Should we celebrate Christmas in our home? And if not, how do we go about explaining to our children the reasons we do not celebrate Christmas in our home?
At the start of the wintery season, weeks before December, those of us living in the West in particular begin seeing preparation for the holiday season. It is the most important time for many people who celebrate Christmas, as well as Hanukkah and Kwanza. The holiday season can be recognized by anyone, of any age. And I can’t help but notice how quickly my kids have learned about the Christmas tradition. But it is one thing to be aware of this holiday, and quite another to celebrate it. As a fairly new parent, I face a dilemma which many other Muslim American parents are faced with. Should we celebrate Christmas in our home? And if not, how do we go about explaining to our children the reasons we do not celebrate Christmas in our home?
My two and a half year old daughter lights up at the sight of a Christmas tree, with its grandiose twinkling lights and ornaments. She becomes giddy when she sees snowmen, reindeer and Santa décor in our neighborhood. She knows the lyrics to “Jingle Bells” and even tells me that Santa Claus is a man dressed up in a costume. My daughter is two and a half, and I think to myself, how could she possibly know all this? Yes she does attend daycare, but she knew all of this even before she started there three months ago.
I can’t help but wonder if we have unintentionally taught her about Christmas. We have mentioned to her the different concepts of Christmas because she asks us, and we answer her questions truthfully. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with explaining something to a child if they are curious. But the problem occurs when she is mesmerized by all the glamour of Christmas, and wishes to celebrate just like all of her peers who may be Christian, Hindu, Chinese Americans, or even Muslims.
I choose not to celebrate Christmas in our home because it is not something that I grew up with as a child. My parents are traditional Indian Muslim immigrant parents who migrated to the states in the late 80’s. They always taught us that Christmas is not our holiday, rather our most important celebration is Eid-ul-fitr, marking the end of Ramadan (Holy month of fasting). In the 90’s, there really weren’t a lot of people celebrating Christmas, as it was not something that our parents ever did.
The difference is that now, with first generation children of the 80’s and 90’s who may not have celebrated Christmas in their own childhood, are now celebrating as they have become parents to children growing up in the West. And they don’t find any problem with it. I am not accusing Muslim parents for celebrating Christmas, because I am not in a position to judge anyone else. However, I struggle with the idea that there is disunity among Muslims when it comes to celebrating this holiday. Some do it wholeheartedly, and others are completely against. And some are lost in the middle.
It’s not as if a discord in the Muslim ummah is something new. How many times have we disagreed on things like which day Eid should be celebrated or the correct way to pray? That is besides the point, there will always be small differences in a large religion. Celebrating Christmas has now become one of those things. Some Muslim families choose to celebrate it, and others do not.
With all the Christmas glamour around us, in shopping malls, grocery stores, schools, on the streets, our neighborhoods, and every place you can imagine. It is difficult to escape from it, and avoid explaining it to your children, so don’t hide it from them. I am always pro-honesty when it comes to teaching our children. If we are honest with our children, then we should trust them to understand and internalize our message.
So what do I do when my daughter asks me if we celebrate Christmas, or if we can please decorate a tree in our home and hide Christmas presents to open on Christmas day?
Well, first I don’t panic, and I accept that she may not be thrilled when she hears we won’t be doing any of that.
I explain to her in the clearest and kindest way that we are Muslims, and our holiday is Eid-ul-Fitr, and we can do any kind of celebration she would like in our holiday.
I tell her that we do believe in Prophet Isa (Jesus) and are happy for his birth, however we do not celebrate it in the way that Christians do.
I explain that as Muslims, we make a choice, and in our home we have made the choice not to celebrate this holiday, even though some of her friends might choose to do so.
I try my best to make Eid-ul-fitr and Eid-ul-adha, and any other auspicious Islamic day, as festive, glamorous and memorable as possible so that my children can also be excited and proud of their own holiday traditions.
I make an effort to speak in her classroom about our holiday, so that her classmates and their parents can be educated and wish us on Eid. And I pray that as she gets older, and becomes a mother, she will instill the same values with her family.
Have you ever faced this dilemma of celebrating Christmas with your children? How would you handle it? Please do comment below and share your thoughts.
Sumra Hassan is a full-time mother of two, and lives in New Jersey with her husband and daughters Ridha Zaynab and Rabab Fatima. When she isn’t busy raising her girls, she loves to spend time blogging about motherhood, travel and recipes.
You can visit her blog here: Sweet Dreamer