How We Honor Christmas When We’re Not Christian

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Please note that the essay below contains the opinions of one individual Baha’i and does not represent an official Baha’i position on the Christmas holiday, only the musings of one person based on her own understanding of the teachings of the Baha’i Faith.

 

Beautiful carols, gingerbread cookies fresh from the oven, glittering lights, and reindeer sleighs–what’s not to love about Christmas?

 

Yet for the many families who practice faiths other than Christianity, this beautiful holiday can be the source of as much angst as joy. Each year we must grapple with questions such as: How do we explain to our little ones why Santa doesn’t come to our house? Is it wrong to string up some lights or put up a tree even if Christmas isn’t really “our” holiday? More fundamentally, how do we teach our children to respect this special time without confusing them about their own religious identity?

 

Now that my older son is nearly three, he is more aware of the season and notices Santa Claus and reindeer decorations wherever we go, so we have had to do some serious thinking about how we will address these issues with him and his baby brother.

 

I am only at the beginning of my journey on this issue, but I have found it helpful to try to distill out the major principles involved, shared below:

 

Points to consider

 

1. Jesus vs. Santa: Throughout much of the United States, at least in public life, Christmas has become almost a secular holiday. In part this stems from a desire to respect the fact that not everyone is Christian and so emphasizing the Nativity story may not always be appropriate. Not everyone may believe in Jesus, but who can argue with Santa? This trend is so prevalent that many religious Christians struggle to remind everyone of the “reason for the season,” which often gets lost in the rush of holiday shopping and Christmas lights.

 

Action: Separate out these two threads (secular and religious) as we make our decision.

 

2. As a Baha’i, I believe in the divinity of Jesus. The Writings of the Baha’i Faith contain many references to the divine station of Jesus, and we respect Him as one of the Divine Messengers (like Moses, Krishna, Buddha, Muhammad, and Baha’u’llah) periodically sent to humanity to teach us about God. As a result, I would love for my son to learn about and celebrate the Nativity story.

 

Action: Teach my son the Nativity story about the birth of Jesus.

 

3. Baha’is advocate fellowship with people of all faiths. Baha’is follow the teaching of Baha’u’llah to “consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship.” I try to teach my son about other belief systems, by visiting other houses of worship, reading about other religious practices, and sharing traditions with friends of other faiths.

 

Action: Join in Christmas celebrations with Christian friends (and attend Christmas services when my sons are older).

 

Bell Craft and Video - Birth of Baha'u'llah - Alldonemonkey.com
Our bell craft from the Birth of Baha’u’llah holiday this year

 

4. I want my sons to grow up with a strong sense of their spiritual identity as Baha’is. While it’s important for them to respect other beliefs and celebrate with followers of other religions, I also want them to be grounded in the beliefs and practices of our own faith.

 

Action: Teach my son that Christmas is one celebration, and we also have others, such as the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh and Ayyám-i-Há.

 

So what does all this mean for Christmas in our house?

 

As I said, our son is young (and the other not yet born), so this is an evolving concept in our household. But at least at this age I feel putting too much emphasis on Santa would raise confusing questions about why he doesn’t come down our chimney. And although I love Christmas trees and holiday decorations, I think it would be less confusing to appreciate and admire them in other people’s houses, rather than our own.

 

So this season we will be emphasizing the story of the birth of Jesus, making holiday crafts at preschool, going to look at Christmas lights downtown, reading books about Christmas as well as Hanukkah, and getting ready for our own gift-giving holiday in February.

 

A final note on Santa

Santa Claus - Christmas Question on Alldonemonkey.com

 

My son is so young that he is only just becoming aware of who Santa is. For this year at least we don’t yet have to worry about him feeling left out when Santa doesn’t come to our house, or perhaps thinking it is because he was “naughty.” As he gets older, however, I know it is an issue we will have to address more directly.

 

For those of you with older children, here is one important tip I have learned from other parents:

 

Remember that whatever you tell your children they will in turn repeat to other children. So if you tell your children that Santa isn’t real, beware that they will probably pass this on to all of their little friends, leading to a lot of upset kids and angry parents!

 

Some alternate explanations to consider:

 

  • My parents used to tell us that Santa visited Christian homes because it was their special holiday, just as we had our own special holidays.
  • One friend found this approach online: They tell their daughters that “Santa is a game some parents play with their kids and we chose not to play the game. We tell the kids we shouldn’t ruin the game for others and it’s not our place to tell them the secret of the game.”

 

How do you teach your children to respect and celebrate holidays from other religions?

6 COMMENTS

  1. Leanna, thank you for such an insightful post. It’s important to embrace, and accept everyone else’s beliefs. It’s difficult to instill in our children the importance of how to celebrate our own beliefs when we are constantly bombarded “commercially” by Santa Claus. As a Christian, I too struggle to teach my 4 yr. old, that Christmas is not all about Santa, and to remember the reason of the season (as you mentioned in your post). Though, soon enough he will find out that Santa is not real, and we will continue to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. So in the meantime, we will enjoy the “fun and magic” of Santa. 🙂

  2. I enjoyed your article except that I find this to be erroneous. : “Throughout much of the United States, at least in public life, Christmas has become almost a secular holiday. ” It hasn’t “become” so. If you study the history of Christmas in the United states since the 1700s you will find that it really always has been largely secular, especially in public life. It is true that some Christians have always longed for it to be more Christian. But there is no evidence that it ever was more Christian than it is at this current time.

  3. Dear Leanna, I am Italian and live in Italy.
    In Italy there are 2 traditions:
    in some houses it is Santa Klaus (Babbo Natale) who brings gifts, but in others they ae brought by Baby Jesus. Who follows this tradition, often makes little footprints on the floor by using baby powder or flowers, to show the kds in the morning.

    In addition, every church (and we do have very many) has a nativity for Christmas, some are really beautiful and magic.
    As kids my dad used to take us from church to church on Christmas to discover the different nativity. They were very nice moments, we’ll do the same with our kids.
    In mosto houses Nativities are set up, kids always love them: write PRESEPI on google and look at the images, you’ll see what I mean. I don’t know if the US has this tradition.

  4. Afterall, in the Bahai writings we are told that the Bahai Faith is “not an invitation to a new religion… It is the ancient path, cleared of the debris of imaginings…” so that means it is ONE! These “other” religions are not really “other” religions. It’s all part of ONE. So, emphasis on celebrating/commemorating new holy days is called for while at the same time we are to “prefer other religionists…” and so why not embrace all these beautiful holidays!?

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