When I married my husband, people were very happy for us alhamdulillah, but as my husband comes from a Ukrainian Catholic family, there was one concern that seemed to come up again and again from people: “OMG! What are you going to do about Christmas?” “When you have kids, you’re not going to let them celebrate Christmas are you??” I had of course thought about this too but these questions only served to create anxiety. Looking back now I view those questions surrounding Christmas to be a bit silly because as with all things, I found the worry about ‘the thing’ to be much more serious than the thing itself.
Let’s be honest, if you don’t celebrate Christmas, December 25th is the most boring day of the year. When I was young I remember there being nothing to do and no one to do nothing with because everyone was busy opening amazing gifts under a fragrant tree with twinkling lights – at least that’s what I imagined as an outsider looking in.
My first Christmas with my in-laws felt sort of like stepping into a pretty store you had only window-shopped before. I was delicate with my steps and tried to look like I belonged but my eyes were as big as saucers looking at all the food and gifts that were displayed so beautifully. There was a sparkly tree surrounded by gifts and as I walked by I saw a perfectly wrapped present that said ‘To Lena’; the 7 year old girl within my heart did a cartwheel.
As the years have passed, Christmas with my in-laws has changed. As each family member carries on their own traditions in their own homes, our collective tradition has been taken down several notches. My husband and I have told our children about Christmas, but not in great detail; just to say that Grandma and Grandpa celebrate Christmas and we celebrate the togetherness of family, but for us there is no religious significance. They seem to accept and understand this.Unexpectedly, the real challenge has been not turning Eid into an absolute spectacle. I remember thinking when the girls were young that we had to ‘compete’ with Christmas. “Another Eid dress?” my husband would ask. Frantically I would answer “New clothes are what make Eid exciting! If we don’t get them fancy dresses every time, Santa wins!”
I think of the stern warnings given to me over a decade ago about the dangers of engaging in Christmas, and I now see Eid turning into a consumerist holiday devoid of religious meaning. When I was young Eid was a small, but significant holiday. You got to miss a day of school that no one else got to miss and various uncles would give you $2 bills as you’d shake their hands and say “Eid Mubarak” after prayer. Now Eid is Pinterest. Wouldn’t it be better if your brownies looked like Kabas? Lollipops shaped like crescent moons are a cinch – Just watch my 18 minute video! And are you getting the kids the Wii or the iphone6? All of this is fine and I place no judgement on how people want to live; however, I wonder if we haven’t become the thing we’ve shunned.
Christmas has taught me about what Eid should be. Christmas at my in-laws is copious amounts of yummy food being served all day long; it’s laughing over old stories being shared for the umpteenth time; it’s kids running around high on chocolate milk; it’s hugs goodbye. It is simple but it is also merry and bright.
My girls still get new dresses in an effort to make Eid exciting, but I’ve changed my mind about the competition. Opening my heart to my in-laws meant opening me up to the things that they care about. Christmas isn’t my holiday but I embrace it with the same warm spirit that it is shared in. Has Santa won? Maybe, but I’m thankful to Allah that we’ve found a way where we can all win together.
Lena Hassan lives in Ottawa and is a loving mother to 2 girls. She enjoys good eats, good reads and good company.