I love Christmas. Yes, that’s right, I said it. I’m a Muslim girl who loves Christmas. Having grown up not celebrating the yuletide holiday in the traditional sense, some may find this unusual, but when you live in a country that so fanatically celebrates the season, you can’t help but find yourself humming a Christmas song, or enjoying the eggnog latte at your local coffee shop. It’s hard not to wrap yourself up in these warm, seasonal traditions before the real winter chill of January and February set in, so yes I love Christmas, and I’m no longer afraid to admit it.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved the holiday season. As a preteen living in southwestern Virginia, I begged my parents to buy a family Christmas tree–even a fake or a mini one would have sufficed–but all my pleading fell on deaf ears. I would have to settle for a lamentable looking houseplant. One winter, I came across an eight-inch baby pine tree growing in the corner of our backyard. I snipped it using a kitchen knife, hung whatever makeshift decorations I could muster up and happily gave it a place of prominence in my bedroom.
My parents did not dislike Christmas or deny that it existed. They were simply doing what they thought was right in raising me as a good, practicing Muslim. Sure, they exchanged polite Christmas cards and gifts with neighbors and co-workers, and sometimes took my siblings and me to have our picture taken on mall Santa’s lap, but that was the extent of it. No trees, no stockings, and definitely no presents.
With no signs of Christmas at home, I would live vicariously through my Christian friends, helping them trim their trees and sometimes popping up on their doorstep Christmas morning to see what kind of loot they got. You might think I craved Christmas because I wanted in on the presents, but the real reason I wanted to celebrate this holiday was to feel like a participant instead of just an observer.
As a young adult, my enthusiasm for Christmas dimmed. Either I became too occupied with my work and school to give much thought to the Christmas season or I was subconsciously suppressing my love for it. Once I moved out of my parent’s house and had my own place, I never thought to buy a tree or drape twinkling lights along my roof and windows. Now that I’m in my thirties and have children of my own, my love for Christmas has resurfaced with a passion. And I’ve discovered that I’m not alone. Many other Muslims share my excitement.
But why the inner conflict? After all, Jesus (peace be upon him) was a prophet of Islam and we Muslims believe in his teachings, so why shouldn’t we celebrate him?
Although, on second thought, how much of what I enjoy is religious? Unless hot peppermint mochas were served after ice-skating in Bethlehem some 2000 years ago, I’m sure that most of the things I love about Christmas have nothing to do with religion or Christianity.
It’s not as though I want to attend midnight mass, set up a nativity scene on my front lawn, or even send meticulously wrapped presents to my family and friends.
Then, it dawned on me. What I really like about Christmas is that as a Muslim, I can partake in the fun seasonal activities without the headache of the cumbersome religious or cultural obligations. I enjoy that I can choose how I celebrate this holiday – with all of the fun and none of the stress. There are no expectations or rules and that’s freeing.
A few years ago, we spent Thanksgiving with my husband’s brother and his wife in Tampa. My sister-in-law was insistent on getting a tree, and I was eager to help. Needless to say I was like a kid in a candy cane shop. We brought home a beautiful eight-foot tall Douglas fir; its soft, green bristles emitted the wonderful scent of Oregon pine. We then spent close to four hundred dollars stocking up on decorations at Home Goods. Well, it turns out dressing a Christmas tree is a long and tedious process. Who knew you had to place hooks on each individual ornament before you could hang it up, and drape the lights evenly around the tree or it would tilt right over? After a couple of hours spent decorating, we then had to sweep the hundreds of pine needles that carpeted the living room floor. The experience fulfilled my childhood dream of having a tree, and then some! Afterwards, I insisted my husband drive me to the nearest Starbucks for a crème brulee latte.
So I’ve decided that as a Muslim what I really love about Christmas is that I decide how to celebrate it. I enjoy admiring the lights in the neighborhood and the festive trees in friends’ living rooms, but I don’t have to deal with all the work that comes along with these traditions. Instead, I can just sit back, relax, decorate gingerbread houses, and listen to some Michael Bublé.
Samala Khan is an optometrist, mom and writer based in the Washington D.C. area. She is looking forward to the upcoming holiday season, as she does every year.