The Universal House of Justice has received your email of 23 November 2002, and referred it to our Department for reply. You have explained that as a result of an email discussion group there is a differing of opinions whether Baha’is are permitted to celebrate Christmas, and you have expressed your understanding that while there is no harm in sharing the festivities with friends, the " Baha’is themselves should not be putting up Christmas trees, exchanging gifts, etc."
As one member of your discussion group pointed out, a letter written on behalf of the House of Justice has indeed indicated in the past that although most of the cultural or religious festivals of other religions or communities have no doubt stemmed from religious rituals in bygone ages, the believers should not be deterred from participating in those in which, over the course of time, the religious meaning has given way to purely culturally oriented practices.
In deciding whether or not to participate in such traditional activities, Baha’is must guard against two extremes. The one is to disassociate themselves needlessly from harmless cultural observances and thus alienate themselves from their non-Baha'i families and friends; the other is to continue the practice of abrogated observances of previous dispensations and thus undermine the independence of the Baha'i Faith and create undesirable distinctions between themselves and their fellow Bahai'is. In this connection there is a difference between what Baha’is do among themselves and what they do in companionship with their non-Baha'i friends and relations. We provide below a question posed to Shoghi Effendi by a believer, followed by the response written on his behalf taken from a letter dated 19 March 1938, with which you are familiar. It is important to note, in the response to the question, the phrase "in their relation to each other".
QUESTION: Should we as Baha’is continue to celebrate the Christian holidays, such as Christmas and New Years, by the giving of gifts, sending greeting cards, Christmas trees, etc.?
ANSWER: As regards the celebration of the Christian Holidays by the believers: it is surely preferable and even highly advisable that the friends should in their relation to each other discontinue observing such holidays as Christmas and New Year, and to have their festal gatherings of this nature instead during the Intercalary Days and Naw-Ruz.
Additionally, we have the following guidance:
The Baha’is should give up the celebrating of Christian Holy Days such as Christmas. The same applies to Baha’is of Jewish and Muslim extraction etc. However, this is not a thing for the Spiritual Assemblies to enforce now; but each one should conscientiously begin to do this--otherwise, people will never know we are members of a new religion, but will think we are just people believing two or three things at the same time. (Letter dated 15 August 1957 written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual)
(From a letter dated 29 November 2002, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer)