Christmas traditions: Baha’i share in other religions’ celebrations

Eman Elmasri’s Baha’i faith teaches her to respect and celebrate all religions.

So, when she was growing up in Egypt she was able to accept invitations from her orthodox Coptic Christian friends to join them for Fata, the special meal they’d host on Jan. 7, after mass the night before, to break their 40-day holiday fast of meat, poultry and dairy. She would bring along kaik, a type of sweet shortbread cookie.

She also got to join her Muslim friends for Eid, the great celebration in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar that concludes Ramadan.

And she got to enjoy the traditional trappings of secular Christmas, decorated trees, strings of colourful lights and Baba Noel, laid out by hotels, districts and cities catering to Western tourists escaping the cold winter weather of Europe.

“We are lucky, we get to celebrate so many religions,” says Elmasri. “We feel the joy of their happiness.”

Baha’is don’t celebrate Christmas. Their comparable tradition is Ayyam-i-Ha, a four or five day festival in late February that allows the Baha’i calendar of 19 months and 19 days to synchronize with the solar year of 365 days. Families and friends visit, sometimes exchanging small gifts. But, says Elmasri, the holiday is more about generosity, goodwill and giving to charity.

Since arriving in Canada in the middle of a snowstorm 15 years ago, the holiday juggling act has continued for her family as they negotiate all the commercial trappings of Christmas while learning about the traditions of their multicultural friends and neighbours.

“Everyone has holidays, it’s good to be aware,” says Elmasri. “It’s beautiful to celebrate with them.”


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