Do Muslims Celebrate Christmas? One Muslim Mom’s Story
When I was growing up, we didn’t celebrate Christmas in our Muslim home. There was no big, lighted tree in our living room and we didn’t count down the days with an advent calendar. My parents grew up in Kenya and lived in a predominantly Muslim part of town, so the big holiday was Eid, not Christmas.
When Canada became our home, that didn’t change for us. I grew up not really minding that Santa didn’t come to my house but I sure enjoyed the couple weeks off school, sleeping in, movies, family time and having the extended family coming over for a delicious Indian meal. But the more time we spent in Canada, the more Christmas took on a new feeling. There was something wonderful about the lights and the anticipation of presents (I mean, who doesn’t like presents?).
But my favourite part was the Christmas carols. By the end of November, my piano teacher would pull out all her Christmas sheet music and I would get to choose which pieces I’d learn over the holiday season. I still love the melodies and I give a little cheer when my local radio station flips over to all-Christmas, all-the-time.
We never did get the tree or do turkey and trimmings but we had our own version. Sometimes we had a really large houseplant with a couple presents for us kids underneath. Sometimes it felt clumsy, like walking in shoes the wrong size. Through the lens of motherhood, I look back and realize how completely grey this matter is of adopting new customs while instilling in your children pride in your own heritage.
Do Muslims Celebrate Christmas | A Muslim Mom’s Story
When we first got married, my husband and I talked about what Christmas might look like in our home once we had kids. We didn’t want to have Christmas override our traditional festivals so we made a decision to not do the tree and gifts. We would still teach our kids about the birth of Jesus Christ, a very important prophet in Islam. But we wanted our kids to have their own identity and be able to say, “No, we don’t celebrate Christmas,” and not care about being pitied or questioned, the way we were. Even as adults, people were asking us why we didn’t celebrate Christmas or telling us they felt sorry for us that we didn’t. This still irks me. Christmas is not the only fun, family-oriented, joyous occasion to celebrate. Chances are, if someone doesn’t celebrate Christmas, there is still something in their cultural or faith background that means a lot to them.
Our plan worked really well until our oldest started Kindergarten. As Christmas drew nearer, that first school year, our daughter told us all about what to expect: Santa would come and put presents under a tree that we would put up in our home and he would leave treats in our stockings. We had to make a decision at that point. Do we tell her that that doesn’t happen in our home, or do we go along with it and see where it takes us? It is really almost heart-breaking to see your child so excited about something that another authority figure has said is ‘going to happen’ and then have to say, “No, that’s not how it goes down in our Muslim home.” To be honest, it was a very emotional moment for us. I wish Christmas was introduced differently in the school setting. But that’s a whole ‘nother story.
We ended up doing what basically felt like taking a plunge with our eyes closed. We said yes to the tree. In fact, if you come over to my place on the first Sunday of December, you can help us put it up along with the gazillion ornaments we have collected since that year my daughter told us about Christmas with a twinkle in her eye. You can help us hang our stockings – all 5 of them – on special stocking holders, and then decorate our mantle, dining table, kitchen island and the glass table in our front lobby. You’ll hear Christmas carols blaring and you’ll feel the excitement of children who believe with all their hearts in the magic of this season. You’ll hear me remind them over the din of it all, that Christmas is about our Prophet Issa (Jesus’ name in Arabic) and then you’ll see that nobody is listening in that moment.
Do Muslims celebrate Christmas? Everyone has a different story.
How do I feel now after approximately 5 years of celebrating Christmas in the tree/Santa/stockings way? Still a bit mixed. I still love the lights (being able to stave off the gloomy darkness at 4:45 pm by turning on the tree is a welcome part of my day). I still listen to the all-Christmas, all-the-time radio station, still pull out my sheet music. Still want this to be about Jesus and his message of Love. Wish I didn’t have to dream up gift ideas for children who have it all. Wish I didn’t feel panicky about getting gifts wrapped on time (because more than shopping, I suck at wrapping). Still get teary-eyed when the 3 kids throw their arms around each other on the floor in front of the Christmas tree for the annual Christmas morning picture. Still love the excitement on our quiet Christmas Eve as the kids pad off to bed, the younger two anticipating Santa. Still dread the day they find out that…well, you know. (*whispers* I can’t even say it). But just as my husband and I decided that Christmas could be a thing in our home, we can shape what it looks like and there is freedom in that.
I’ve come to realize, growing up in a multicultural, multi-faith country, that there is an entire spectrum of Christmas – whether people want to accept that or not. There are those who want to celebrate but are not sure to what degree. Those who want to raise their children to honour their own cultural traditions that have been in their family from the beginning of time, whether that is Christmas or not. Those who say Merry Christmas and pound out carols on their piano but who eat an Indian meal instead of turkey on the big day. Those who worry that Christmas is being diluted by political correctness and those who think Canada is a Christian country and therefore, Christmas should be honoured by all. Thankfully, being Canadian to most of us means that we have a choice about what we believe and which traditions we choose to practice.
This season, and all others, is so much more good and peaceful and joyful when we respect each other’s decisions and focus on the traditions that bring out the best in us.
So if you have ever asked or been asked the question, do Muslims celebrate Christmas, this is one Muslim mom’s story.
How does your family do the Christmas season in your home? And is it different from how you grew up?