Monday, December 24, 2012

It's Still Christmas Time...

Twas the night before Christmas
And all through my house
Both my kitties were purring
Like each had a mouse...

A number of years ago a dear friend invited me to her church's Christmas celebration. It wasn't the mass, just a celebration. it turned out the she was the emcee and had arranged the program with the consent of the Father. Well, mostly.

There came a point in the program where she walked up to the microphone and, without looking at me at all, said, "And now Mead Simon will talk a bit about what Christmas means to him as a Baha'i", and sat down.

As you can imagine, I had no warning that she was going to do this. It was only later that I understood why. You see, prior to that, at all the various interfaith gatherings that I had attended at that church, the Father was almost, but not quite, rude to me. Well, to be fair, rude isn't really the word. Cold is more like it. If he were introduced to me, he would emotionlessly say "Hi", but then quickly turn and talk to someone else. What I learned, quite a bit later, was that his nephew had become a Baha'i, and he felt that we had "stolen" him away. He had a very strong dislike, to put it kindly, towards Baha'is.

If my friend had given any hint of what she was going to do, he would have vetoed it outright. She would never have been allowed to have me speak, which, if you ask me, would have been fine, but she didn't ask me, nor the Padre.

What, you may wonder, did  I talk about, after being put on the spot like that? I'm so glad you asked, dear Reader.

I began by saying that Christmas was fairly odd to me, as I grew up Jewish. The I talked a little bit about how, in my family, we did celebrate Christmas by giving gifts, even though we lit the menorah and gave gifts for Chanukkah, too. I finished by talking a bit about the importance of Christmas, and the importance of being able to recognize a Messenger of God. I spoke about how we come to certainty of faith, using the ideas from the Kitab-i-Iqan, both the denials that the Messengers face, as well as the indignities heaped upon Them.

It was following this that the Father came up to me and gave me a hug.

On a slightly different topic, I was reading a book about the Baha'i perspective of Satan, and the author spoke of the importance of not dismissing it when it came up. There are some Baha'is out there who, when asked about our understanding of Satan will dismissively say, "Oh we don't believe in Satan." This conveys a superior-to-thou attitude, as well as dismissing something that could be of serious concern to the one asking the question. It conveys the idea that what is important to them is of no consequence to us. It also denies the fact that Baha'u'llah speaks quite a bit about Satan, mentioning him many times in the Writings. In other words, it both insults the one asking, as well as shows off the ignorance of the one answering. Not too good.

And so, recognizing this, it makes me think twice before answering anyone who asks me about Christmas.

To start, I recognize the spiritual importance of this holy day. I try to convey the importance of it to the one asking, and not diminish it to merely a materialistic day of gift-giving.

When asked about why, if we recognize Jesus, we don't celebrate Christmas, I remind them that they recognize the Jewish prophets, but don't celebrate the Jewish holy days.

I am always happy to celebrate Christmas with friends, just as I presume that they are happy to celebrate the Baha'i holy days if I invite them to do so with me. And you know what? They always have been. I have never had anyone say that they were insulted by being invited to a holy day celebration.

I do not get upset when people wish me a "Merry Christmas", nor have I ever encountered someone who was insulted when I wish them a "Happy Ayyam-i-Ha". Instead, the latter has prompted many questions of "A happy what?" And the smiles I have gotten from the former have done nothing but spread a bit more joy in the world.

As for my son, we have carefully explained that there are many religions around the world, and that they all come from God. We have told him the stories of each, and taken him to many different faith centres to how they worship. We have explained that his grandmother on his Mother's side is Catholic, and that she gives him Christmas presents. We, however, are Baha'i, and we give our gifts to him mostly at Ayyam-i-Ha. Of course, in the spirit of family, we also give small gifts at Christmas, but the main time is Ayyam-i-Ha. And as for when we send gifts to our family members, we send them for Ayyam-i-Ha, too.

In the end, we try to teach him to cherish the spirit in which someone gives a gift, and honour their generosity. We also teach him to be true to his own faith, and not try to live according to the expectations of others. just because many give gifts and show generosity at Christmas, our time of celebration in a bit later.

Besides, it means that we get all the post-Christmas sales to enjoy.

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