Recently I logged into my email to find a photo of a relative’s baby posing with a furry little bunny looking back at me. The baby was beautiful and the bunny was…well, cute as a bunny. But the photo disturbed me because the baby sat smiling next to the Easter Bunny. The baby is Muslim and the Easter Bunny, well, not so much. But the Easter picture was a drop in the bucket compared to the ire Christmas brings to my heart.
I like Christmas. I truly do. My first year in school, I proudly played the head angel in our kindergarten nativity program, a highlight that still looms large in the pantheon of my academic career. I love candy canes and I spend a large portion of the month of December humming “per rum pa pum, rum pa pum” – the refrain from the carol the Little Drummer Boy. But there are things, many things, that make me want to cram a Christmas stocking down the throat of the last mall Santa who “ho, ho, ho’ed” at me!
I’m irked by all the “Merry Christmas” cards, the Facebook pictures and the stories of my Muslim friends actively celebrating Christmas. This past December they were baking cookies for Santa, trimming trees and exchanging gifts–all decidedly un-Muslim activities. We already live in an environment where Christmas is more glamorous and sexy than Eid. We don’t have the music, the traditions and, let’s face it, the crass commercialism of the holiday to even compete with Christmas. So, why do Muslim parents feel compelled to celebrate the birth of Christ?
I suspect parents worry that their offspring are missing out on something important–something, obviously, that their own religion doesn’t provide. Friends tell me they wince at the thought of their children feeling left out on the first day back from Christmas vacation when all the classmates are excitedly comparing their loot, but their Muslim children have nothing to add to the conversation. I can sympathize with parents’ instinct to protect their child from a sense of alienation, but the urge to laugh in my friend’s faces is really quite strong. I want to argue back that conformity for the sake of assimilation will snowball into bigger problems down the road. Drinking at a school dance, drugs at a party are direct consequences of the desire to fit in. Maybe politely explaining, “I don’t celebrate Christmas” and branding oneself as different is an important lesson on the way a strong, self-assured Muslim identity.
I would argue that celebrating any of the faith-based traditions of Christmas is a slippery slope. Next we’ll find ourselves painting eggs for Easter and collecting beads and baring bosoms at Mardi Gras. And while I enjoy, from a distance, many of the lovely aspects of other creeds, I don’t feel the need to co-opt these traditions for my own. (Ok. I do plagiarize a little. I send out Eid greeting cards during Ramadan, and my “Eid lights” are by necessity Christmas lights as Eid lights do not exist–at least not at my local Target.)
There are those who would respond that Jesus is a prophet recognized in the Qur’an and universally revered by Muslims. What then is the harm in celebrating his birth with some trappings – trees, presents, Santa – that are more cultural than religious? The harm is that we are not Christian, and in order to preserve a distinct religious identity, why would we want to pretend that we are?
My husband and I work at teaching our kids about other faiths. We have taken them to every church, temple and synagogue that invited us and to the home of every family who asked us over on a religious occasion. And as the Hunger Games season approaches (my children’s name for Ramadan) my brain is already churning out ideas of special dishes to make and crafty, festive decorations with which to adorn our home. The plan is to highlight my own holiday, not to minimize mine and pretend I’m part of someone else’s.
Perhaps I am jealous of Christmas. It is celebrated with all the joy, pomp and circumstance I wish for my own religious holiday. But as the Hunger Games season begins I will try my level best to infuse the celebration of Eid with all the glamour, glitz, and (because I’m a pragmatist) gifts that I can. So, the Grinch does, in fact, live on, but is busy looking forward to Ramadan, planning Iftar dinners and trying to hunt down new Eid decorations at the mall.
Nausheena Ahmed was born in England, raised in Canada and is currently living in New Jersey. She is busy raising three kids who keep her busy, keep her active and have turned her hair prematurely gray.
Photo credit: Loonwatch