14 Masa’il 165 B.E. (Baha’i Calendar)
Soundtrack in my head: Mystic Diversions, “Flight BA0247”
For a Baha’i, I sure write a lot about Christmas, right? Well, maybe.
I really have not been a Christian in the traditional sense at all during my adult life. I considered myself to be a Pagan during the first half of the 90’s, The proximity of the Pagan holiday of Yule to Christmas, and the pagan imagery incorporated into Christmas made the holiday feel more of less the same. Knowing that Jesus Christ was likely NOT born around this time of year, and knowing that celebration of the birth of Jesus was incorporated into an existing Roman holiday–well, honestly the holiday didn’t feel all that different. Then during the time I was involved with Mahikari–well Mahikari didn’t really have any holy days per se. We had the birth and death of their founder, but when I asked one of the ministers whether there were any actual holidays to observe and talke off work for, I was told that I should take time off to review their three-day introductory courses, not for any “Mahikari religious holidays.”
Now I am in a faith that has its own religious holidays, and Christmas isn’t one of them. We don’t have anything that is similar that occurs around the same time of year. We celebrate the Birth of the Báb on 20 October and the Birth of Baha’u’llah on 12 November, and we have a time for gift giving and charity work during Ayyam-i-ha, which runs from 26 February to 1 March, but that’s not considered a holiday.
So then, where does Christmas belong in my heart?
Intellectually, I can say, well, Baha’is recognize Jesus as a Manifestation of God, as we do Moses, Buddha, Krishna, Zoroaster, and Muhammad among others. So it is not contradictory to our beliefs to honor Jesus.
But there is, of course, an emotional factor of Christmas that goes back all the way to early childhood. It involves traditions, celebrations, and music, and these things are deeply embedded into American culture and almost every person who grew up in this country.
Time always seemed to stand still on Christmas Eve. It seems like the whole world holds its breath for Christmas. Not the whole world, of course. I had an instant message conversation with a friend in Japan, and December 25th was simply another day at work for her. I’m sure this is also true in countries where Islam is the predominant religion.
But in my part of the world, there is a build-up that peaks on Christmas Day. On a material level, part of the build-up is the intense retail cycle and a period of rather frenetic economic activity that is built around this holiday. On the spiritual level, we hear–with varying degrees of sincerity–humanity’s hopes and dreams.
The music of Christmas plays a big part of that. I love traditional Christmas music with a passion. It captures the drama of the Christmas story, and captures the hopes and dreams of humankind in the way few artistic expressions do. I sometimes wish that Baha’i music could do the same thing for me, though a lot of the issue is that I’m not very familiar with a lot of Baha’i music. I attribute this difference to the fact that Christianity has been around so much longer, and as such has had time to develop these traditions.
But when I listen to Christmas music, I think about my own Baha’i Faith, more than about just Jesus. In many ways, this is consistent with the view that Jesus is one of many Manifestations of God. I think it’s also a recognition that most of the themes inherent in the spiritual side of Christmas and Christianity are universal to all faiths.
Clearly, for all the faults and headaches of the holiday season, there is a strong spiritual energy put out collectively by people around the world this time of year. Why not tune in with the good aspects of it while it’s there?
So that’s what I’ve done over the past 24 hours. Last night, a housemate served a delightful Christmas Eve dinner, and afterwards we relaxed by candlelight as another housemate performed Christmas music and fiddle tunes on her violin. We’d been procrastinating putting up Christmas decoration, but finally brought ourselves to put up some garland and Christmas lights, though one housemate remarked that our efforts resembled a “modern art” approach to Christmas. This morning, another housemate and I made Christmas brunch and we listened to Christmas music as we ate. I had a number of presents from family and friends that had been shipped from elsewhere. This made me feel like the “birthday boy” of the bunch, but it was still fun to open the presents in the presence of my housemates, even though we did not (and chose not) to exchange gifts among ourselves.
Christmas–it is what it is. I take the good parts and savor them. May you savor your holiday moments however you feel moved to…