When I was growing up in Canada, ho-ho-ho was a no-no-no — not because my parents said so, but because I did. At nine years old, I challenged my family’s decision to put up a Christmas tree.
The twinkle and tingle of tinsel made my sisters giddy. They laughed and decorated. I frowned and demonstrated. “We’re supposed to be Muslims!” I protested to my mother.
“Santa is for everybody,” she calmly assured me.
That’s what she thought. The next morning, when not a creature was stirring, I snuck downstairs, plucked off the tree’s plastic limbs, and dumped them in the backyard.
But my foray into guerrilla Grinchitude backfired. The tree found its way into the house again, my sisters got the pleasure of redecorating it, and I hibernated in my room on Christmas Day, too humiliated to unwrap gifts with everyone else.
I’d like to believe it’s maturity that turned me around. Truth is, it’s strategy as much as maturity: As a Muslim, I can claim religious immunity to the routine demands of Christmas while taking advantage of the occasion’s small pleasures.
I don’t feel culturally compelled to buy expensive gifts — or even cheap ones — for people who get on my nerves. I can also skip the Dec. 24 mall angst. Yet I love watching folks grow excited the way they don’t on any other holiday. “It’s going to be a major pain getting out of the airport,” a friend told me one year, “but it’ll be my first Christmas with my new niece. I can’t wait!” I shared her goose bumps.
Before the pandemic, I loved sipping non-alcoholic cider with my non-nieced-and-nephewed pals. Relaxed conversation in front of a crackling fire — we’d never squeeze that combination out of each other if not for Christmas. Above all, I loved the laughs at the “seasonal event” put on by a Jewish friend, most of whose guests were agnostic about God but evangelical about eggnog.
Sure, there are lingering “seasonal annoyances.” Like Christmas lights. In-your-face waste would have turned Jesus off. Can we considering doing the same to our near-neon neighborhoods next year? (As an aside, if you’re wondering why I’d care about Christ’s reaction to anything, it’s because he’s a top-tier prophet in Islam. He’s also a helluva humane role model.)
In any event, you won’t see me hurling portions of pre-fab trees through windows anymore. As my devoutly Muslim mother schooled me, Christmas is open to all. I won’t avoid observing because I feel uncomfortable; I’ll observe the way I feel comfortable.
To those who celebrate religiously: Merry Christmas. To the rest: May our respective gods — including flying spaghetti monsters — bless us, each and every one.
Photo credit: Wiki Commons