Growing up as a Baha’i, I didn’t have much exposure to Christian traditions other than Christmas and Easter. Even with these two holidays, all I knew about when I was younger was that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus, Easter has something to do with His death, and on both days, people get presents. I didn’t know because no one had really taught me. My parents probably told me what these various days celebrated but I felt too excluded by my lack of a tree and inexperience with egg hunting to take any of it in.
Then I heard about Palm Sunday and Ash Wednesday. I have read about these on Wikipedia and I know that they relate to the crucifixion of Jesus and I have asked my classmates about them but I don’t have a good idea of the spirit of these days because of my lack of exposure to them. Are they holidays or holy days? How significant are these days? Do different sects celebrate them in different ways? I really don’t know.
Hearing about Palm Sunday and Ash Wednesday brought the opportunity to learn about Lent. In elementary school, kids would talk about giving up chocolate or Rugrats for a period of time but that was it. No one talked about why they gave up these things or what it meant.
In middle school, I learned about Black Friday. To a fifth grade me, it was another Christian holiday named by an adjective and a day of the week. I had no idea what it was but I knew that stores loved it. Hearing people talk about “participating” in Black Friday really confused me and asking what it was embarrassed me. To be honest, I didn’t know that it was a day dedicated to America’s obsession with material things until a few years ago.
On Wednesday when I saw a black cross on a forehead for the first time that year, I had to do a double take. Every year, I see people displaying the symbol and every year I have to ask in order to remember what it’s for. After only seeing it on two athletic girls before lunch I thought, “spirit day?”. Upon seeing it on a parent volunteer and a few guys later in the day, I rushed to my next period to ask people in my class. I then proceeded with a brief interrogation with my peers about the origin, significance, and execution of this tradition.
It’s strange to me that people don’t like to talk about religion. Because it is one of those topics that everyone has some sort of connection to—whether or not one believes in God— I see it as an important factor in someone’s identity. Why have I only been exposed to the materialistic side of Christian holidays? I mean, really. I knew about Black Friday before I knew about actual Christian celebrations. And for some reason, I’m capitalizing it even thought it’s not a real thing! If people talked about religion, maybe I would know more about these holidays and maybe others would know about Baha’i holidays, making it less awkward to sneak away during lunch for three weeks while I fast.
Then there is the other angle on this issue. Once a year, Christians abstain from partaking in something that they enjoy, draw a symbol of religious devotion on their foreheads, and prepare for the coming of an important day with a period of reverence. So then why are some people so weirded out by fasting, religious clothing, and periods of reverence when expressed by an unfamiliar faith?
There are so many themes that connect each religion and so many similarities that get looked over. Instead of being afraid of offending others by expressing differing beliefs, people should be open to–respectfully- talking about God and faith. We all have a personal relationship with religion and whether it is a positive or a negative one, we all have something to say and something to agree about.