Growing up, Christmas was a big deal. A whole day was dedicated to decorating the house from top to bottom, 5 of us singing Christmas songs at the top of our lungs, one of us visibly cringing secretly loving every note. On Christmas Eve, before we headed to bed in new pyjamas for our midnight guests benefit, we’d set a plate with a carrot for Rudolf, a rum and a biscuit for Santa. In the morning, when all that remained was a dreg in the glass, a few soggy crumbs and the tip of the carrot, we’d pile into Mums’ room, pull our stockings onto the bed and spend the morning opening gifts, playing with new toys and waiting with drooling mouths for the turkey to be cooked. Christmas wasn’t about religion – occasionally we’d attend a carol service at Grandma’s church the night before – but it was about family, it was about fun.
This year, Christmas day will be like any other day. There’ll be no turkey in our oven, no lights and no tree and no wrapping paper to ball into bags. As a Muslim, though I believe Jesus (pbuh) was born to the Virgin Mary and is a prophet of Allah (swt), I don’t believe he was born the 25th of December, and I don’t celebrate his coming to this world.
My conversion to Islam and non-celebration of this holiday had little impact on my immediate family. It had been more than 10 years since we’d last spent a Christmas together, so my absence in the festivities didn’t impact them at all. This year however, I feel a slight guilt. This year, my parents have a Grandchild, my Grandmother has a Great-Grandson and my siblings have a nephew. Although we’ll ring them, via skype, and wish them a Happy Day, G and I have asked all of my family to respect that we do not celebrate ourselves. No cards, no presents, and no over-excitement in showing M the decorations, tree and lights in the home. We don’t want to hide it, we do want to share it, but we don’t want to make him desire it. Thanks to Allah, my family’s shown my choices respect and in recent conversations have acknowledged that as M grows up, they too need to involve in our celebrations, ring us to send wishes as we involve with theirs, yet I know that still, for Mum at least this year, she’ll feel a tinge of sadness that she won’t send her Grandson a card or see his face as he sits under a sparkling tree.
In Turkey, though Christmas isn’t celebrated by the populace and is not acknowledged as a holiday from work, New Years celebrations are vibrant. Since G’s Grandma was a girl, it’s been traditional to roast a Turkey for New Years Eve, to buy presents, to gather with both family and friends to see in the next year. Islamically, Jan 1st is not our New Year – this year we celebrated 26th November and each year it migrates 10 days. Many of our (my) friends* don’t, therefore, celebrate New Year on January 1st and believe it is un-Islamic to do so as the Jan-December calendar is based on the Christian year. While we understand their point, and they may well be right, we hope God will understand the logic behind why G and I think slightly differently. Daily lives are lived by the calendar which runs Jan-December; schools and work life is ordered by that. In our home, we celebrate both dates; one with a meal and the reading of Qu’ran; one with a meal and a celebration with (G’s*) friends. As with everything in this amalgamative life we are trying to create, we want M to understand that while we use Islam as our guide and live our life, inshallah, within its walls, our world is formed by society and there’s a difference in those two.
Yet, though we will try to do this, over the past five years there has been a great change in what constitutes a New Years celebration. There have always been fireworks, always been lights but the past two years have also seen the mass introduction of “Xmas” trees and Santa Claus. At all shopping malls, even out in the streets, fairy lights cover pine trees and santas shout “ho-ho”. I’m not the type to begrudge anyone a celebration in whatever manner they see fit, but this introduction of concepts deemed as “modern” and “western” without understanding of the symbolism of these concepts in the “modern” “western” world greatly disturbs me. Christmas is becoming blurred with New Years and as it does, our attempts to give clarity to M as to what we celebrate, what we don’t and why are going to get even tougher.
This Christmas Day we will skype with my parents, we will wish them “Merry Christmas” and we’ll share in their joy. M won’t understand (quite) what we’re saying and will just feel/share their joy. It’s nice to do that, I look forward to doing that. This Christmas Day we will Skype with my Grandma who will wish us Merry Christmas and I’ll face the choice to remind her pointedly how we don’t celebrate or to ignore the remark and pray that by next year, when M does understand, that she’ll have accepted my conversion, will be respectful of my choice.
Being Muslim at Christmas isn’t hard and isn’t easy; being in Turkey makes Christmas easier, being in Turkey makes New Years hard. Either way, this time of year, whether it’s soaking up the feelings vicariously through others, celebrating the birth of a prophet or simply gathering together to share family time, this holiday period is one full of joy, full of gratitude and filled with hope. So whatever you celebrate, or don’t, this coming month, we wish you a Blessed Happy Time with those you love and hold dear.
*I’ll explain this someday…