I have a funny relationship with Christmas. It’s been over two decades since I stopped being exclusively a Christian. At the age of 18, I loosely considered myself to be Unitarian, though found myself exploring many different paths at the same time. At 23 I considered myself to be a Pagan. At age 29 I joined the Mahikari spiritual organization and this year, at the age of 40, I declared myself to be a Baha’i. Do I feel some Baha’i humbug about Christmas now? No.
With all these changes over the decades, my relationship with Christmas has changed and evolved. As a child, it meant Santa Claus, Christmas presents, Christmas trees and all the other trimmings of modern day Christmas in America. As I got older, I gradually became more aware of the Christmas story, and became moved by the notion of rebirth and renewal that the birth of Jesus represented. Christmas Eve church services became deeply moving for me.
At the same time, I was raised in a fairly mixed area. Many of my best friends in grade school and high school were Jewish and I was exposed to the notion of other religions at an early age. In high school, I was hearing a lot about the Moral Majority, which was creating controversy at that time, and between that and the other religious conflicts I saw around me, I concluded at a fairly early age that all religions must be valid, not just Christianity. That belief is still a core belief for me today.
Accepting the validity of other faiths did not really change my view towards Christmas, but it took sort of an interesting twist when I began to consider myself a Pagan. Many Pagans celebrate the Winter Solstice—Yule–just a few days before Christmas, and many aspects of modern Christmas such as the Christmas tree, holly, mistletoe are adaptations of old Pagan traditions. So just as early Christian missionaries reportedly found it convenient to superimpose Christian themes on Pagan tradition, I found it convenient to simply superimpose my own Pagan beliefs on the Christian traditions I grew up with.
Now that I’m a Baha’i, things have changed a little bit. Baha’is have no holidays that easily overlap with or complement Christmas. Within the Baha’i Faith, there are no holidays between November and February, so there is nothing occurring during this time that can be considered parallel or similar. I went to a celebration of the Birth of Baha’u’llah on November 12th, and that did feel a lot like Christmas in some ways.
Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, said “Know thou assuredly that the essence of all the Prophets of God is one and the same. Their unity is absolute. God, the Creator, saith: There is no distinction whatsoever among the Bearers of My Message. They all have but one purpose; their secret is the same secret. To prefer one in honor to another, to exalt certain ones above the rest, is in no wise to be permitted.” (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 78)
So, in a sense, there really is nothing wrong with Baha’is celebrating Christmas, or Passover, or Eid. No reason to feel Baha’i humbug. I’ve always believed this to be true, but it’s nice to be in a faith that firmly beliefs this as part of its core beliefs.
Yeah, the holidays can be crazy and stressful. Crowded malls, traffic, rush-rush craziness, and bills, bills, bills. And sometimes people over-do it–it’s easy to get tired of Santa hats, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman. A friend of mine said it best when she responded to a display of excessive decorating zeal by saying, “It looks like Christmas kind of threw up down there.”
But there are the feelings of warmth, joy and celebration, and hope for the future and spiritual renewal. If that kind of energy is there, of course I will bask in it. And, if in the process of doing so, I connect with fond childhood memories, that’s even better.