What does a Bahá’í Christmas look like?

This blog series has been one of the best for me personally so far. I have learnt so much from my friends, about their religions and way of life.

The friend who I’ve asked to share his story in this post is honestly one of the nicest people I’ve ever known.

I remember, very clearly, 20 years ago when my then boyfriend, now husband, was admitted to hospital over the Christmas holiday period while we were stationed at one of the Sun International properties where we used to work.  It was an emergency op and I was young(er), scared and anxious by everything going on around me at the time.  Ruben was a pillar of strength and support, and, although he was unaware of it, played a huge role as father figure in the absence of my own parents living anywhere near me at the time.

He is one of those people who you don’t have to see or speak to on a regular basis but will forever feel welcomed in their presence. (He’s not too shabby in the looks department either but he prefers to remain visually anonymous)

This is Ruben’s Story:

My name is Ruben Gooranah. I was born and grew up in Mauritius and moved to South Africa in 1988. My parents’ ancestors came from South India to Mauritius. My parents didn’t really follow any religion at first but later they were taught and studied the Bahá’í faith and became Baha’i’s.  Thus I was born in a Baha’i family.

Even though I was raised in the faith, one doesn’t automatically have to become a Bahá’í. At the age of 15, I signed a declaration card to declare my adherence to the Bahá’í teachings.

Christmas in Mauritius

Though the majority of the Mauritian population is non-Christian, Christmas is widely recognised by all and almost all Mauritians celebrate the spirit of Christmas. One can see Christmas trees in the majority of houses in December. Unfortunately the spirit of Christmas is very commercialised. This same spirit is apparent when Diwali, the festival of light is celebrated by the Hindus. Even some Catholic churches would put oil lamp lights in front of the stairs to the church.

We used to put up a tree as my wife was a Christian before becoming a Bahá’ís just before we got married. While we used to do this when the kids were small we haven’t done so for a while now. This is not prohibited as such in the Bahai faith. For us it is a decorated tree which looks very nice.

We do sometimes buy Christmas presents. When our children were younger they would get Christmas presents and also presents for the appropriate Bahá’í Holy Day. For us, accepting gifts is not against the spirit of Christmas and I would even wish my friends and employees “Merry Christmas “

I asked Ruben what Christmas means to Bahá’ís?

The short answer: Bahá’ís celebrate the meaning of Christmas, but not the holiday itself.

Some background will help explain this. The central teaching of the Baha’i Faith is unity.

There is only one God. He has created all human beings, so humanity is one. And since all faiths come from the same God, all religions are one in their essence.

The differences among religions arise from two facts. First, God’s revelation is progressive. Each Divine Teacher (Bahá’ís call them Manifestations of God) confirms the spiritual teachings of His Predecessor, but explains and adds to them according to the capacity of His people. This works something like grades in a school. The second grade teacher does not deny what children learnt in first grade, but rather extends their knowledge because their abilities have increased.

The second reason for religious differences (leaving aside mistaken dogmas added by fallible human beings) is that each Manifestation brings a set of social teachings applicable to the needs of His time. This is why laws about issues such as marriage, divorce, prayer and the calendar change from dispensation to dispensation. In regards to the latter, each religion has its own special Holy Days.

Bahá’ís accept the Founder of their Faith, Bahá’u’lláh (literally, the “Glory of God”) as the most recent in this series of Manifestation. From its beginning in 1844, in Persia, the Baha’i Faith has amplified the spiritual teachings of God’s Messengers and implemented a set of social teachings for this age, from the harmony of science and religion to the equality of men and women to the elimination of all prejudice. The Baha’i calendar includes eleven Holy Days.

The closest to Christmas in spiritual meaning is the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh, on 12th November. The closest in terms of holiday celebrations are the Baha’i New Year (21st March) and a special time of charity and hospitality from 27th February to 1st March.

Bahá’ís accept Jesus the Christ as a Manifestation in the eternal chain of Divine Revelation, and the Holy Bible as part of the revealed Word of God. Bahá’u’lláh, Whom Bahá’ís believe represents the return of the Christ spirit, speaks uniquely of Jesus as “the Son of God.” So even though Bahá’ís do not observe Christmas (or the Holy Days for other religions) as part of their own calendar, they share in the joy of their fellow believers in Christ at His birth. Many Bahá’ís join family or friends for Christmas celebrations.

A worldwide community of some five million Bahá’ís, representative of most of the nations, races and cultures on earth, is working to give Bahá’u’lláh‘s teachings practical effect. Their experience will be a source of encouragement to all who share their vision of humanity as one global family and the earth as one homeland.

I concluded by asking Ruben if it was particularly challenging raising kids in the faith in South Africa specifically, he said “Not at all, as it is pretty clear in the Bahá’í faith and we do not alienate other religions.”

Thank you Ruben for sharing your story with me and allowing me to publish it here on my blog.

I learnt a couple of things from Ruben through his story:

  • At face value, if I wasn’t Catholic I would choose to be Bahá’i as we have a shared vision in essence.
  • There is a place for everyone in this world and whatever space you find yourself in is right for you given your own context, needs, understanding and frame of reference.
  • More information on the Bahá’í faith can be found at www.bahai.org

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