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  • Writer's pictureHawraa Zakery

How not to be the (Muslim) Grinch

How not to be the (Muslim) Grinch?!

It’s that time of the year again! As much as all the lights and decorations are amusing to see, many Muslim families struggle to balance their values and their social norms.

And I am talking from experience!

Beside the awkwardness of being the hijabi wearing ugly Christmas sweaters at the office party, participating in Secret Santa in the neighborhood or deciding to wish people Merry Christmas (Xmas) or not, we as parents have to answer many questions that our children have.

Is Santa real? Do we celebrate Xmas? When is the Islamic Xmas? And so on.

My general answer to most of these questions is, “we celebrate New Year and a number of Eids throughout the year”. We are not the only ones who do not celebrate Xmas. Besides, just because we don’t celebrate Xmas, does not mean we cannot enjoy the seasonal joy.

As a person who was born and raised in communities NOT similar to my Shia faith but in a practicing family, I was taught to value my faith, respect others and always look for opportunities to be an active member of my society.

My Shia belief taught me that being a Muslim is not only about wearing hijab or praying! It means taking care of neighbors, appreciating others and being a kind and warm person, whatever the social context.

So here are some ideas and food for thought on how to spread seasonal joy as a Muslim during Xmas and New Year.

Merry Xmas or not?

Wishing someone merry Xmas is about THEM, not whether we believe in Xmas or not. It is just like wishing someone Happy Birthday, it is not about us, it’s about that person. So it is ok to wish merry Xmas to those who believe in it!

Take care of the neighbors

Every year there is this unspoken competition at my neighborhood between my children and the neighbors’ on who gets to deliver the seasonal greeting card and cookie first. Kids love the competition and adults enjoy the role that kids play in this neighborhood- wide fun.

Use the opportunity to bind with your neighbors: Bake or buy some cookies, wrap a mug or just write a nice note and take it to your neighbors. Share seasonal joy and wish them a good year ahead.

By the way, my children have been the winner in our neighborhood competition for the last 3 years.

Involve the Kids

Teach your children to participate in seasonal joy by taking a greeting card to their teachers.

Encourage them to participate in Secret Santa or White Elephant and make sure to make your children proud by getting unique gifts.

Also, make sure to communicate to your children that creating joy and making others happy is a Shia value!

Educate others

My four year old son complained that his teacher cannot say Iran (eeran) and that she says (I-Ran)! So I volunteered to go to the class and teach about Persian New and surely addressed the issue of pronunciation.

The fact that my family celebrates New Year twice: (Nowroz and the American New Year) amazed kids.

And to me the joy of seeing my four year old helping his grown up teacher pronounce Iran was beyond anything.

So how about seizing the seasonal opportunity and volunteering to teach how you celebrate New Year in your country or culture?

Keep in mind, NewYear or Xmass is a good time to talk and teach about your unique cultural celebrations! Contact your school librarian and ask them to display some culturally diverse books at school library.

At Work

A coworker asked me if I am ok working Xmas eve and day. I said “yes I am”.

Then I continued, “That is the advantage of diversity at work. I do not celebrate Xmas, so I do not mind working for those that need to be with family. I will take my day off on my Eid!"

So give yourself permission to ease the life of others, but make sure to balance this practice by taking time off on Eids or Ashura day. This is an example of a real Islamic practice- you contributing to make your society stronger while also practicing your faith.

Make note to verbalize this exchange- I respect your holidays and I expect you to do the same. This is a prime opportunity to share with your colleagues that tolerance and helpfulness is a part of your civil and religious responsibility.

The same goes for holiday parties or other seasonal events- express your values and highlight the importance of intercultural tolerance. Let organizers know your dietary restrictions. Be explicit in your needs. Remember, you are a part of society.

Concluding Thoughts

We as Shia Muslims have a responsibility to create change and participate in society as active citizens. Xmas and New Year are another, or maybe the most impactful, time of the year when we can create change, teach, learn and also have our share of seasonal joy.

So go ahead, sparkle some merry moments in your environment

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