I guess it’s not really a secret anymore since I am telling all of you. But for many Muslims, celebrating Christmas is something to hide.
I recently participated in an interesting Facebook conversation about Christmas. My friend Mansoor asked the group,
“In the name of God. Christmas time is coming, and I’m curious to know how our members will be spending Christmas with their families. What will you be doing (or not doing) and how does it go? I want to wish a Merry Christmas in advance to those who are celebrating it with their families…”
Seconds later, people replied with how much they love Christmas, the joy, the time with families, the decorations, and of course: the food. Others discussed the traditions in their families.
Every convert in the group said they hated “giving it up” and nearly every post had the caveat that, “I only celebrate with my Christian family and friends” or “I probably won’t raise my children with Christmas.”
Perhaps they give excuses because of these two factors: Muslims celebrating Christmas seems to confuse Christians and anger more conservative Muslims.
For example, Wal-Mart experienced a backlash from Christian shoppers for selling a supposedly Muslim-themed star for Christmas trees, which featured a crescent moon; Saudi Arabia has banned Muslims from celebrating Christmas at parties and from selling Christmas themed items.
The situation saddens me.
I not only grew up as a Christian that celebrated Christmas, but I grew up with Muslim relatives that celebrated the holiday as well. When I was small, my aunt told me Muslims believe in the virgin birth of the Prophet Jesus (Issa), and even though no one knows the exact day of his birth, taking time to celebrate such an important prophet is a good thing.
I did not think much of it until I was in high school.
My father had a holiday party at work. A Muslim man in my dad’s department told the group how proud he was that his 5-year-old son explained to his entire kindergarten class how Santa Claus isn’t real and how wrong it is to believe in things like the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and other imaginary folklore and fairy tale characters.
The man was smiling and laughing telling the tale but all the parents in the room did not laugh, including all the other Muslims in the room.
Afterwards, I asked my father about why it was not funny to people.
He said, “It hurts other people’s fantasies, traditions, and part of a child’s sense of innocence. The little boy probably didn’t know what he was saying but he repeated something he heard. His father showed no respect for the way that other parents where choosing to raise their children. He did not think that this fairy tale was so important to a child, probably because he didn’t grow-up with Santa Claus himself. Imagine how hurt you would have been if you knew he was not real when you were only five-years-old? That sense of magic, that feeling of hope in the fantastical, would be gone.”
When I was in college, my Lebanese Professor told us how much he loved Christmas. He grew up celebrating every Christian holiday with his Christian friends and they celebrated every Muslim holiday with him.
He explained how it was magical and joyous to share the fantasies of the pagan folklore, along with sacred religious events and celebrations.
I realized that is how I viewed the holiday season.
When I started seriously looking into converting to Islam, my priest and I discussed this idea of blending traditions. At the time I said this was simply to help my parents understand my views on faith. Now I know it is really important to me that I never hurt the traditions of my past nor disparage any religion I would be part of.
As a child, I believed in Santa Claus in the literal sense, and as an adult, I continue to believe…only now he is a feeling that lives in our hearts. I love the idea of celebrating the birth of a prophet. I enjoy the traditions of my Catholic upbringing. I look forward to decorating the house for the holidays, baking, and having gatherings with friends.
I hope to be able to have a large family I can share all these traditions with, even as I raise them as Muslims.
Yesterday, I went back to that Facebook conversation more than 130 people joined in, a mix of converts and born-Muslims, mostly to say why they celebrate Christmas and just don’t tell most of their Muslim friends.
My favorite comment:
“You have NO IDEA how refreshing it is to be able to openly talk about how much I love Christmas to a group of Muslims who don’t tell me I’m going to Hell or I’m doing Shirk. I love you all for real”
No matter how or why you celebrate it (and even if you don’t), let me quote you some Charles Dickens: “Merry Christmas and God bless us, everyone!”