My Muslim Christmas in July

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Muslim children in the U.S. worry about missing out on a jolly holiday. My friends and I found a solution.

July 7, 2016 6:59 p.m. ET

“Mummy, why can’t we have a Christmas tree?”

I had been expecting this question for years, ever since the first Christmas lights had gone up after the birth of my son, Saqib. As the perfect planner, the anticipator of all scenarios, I would be ready to deal with this when asked. But I secretly hoped that if I played my cards right, the question might never come up.

Other mothers worried, too. Within six months of Saqib’s birth, we had in our social circle a total of three Muslim families. My friends Rabia and Kausar, and me: three Urdu-speaking moms from the subcontinent, with three baby boys. We fretted together. How would we explain to our children why we don’t celebrate Christmas? How could a child be made to understand that, yes, as Muslims, we believe in the miracle of Jesus’ birth, and we believe he was a prophet, but we don’t celebrate his coming with a tree or gift giving.

That might not be good enough for a child—especially one in New York. Who doesn’t love the festivities of Christmas? The lights, Santa Claus ringing the bell, shoppers walking out of Macy’s laden with gifts, children lined up at the windows of Saks Fifth Avenue, the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, the towering tree in Rockefeller Center. Every December the city gets as decked up as a Pakistani bride. Wouldn’t our children wish that they wish they were part of it, and feel that they were missing out? Wouldn’t they wish they were born Christian?

I reached out to my Jewish friend, Nancy, to ask how she handled the matter. “You have to come up with a substitute,” she advised. “When is your religious holiday? Make a big deal out of it.”
With that in mind, our three Muslim families set out to Christmas-ize Eid, the festival marking the end of Ramadan. On this day, special Eid prayers are held to give thanks for completing the month of fasting. Children dress up in new clothes, and women go all out for their sparkling outfits. Families visit one another and feast on sheer khorma, the sweet slurpy vermicelli sprinkled with nuts—a dessert reserved just for Eid.

Because the Islamic calendar is based on the lunar cycle, which is only 355 days, each year holidays come 10 days earlier. Eid this year was July 6.

We set several ground rules for our Eid makeover: All three families had to take the day off—no excuses. We agreed to adopt one another as family and to get dressed, baby boys included, in shimmering shalwar kameez, the Pakistanis’ traditional long tunic and billowing pants. Everyone would go to Manhattan for Eid prayers. After that we would converge back home for a potluck feast.

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