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COLLECTIONLetters from the Universal House of Justice
TITLEPermissibility of Chinese New Year Celebrations and Cultural Prostrations
AUTHOR 1 Universal House of Justice
ABSTRACTPermissibility of observing Chinese New Year; prostrating is permissible for cultures in which prostrations do not signify submission or humiliation, but are merely gestures of respect or politeness.
NOTES Title not in original, but created for this online posting.
TAGS- Interfaith dialogue; China; Chinese New Year; Cultural diversity; Holy days; Holy days of other religions; India; New year; Prostrations; Respect; Traditions

Dear Bahá’í Friend,

An email letter dated 14 February 2019, addressed to the Universal House of Justice and forwarding your questions about certain cultural observances connected with the Chinese New Year, has been received at the Bahá’í World Centre. Your queries have been passed to our Office for response.

As to the question of Bahá’ís observing the Chinese New Year, the following have been provided in response to related queries posed to the House of Justice on prior occasions:

In deciding whether or not to participate in such traditional activities, the Bahá’ís must guard against two extremes. The one is to disassociate themselves needlessly from harmless cultural observances and thus alienate themselves from their non-Bahá’í families and friends; the other is to continue the practice of abrogated observances of previous dispensations and thus undermine the independence of the Bahá’í Faith and create undesirable distinctions between themselves and their fellow-Bahá’ís. In this connection there is a difference between what Bahá’ís do among themselves and what they do in companionship with their non-Bahá’í friends and relations.

      (From a letter dated 26 May 1982 written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly)

In relation to traditional festivities in general, every culture has these, and Bahá’ís should be encouraged to preserve their inherited cultural identities if they wish to, so long as the activities that are involved do not contravene the principles of the Faith or identify them as the followers of other religions. The perpetuation of such cultural characteristics is an expression of unity in diversity. Although most of these celebrations have no doubt stemmed from religious rituals in bygone ages, the religious meaning has, in very many cases, given way to purely cultural tradition.

... it should also be remembered that the weaning away of the Bahá’ís from customs and traditions, which have been established in their societies for centuries, takes time and is a gradual process.

      (From a letter dated 2 January 2002 written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a Local Spiritual Assembly)

Page 2

Regarding the practice of children prostrating themselves before parents and grandparents during the Chinese New Year, the following has been provided in response to a similar query posed to the House of Justice in the past:

You mention the custom of a son or a daughter-in-law or other relatives, when they meet their elders, bowing before them and sometimes touching their feet with a hand as a mark of respect. As you know, the reference in the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh about bowing to and prostrating before others is in the context of His teaching that no person should abase and humiliate himself before another. However, those acts which in some cultures are considered to be merely polite are not prohibited by Bahá’u’lláh and in this context no special directive is to be given to the Indian Bahá’ís.

      (From a letter dated 1 April 1994 written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer)

It is hoped that this information provides you with the clarification you seek.

With loving Bahá’í greetings,

Office of Correspondence

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