Celebrating Christmas means different things to different people

Christmas is not a religious occasion for Muslims but many choose to mark the holiday for other reasons.

2017/12/24 Issue: 137 Page: 13

The Arab Weekly
Dunia El-Zobaidi

Christmas means different things to different people. For some it is a chance to spend time with family and exchange gifts; for others, it is a religious reminder. Some do not mark the holiday at all.

Christians around the world cel­ebrate the birth of Jesus on either December 25 or, for the Eastern Orthodox, January 7. It is not a religious occasion for Muslims but many choose to mark the holiday for other reasons.

A young man in his 20s ex­plained why he does not celebrate Christmas. His father is a Muslim Arab and his mother is a British convert to Islam.

“I have never celebrated Christ­mas but my mother’s side of the family still sends Christmas gifts to my mother to keep the tradi­tion,” said the man, who asked that his name not be used. “They know it is not personal towards them that we don’t celebrate Christmas with them but a matter of principle. It is important to be consistent with your principle, so people see you genuinely believe in what you are doing.”

Even though Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet, this young man said he does not believe in celebrating any prophet’s birth­day, not even the Prophet Mo­hammad’s.

“Prophet Mohammad never celebrated his birthday so cel­ebrating it is an innovation in the religion that people have intro­duced,” he said. “There have been many warnings about changing or adding things to religion and introducing new practices that are not actually part of Islam. We have two Eids and are told to celebrate these each year.”

The man said: “I believe Christmas is a pagan celebration so I think it is inappropriate for Muslims to take part. Also, Christ­mas carols say Jesus is the son of God, which contradicts Islam’s fundamental principles.”

Nadia Saridar, a half-Iraqi, half- British Catholic mother, explained the religious meaning behind Christmas to her and described how Christians in Iraq celebrate Christmas.

“Christmas for me is more about religion, it’s not commer­cial,” she said. “For me, it’s about the birth of Christianity. Christ for me is a symbol of rebirth and faith. Although it’s nice to have presents and parties, life is becoming more commercial and we are going away from the true meaning of Christmas.

“We should think about what it means to be a human and why we are on this Earth. We have to think about the homeless in the cold and how they are going to survive. It’s fine for it to be commercial but only to a point, it shouldn’t take over the greater meaning.”

“‘In Iraq, we never sent people cards because they weren’t avail­able in the shops,” Saridar said. “The children received one small gift. Christmas food was not avail­able in the shops, so we would celebrate with Arabic food. We would buy ourselves a new outfit but in England, a lot of people don’t bother.”

“On Christmas Eve, I would go to the Latin Mass and other families would go to the Arabic Mass in the morning then visit our Christian neighbours to wish them ‘Merry Christmas’ and our Muslim neighbours would do the same for us. Lunchtime is just for the family and the grandfather would give the children money. It had more of the truer mean­ing than commercial meaning,” Saridar said.

Dalia Dergham, an Iraqi Muslim with three young children said she enjoys the commercial side of Christmas.

“We celebrate Christmas by put­ting up a tree, making Christmas lunch and donating to charity,” she said. “We do more for Christ­mas than Eid because it’s a long holiday so it’s a chance to cele­brate properly and lots of com­panies give bonuses just before Christmas.”

“I don’t tend to think about the religious aspect to Christmas. It’s more the fact I am part of a com­munity. The same way people put up a British flag to show support for the English football team, I put up the tree,” Dergham said’

“The belief that Christmas is pagan does cross my mind but it doesn’t stop me from celebrating it,” she said. “I want my children to enjoy Christmas and not to feel left out. It’s easier not to celebrate Halloween as it is not as widely celebrated as Christmas is. If you decide not to search for Hal­loween, it will feel like a normal night. However, Christmas comes to you through the radio and TV. Also, Halloween is not a holiday but Christmas is.”

Dergham is married to a Leba­nese man and has spent Christmas in Lebanon.

“Growing up in Iraq, the only thing we did do for Christmas was put up a tree,” she said.

“There were no presents ex­changed or Christmas lunch. In Lebanon. It’s different as there are so many more Christians and you are almost guaranteed a white Christmas in parts of Lebanon. All the shops have Christmas trees and the products in stores are Christmas themed. In the parts that are majority Christmas, there is a more religious atmosphere to it than commercial.

“Also, there is more freedom of speech in Lebanon compared to Iraq and you are encouraged to celebrate your religious holiday. A lot of Muslims light a candle for mass in churches or donate money in the church box. In Iraq, it is not as easy to find a church but in Lebanon there is a church on almost every street so it’s easier for Muslims to take part.”

Dunia El-Zobaidi is an Arab Weekly correspondent in London.

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