í Attitude to Christmas

1. The Celebration

Now, to the attitude of Bahá’ís to Christmas: As a distinct religious community, Bahá’ís do not celebrate Christmas; they have their own holy days to commemorate (quite a number of them). However, Bahá’ís in their individual capacities will gladly join the Christmas celebrations of their Christian family members, neighbours, colleagues, and friends—as they will the holy day celebrations of the other religions, be it Islam or Hinduism, or any other.

This attitude of Bahá’ís is based on a fundamental teaching of their faith to:

“Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship.” (Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, #XLIII)

So, Bahá’ís do not shun other faith groups. They warmly embrace them all.

Baha'is will gladly join their Christian friends and family members to celebrate Christmas.

Baha'is will gladly join their Christian friends and family members to celebrate Christmas.

2. The Birth Date of Jesus

Bahá’ís will also respect Christmas as a Christian holy day. It does not matter that it was instituted to replace a pagan festival. The truth is that no one knows the actual birth date of Jesus. So, even if Christmas were celebrated at any other time of the year, the fact would still remain that the real birthday of Jesus is unknown.

What is important, in this regard, is that Christians have chosen a date to commemorate the birth of Jesus. Once chosen, that day becomes holy to them. Why? Because that day becomes associated with the birth of their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, a very important event in the history of mankind. Christians have set it apart from all other days to remember the occasion. That is what makes that day special and holy for them.

And Bahá’ís have no reason not to respect that.

The Nativity: A scene depicting the birth of Jesus.

The Nativity: A scene depicting the birth of Jesus.

A Day to Celebrate and Reflect

Being special and holy, Christmas cannot only mean having a good time, as seems to be the focus for many. It should also mean reflecting on what that day means for the spiritual life of Christians and of humanity as a whole.

Christmas should not be an occasion for material enjoyment only.

Christmas should not be an occasion for material enjoyment only.

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Kobina Amissah-Fynn

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