When I still had children at home, we were often asked why we didn't decorate the house for Christmas, or have a tree with, of course, piles of gifts under it. A couple of months later, there would be another round of questions when we did string lights and decorate to celebrate the Intercalary Days with gifts and parties.
"Don't you believe in Christ?" was a common reaction. Bahá'ís do accept Jesus Christ as a Manifestation of God, but also recognize the validity of Muhammad, Buddha, Moses, Zoroaster, Krishna, Abraham, Adam and many others lost in the mists of time. Bahá'u'lláh is only the latest in a long line of God's Chosen Ones who guide mankind. Nor is He the last.
Bahá'ís have their own set of holy days, including a New Year celebration (Naw-Rúz) and a time for gift giving (Ayyám-i-Há, the Intercalary Days). Besides, since the Bahá'í Faith accepts the validity of all the former religions, we would need to celebrate ALL their holy days, not just Christmas, in order to be fair. It would be fun, but I'd never get any work done!
That does not mean, however, that we do not share all sorts of the celebrations of family and friends who follow other beliefs. My children had grandparents, siblings and friends who were Jewish, Christian, Native American, and even Moslem and Sikh. One dear friend who was Wiccan used to share Solstice celebrations with my daughters.
Respect for others is built into Bahá'í daily life goals, but we do not need to observe any holy days except our own. Family and community unity are also important, so often our family helped in citywide celebrations and service projects for Independence Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners and Easter sunrise services.
Because we did not have religious responsibilities for Easter or the month of December, for instance, we could work so that our colleagues could have those days off. For many years as a substitute library tech, I worked from Thanksgiving through the first week in January. It was wonderful to be able to serve in that way, and get paid for it!
Over the years, there have been a great many arguments in my country over what Christmas is or isn't, and especially over how the day is often celebrated in the United States. I have no intention of getting into that other than to remember that the essential teaching of early Christianity was about loving one another, focused on forgiveness and reconciliation.
I hope that each one of you, in whatever way you celebrate Christmas -- or the Festival of Lights, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, Chanukah, or just a winter break with family and friends -- will find peace and hope and joy and love. Those are what religion is about. God, by whatever name we use, by whichever Guide we follow, has always told humanity that we are loved -- and that we should love one another.
And this is the time in human history when it is possible, at long last, to build "God's Kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven." Bahá'ís believe we can each have a part in it, too, working one heart at a time…