It’s almost Christmas. Growing up in America, as a Muslim this time of year, is very interesting. I don’t celebrate the holiday, yet I get paid leave from work for it (yay!), because so many others do celebrate it. As I was often the only non-Christian in the class growing up, I would often get asked why I didn’t celebrate Christmas. An elementary school play is a treasured holiday tradition, and I also had to take part, despite my non-Christian-ness. During my first-grade play, for example, my teacher created a break in the middle of the play where I had to explain, in a monologue, why I was unlike the rest of the class and why I didn’t celebrate Christmas.
If you’re wondering if that was horrifying for a six-year old, it absolutely was.
I knew I was different than the other kids in kindergarten, but that play really made it clear to me (and everyone else), too. I never really looked at myself (nor did others look at me) in the same way again.
There’s also the inevitable musical shift that begins occurring in November (and earlier each year, it seems). Timeless Christmas songs mix with modern renditions, and follow you everywhere you go: malls, stores, gyms, etc. I actually like the music, in moderation, that is. I spent around 10 years in the customer service/retail/food service industries, and the same music for 10 hours in a row would drive anyone crazy. But the songs are catchy and beautiful, and the voices are timeless (e.g., Nat King Cole). And, yes, I do know all the words to many of them.
Entertainment also takes a decidedly holiday turn. Television shows begin featuring holiday themed episodes (first with Thanksgiving in November, then with Christmas-themed shows). Holiday movies and specials abound. Old classics (It’s a Wonderful Life, Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer), mix with newer classics (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Elf, The Santa Clause, and new movies all month long from ABC Family, Lifetime, Hallmark, and others). (As a side note, The Sound of Music now seems to be a Christmas movie. I absolutely love the movie, though I still don’t understand how escaping Nazis during WWII relates to yuletide cheer. Thoughts?)
In DC, where I currently reside and where 1 in 5 residents are foreign/an immigrant, there is the added complication to integrate and carry-on unique traditions from a resident’s home country with established American traditions. As a child of immigrants, I can relate here. But at least Christians from any country will find celebrations of Christmas, but we rarely found celebrations for Eid growing up. There are also decorations (such as straw ‘yule goats’ found in Sweden), and I admit I love twinkle lights that people use to decorate houses and Christmas trees. Pinterest is also awash with DIY ideas. As a DIY-er myself, I love Pinterest (probably a little too much) and find that I can adapt a lot of Christmas-themed ideas for my own uses.
Then there’s the food. This time of year is awash with specialty foods that, I proudly admit, I also indulge. Hershey’s comes out with candy cane flavored Kisses, peppermint bark lines the candy shelves along with other sweet treats (including Panettone, an Italian fruitcake that is lovely with tea or for use in trifles). Other countries have their own confectionary concoctions that brighten the dull winter scenes with color and flavor.
And, let’s not forget the sales. As someone who rarely pays retail (and why should anyone?) I do love the sales. A lot of them are overhyped (you can find some items cheaper at other sales during the year), but some stuff can be found for a pretty good deal. With so many apps, coupon sites, and deals out there, it is easy to save in one way or another. But as some sale prices change throughout each day, keeping on top of sale prices can be a challenge.
There is a decidedly commercial aspect to Christmas (and Easter as well) that you don’t see as much with Muslim holidays, as least what I’ve seen in America. We have our own Eid-centric greeting cards and even our own Eid-centric stamps courtesy of the USPS. We do buy bright new clothes for the occasion, and, on Eid-ul-Fitr (the holiday following Ramadan), we do give gifts to children. We have special foods we dine on during Ramadan and on both Eids. We have our own versions of decorating for these holidays, though if we wanted to put lights up, our non-Muslim neighbors give us weird looks; really, it’s the same look they give to people who keep their Christmas decorations up too long.
Eid-ul-Adha (the holiday where Muslims make a pilgrimage to Mecca) is the most costly, in my opinion. For those making the pilgrimage, it can cost several thousand dollars per person to make the voyage (obviously, the number varies depending upon your departure location and other factors). These days, you pretty much need to go through a tour operator to go, but even then you’re not safe from dishonest individuals wanting to make a quick buck. Still though, I hope to go on Hajj one day, inshAllah (i.e., if God wills it).
But, like with Eid, I love this time of year because of the sense of the togetherness and merriment that permeates the air. The same feeling of expectation and family and community I find during Ramadan, I also find at this time of year.
And that doesn’t make me a bad Muslim. It makes me a compassionate and friendly one.
Just as we Muslims wish others would take the time to learn more about our religion and culture, Muslims should also take the time to learn about the religion and cultures of their friends and neighbors. Education is never a bad thing, but it is powerful. And, “with great power comes great responsibility” (which, incidentally, is a quote originally said by Voltaire, and repeated in Spider-man). Use your knowledge and education wisely to build bridges between people. Some of my greatest and kindest friends are non-Muslim. And I wouldn’t change that for anything.
So, to you my dear readers, I wish you Happy Holidays. Please share your own holiday traditions and thoughts in the comments below.
Thanks for reading!