We grew up in the west, in Canada. From a very young age, we were surrounded by Christmas trees, eggnog, gifts and a whole ton of Panettone (Italian Christmas bread that my dad would bring home from his Italian boss). Christmas time was slightly disheartening for me. Because we did not participate. I felt left out. We didn’t do a tree, or presents, or take a picture with Santa, or get matching PJs. What we did do was we gave gifts to our celebrating friends. My father had this cute thing he used to do where he would set out a kinder egg on the window sill for my little sister for the last few days up until Christmas, which seemed to do the trick.
I swore when I was a child that I would have a tree, and personalized ornaments and matching PJs, and the whole shebang when I grew up and had a family of our own.
Then I grew up. Still wanted a tree… did not get one.
Then I got married. Still wanted a tree… husband wasn’t crazy about the idea – he was more attached to the palm tree then the pine (he grew up in Abu Dhabi)… so did not get one.
Then I had a kid. Then everything changed.
Let me give you a little insight:
I was at a crossroads. I wanted to make the right decision for my family.
I have to admit that I live in the most multicultural city. I am a very open minded individual and enjoy the commercial aspect of the holidays. The shops are festive, there are specials in every window, the menus at restaurants have a holiday flair, Starbucks has their Caramel Brulee latte, I love it all. But I have to admit, when partaking in Christmas activities, I have always felt like I didn’t fully connect. Because my Muslim identity was always in the back of my mind, I never fully felt like I belonged when I celebrated with my non-Muslim or celebrating friends. Internally, I felt like I went to the Christmas market to belong. I went to the “holiday tree” lighting (GTA folk will know why this is such an eye roll thing for me.. It’s a Christmas Tree… not holiday.. But in the name of inclusion we’ve taken that away from people who actually want a Christmas tree lighting) to simply feel part of mainstream community.
Now, with a child of my very own and the responsibility of filling his head with mindful knowledge, equipping his hands with acts of service, and gifting his soul with the remembrance of our faith and our unique heritage, the choices I make will have a huge impact on how he associates with his Muslim identity and living in predominantly non Muslim surroundings. When thinking about my approach to the holiday season, I thought about the following:
- Celebrate all the holidays! YAY! – Christmas tree, here I come!
- I live in Canada, everyone celebrates Christmas! YAY!
- I teach my son the value of acceptance and inclusion! YAY!
- We actively take part in the community at large and make every holiday our own!
- Assimilate and risk losing our own culture and identity.
- We lose the values that make us unique.
- We won’t give our child the tools to navigate differences he may have with his peers.
- Diversity is being removed from my child’s way of life.
I know. It’s heavy. I often think that I might be opening a can of worms into many complicated concepts that he is too young to understand, but time and again, I have seen that if you give your child a logical explanation as to why/why not, they are receptive to it. The trick is finding the explanation that works best to communicate what you want in a simple and positive way.
How We Navigate Christmas with our Son
From the moment he was born, I really overdid Eid! He was born two days after Eid-ul-Fitr and celebrated his first Eid-ul-Adha at 2 months old. To me, I wanted to create a strong foundation in his belief system from a “love of Allah” approach and not a “fear of Allah”. So I made Eid very festive, with decor and DIY elements and he soon took to my change in decor, food, actions as a trigger to our festive season approaching. As he got older, and now that he’s in school, the changing decor and activities at his public school are triggering a plethora of questions; so I am taking it question by question:
- Are Muslims Christians?
— no, we are not Christian, but we are their friends. We believe the same things but practice differently. We have our style of doing things and they have theirs. We are all different, but that’s the best part!
- Why doesn’t Santa visit my house?
— Santa visits your non-Muslim friends. It’s part of their way of celebrating Christmas. You know how we celebrate Eid? How we fast and then are rewarded with a day of new clothes and we eat and visit our friends and we get Eidi!
- Can we visit Santa at the mall?
— Let’s let Santa meet with the kids that he will be visiting. We wouldn’t want him to get confused right? What if he goes to the wrong house! We don’t even celebrate Christmas silly! So many kids expect him to come to their homes, so since there is so little time, let’s let the other kids visit with him.
- Why can’t we have a Christmas tree?
— First, we have no room for a tree! Where would I put the tree? And second.. why do we need a tree if we Santa doesn’t visit us? Let’s think of decorations we can do for Eid next year!
- Can I do secret Santa at school?
— Sure, if you want to. It’s always nice to give gifts. We are Muslims, and we show love to our brothers, neighbours and friends by giving gifts!
- Ammu, is Santa real?
— Santa is real for those who celebrate Christmas. We don’t celebrate, so Santa doesn’t visit us.
- Can I have a candy cane?
— No. Too many sugar bugs.
For some time now, honesty has been the best policy where our son is concerned. He seems to take his differences and go with it. Because we make sure he feels special during Eid, he seems to take Christmas and the holidays, completely for what it is, a time of celebration for some- not all his peers and he is happy to give gifts and take part in Christmas activities at school, but knows that, it’s not something we celebrate at home.
As a parent you hope that your approach is mindful yet approachable. My goal has always been to raise an empathetic child who appreciates his and other’s differences. You hope that he is absorbing your teachings but is not feeling alienated by his differences. After all, we are painfully aware that he is a child of colour and his religion is constantly ostracized in mainstream media. How am I supposed to walk that line to ensure that we are showing him the essence of our faith without outside influences making cracks in that foundation?
A little anecdote from the weekend:
A: Ammu, do you know what a stocking is?
Me: Yes, it’s the long socks ammu wears under a skirt! (I knew what he meant, but I was trying to divert)
A: Silly Ammu, it’s a huge sock that gets filled with candy and coal if you are a bad kid!
Me: Oh really? Who fills it?
Me: Oh! What celebration is this part of?
A: Christmas. My friend Benji, he celebrates it and has a red stocking with his name on it so Santa fills the right one.
Me: Do you want a stocking Azu?
A: No. I don’t celebrate Christmas. I celebrate Eid, and we do good deeds in bags! (referring to our DIY good deed pouches that we do during Ramadan)
Me. Does it make you sad to not have a stocking?
A: NO Ammu, I don’t get sad because I don’t celebrate Christmas.
Me: Aww, I’m proud of you Azu.
This little story was the moment I realized that the choice I made to highlight and celebrate our differences was the correct decision for my son. He doesn’t feel like he misses out on anything because my efforts to make Eid special for him has all been worth it.
In conclusion, our culture and faith, and differences are proudly displayed in our our home. We hold them dear to us and my husband and I have always endeavored to show him that being different is something to be celebrated. I have friends who celebrate Christmas and I think that it really is the most festive time of the year. I have friends who are Muslim and take part in the cultural aspect of the holidays, and I enjoy attending their events too. But I also enjoy being myself, and I promote doing what is most authentic to you. So in true practice what you preach fashion, we don’t bring Christmas into our home, but you’ll bet your last dollar, when Starbucks brings out their Christmas drinks, I’ll be the first in line and when Azu picks a name for secret Santa at school, I’ll go crazy wrapping a gift for his kinder friend.
Our endeavor in the end, will always be to show him the Islamic spirit and leave the rest up to him because this is his narrative and I’m sure, our efforts will pay off if it’s meant to.
Disclaimer: This blog post is in no way meant to offend anyone and their parenting choices. Your choices are your own, which I completely respect. The wonderful thing about this blog is I’m able to share what works for me. In no way do I think my way is the only way. My hope is that we all do what makes us happy and most fulfilled.