Friday, December 9th, 2011
How Becoming Muslim Helped Me Like Christmas
Muslims and Christmas/ © Zurijeta-istockphoto
Around 10 years ago, I stopped celebrating Christmas with my family. I opted not to travel from New York to Florida and spent three days cleaning my apartment. I was sad to not partake in the ritual, but consumerism and my sister-in-law’s large family hijacked my Christmas Eve; I felt no desire to be part of it.
Cubans don’t really celebrate Christmas Day (well, in Cuba they definitely don’t). We celebrate Christmas Eve, Noche Buena, the good night. It turned terrible by having to watch each family member open every gift–there are only so many ahs and oohs one can say in a night, and this lasted until 3 a.m. Instead of the men surrounding the TV and the women preparing the delicious meal of lechon asado (roast pork) moros y cristianos (the beans and rice dish, not the people), yuca, three different kinds of plantains, Cuban eggnog, pies and cakes, we started opening presents at 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve.
I love them dearly but what happened to the Christmas Eves when we used to hide in my parents’ bedroom right before midnight in order for Santa to come to our apartment and leave just a few presents?
Then I became Muslim; I actually had a legitimate excuse to not celebrate Christmas. My family could finally stop calling me weird. But when I started to go to mosque for Friday prayers, over and over again I was told about the importance of family relations even if your family practices something different. Without realizing it, I became gracious around my family during Christmas. I even called them singing Jose Feliciano’s “Feliz Navidad.”
A year after converting to Islam, I married my husband who is also a convert. He grew up Catholic, as I did, and now I have to partake in the Christmas festivities with his family. It actually isn’t that painful. They are a tiny family who just like to get together to eat good food. Yes, there are presents but it doesn’t take long to open all of them. There are probably people who criticize me for celebrating Christmas but his family is not religious. The birth of Jesus is never mentioned; therefore it does not seem like a religious holiday.
Because my in-laws are super-generous, I feel a need to also give them presents. The problem is I really don’t want to do it on Christmas. I am a new Muslim and every year Eid-al-Fitr creeps up on me. It doesn’t matter that the thirty days of fasting during Ramadan are a hint that Eid will follow.
There just aren’t the constant reminders like there are during the Christmas season. Where are the Eid songs on the radio? Where are the bonanza Eid sales at the department stores? Where are the lights? So, each year I forget to decorate the house, buy presents for everyone and make special Eid cards so my family could understand what I celebrate.
Eid passed and Christmas is upon us yet again; I am struggling with making homemade gifts or buying something less personal. I feel like I am setting a bad example for my kids. How confusing it must be for my stepdaughter when she asks me to put up a Christmas tree and I tell her, “No, we’re Muslim, we don’t celebrate Christmas.” Yet I can’t get my act together for her to appreciate all the beauty of Eid. I am afraid that my son will like Christmas more and tell me, “Mami, Eid is sooooo stupid.” Thankfully he is only one and I still have time to work on making Eid important in our family. Until then, I guess I will have to deal with being a Muslim celebrating Christmas for just another year.
© 2011 – 2012, Maceo Cabrera Estévez. All rights reserved.
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