I don’t celebrate Christmas, I never have. I grew up in beautiful Jasper National Park. Although now it is a lovely diverse community, when I was growing up in the 90’s it wasn’t so diverse. There were not even a handful of Muslim families and basically 2 Arab families. Finding a sense of community based on my faith and heritage was impossible. Luckily for me, although predominantly Caucasian, the community of Jasper National Park is made up of some of the most amazing, supportive and accepting people I have ever met. We weren’t the only minorities, but for me it sure seemed so!
My immigrant parents did their very best to ensure we didn’t feel different from the other kids. I know now as a parent myself how hard it is to balance Eastern culture, religion and tradition in a Western world. There is nothing wrong with the West. Actually, my parents will tell you, coming to Canada was the best decision they ever made. It was a hard and bumpy road but Canada is a blessing to anyone who lives there. Truly, Canadians are the best people. The Canadian culture and values that encourages acceptance and mutual respect no matter who you are is not found anywhere else. This did make raising us here so much easier.
My parents tried really hard to encourage us to be part of the community and we were involved in everything little Jasper National Park had to offer. We did all sports, Girl Guides, Christmas concerts, school dances (although my parents were not a fan of them), house parties, etc. It was a huge balancing act. Do normal stuff like everyone else but not all of it. They gave us really clear guidelines as to what was allowed and what was not. Their expectations were crystal clear. I remember being reminded often that “we are Muslim so we don’t do _____”. I think that very simple sentence made rules fairly easy for me to understand but not so easy to explain to others.
Fast forward 20 years and here I am with my own children. It’s now the end of November and we are heading into the month of Christmas. For a non-celebrator of Christmas, it seems like a month. I actually love the Christmas season, but for very superficial reasons. I love the exciting drinks at Starbucks and the fact that I can get lights for cheap to put up during Eid. I do also, love the “spirit of Christmas”. The warmth in people’s homes, the giving, caring, and being together as a family; I love all of that.
My daughter is 5 now. We started having the “we don’t celebrate Christmas” talk last year. When I sent her to a non-Muslim school, I had to explain it. She is part of the school community and is blessed to be in a very diverse school. So we talked. The first thing I did was talk to her teachers. She spends the majority of her day at school and I needed to know what she was going to be exposed to. I remember when I was in school EVERYTHING was about Christmas. Everything from my teacher’s Christmas tree earrings, the santa math pages, art projects, donation collections for UNISEF and of course the Christmas concert. My daughter’s school actually doesn’t really do much for Christmas. The school is very diverse and her class was also. She had students from all ethnicities and faith backgrounds. She was different just like all of them were. That made my talk so much easier too. Even the “Christmas concert” was a “Winter concert”. Her teachers purposely chose a winter song about snowflakes so all the students would feel comfortable singing it.
Now for the real talk. Children are so smart and they just get it if you are real with them. We’ve never babied our children or tried to isolate them or anything. Actually we go out of our way to expose them to the beauty of different cultures and religions. We’ve travelled a great deal and have always gone to the main places of worship for each country. By the age of 5 my daughter had been to a number Hindu Temples, Buddhist Temples, a Synogogue and of course Mosques. She has attended a Muslim-Jewish Women’s group I am a part of. She knows there is a world outside of our faith community. She knows that the only difference between us and anyone else is how we choose to worship God.
So with all of that, I just said it as it is. We are Muslim. Just as our Christian friends have Christmas and our Jewish friends have Hanukkhah, we have 2 Eid celebrations (feasts). One; Eid Ul-Fitr; after the Holy month of Ramadan during which we spend the whole month fasting, learning and celebrating and one; El Ul-Adha; after the Pilgrimage time to Mecca. Each Eid is a 3-4 day celebration too! I reminded her that during our Eid celebrations we decorate our homes, come together with friends and family, and of course the gifts and treats. I explained to her that the Christmas season is a special time for others and Eid is a special time for us.
My daughter knows that we love our friends from all traditions and that it is ok for her to PARTICIPATE in some activities. For example, growing up my friend used to invite me over on Christmas Eve for dinner every year. That was totally fine. We can be involved in other people’s traditions. But we do not CELEBRATE. That means that there is not a beautifully decorated tree or stockings in our house. We don’t plan a big Turkey dinner or exchange gifts as a family.
I guess the thing is that I equate Christmas to Hanukkah or Eid. It’s a special time of religious spirituality and reconnection with God and the family. It’s a celebration of the birth of Jesus. I am well aware not everyone looks at it that way and that’s perfectly fine. The main thing I aim to do in raising my children is to teach them to be respectful and accepting of other people’s beliefs and traditions just as they should appreciate and expect from others.