Written by Amanda Sadler.
Twinkling lights, colorful window displays and cheery shoppers filling stores. Nearly every conversation and interaction this time of year is full of excited exclamations of “Are you ready for Christmas?!” While we could argue all day about the “correct” response, I always opt to smile and respond with a jolly “Yes.”
I grew up in a Christian home and have many Christian friends, so I know the importance and excitement Christmas brings. This is why I make it a point to say “Thank you, you too” when someone tells me to have a Merry Christmas. Even though I chose to convert to Islam, my extended family and friends did not.
When I first converted, I went the extreme route. I was going to quit all non-Islamic holidays and birthday celebrations cold turkey. As my first Christmas post-conversion approached, everyone began asking when I was coming over while I was busy planning how to get out of attending these celebrations. I would usually reply with “I think I’m going to be working” and quickly tell my boss that I would gladly work all day on Christmas. I am sure my family and friends began to feel pushed away.
I had three sons that had been raised Christian and had not chosen to convert to Islam at this point. I had to wrestle with the idea of not buying them gifts or putting up a tree. How would I explain to my kids the abrupt absence of their favorite holiday? I started to feel isolated and down during a time of year I used to be my happiest.
As I prepared to break my parents’ hearts by not coming home for Christmas, I had an epiphany: Through hadith, I was learning about how to treat my parents, yet here I was going to hurt them. Islam was already mysterious and I am sure there were plenty of questions about how I would change since converting. If I continued to avoid my family and friends, what kind of impression would they get of Islam? I could not change how my entire family lived their lives because of my choice of religion.
I knew I was not celebrating Christmas for the sake of it being the birth of Jesus, but for the act of charity and spreading cheer. Buying gifts for my family and having dinner with them is the act of carrying on a cultural tradition and maintaining family ties, yet another command of how to treat our family, and not committing shirk.
For me, sharing holidays like Christmas with my family and friends is a form of dawah and obedience to God. Honestly, how different is recognizing the birth of Jesus from recognizing of the birth of Muhammed (PBUH)?
As my children began converting, I chose to decrease the amount of emphasis placed on Christian holidays in our home. We focus more on what each holiday is and how it compares to Islamic beliefs. I teach them the importance of helping others and maintaining family connections and traditions. Now, we put more effort into decorating the house and getting ready for Eid. While I originally feared they would resent the diminished presence of Christmas, I find quite the opposite has happened.
My sons understand that instead of getting mounds of gifts piled under a tree, they get a majority of their gifts for Eid. We downplay how much activity happens in our home around Christmas and focus on our extended family. We may keep putting up a tree and buying each other small gifts or eventually cut it out.
I will no longer share a bottle of wine with my family or eat ham, but I will gladly provide other food and drink options for everyone to enjoy. Christmas parties will have a designated driver, as long as I am around.
I will continue to focus on showing love and support for my family and friends, just like the love and support they show for me. While I do not know exactly how our family traditions surrounding Christmas will evolve, I know it will be a very organic and personal experience.