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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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Maceo Cabrera Estévez is the playwright and performer of Amor Cubano: In a bottle, a tube and a small packet produced at La Peña in Berkeley, The Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts in San Francisco, The Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance and The Brooklyn Arts Exchange. She holds an MA from New College in Writing and Consciousness. Her writing has been published in Sojourner: The Women Forum, Riffrag Journal and Hakima Midwifery. Maceo is in the process of writing a memoir on her spiritual journey towards Islam. She is a mother, wife and wannabe urban homesteader.

Leave us a comment!

  1. Commentskorman   |  Friday, 09 December 2011 at 12:10 pm

    For me Christmas isn’t a religious festival. I have no issues about celebrating it despite being atheist. It is a chance to celebrate with family in the middle of winter, whatever their beliefs. Mid winter was celebrated in Europe long before Christianity, and often in a similar way, either as Roman Saturnalia or Scandinavian Yule. Whilst Christians may find it a time to go to church and celebrate Christ many others are celebrating the longer days, a new year and family without the Christian aspects.

  2. CommentsAmanda   |  Friday, 09 December 2011 at 12:23 pm

    I really commend you for writing this article. I too am a convert and we do celebrate Christmas with my family – my family also celebrates Eids with us. It’s a fair trade off. My husband (born Muslim and practicing) is the one who wants to get out our little 2 foot tree for December. Our kids get visited by Santa. We don’t try to make a big deal out of the holiday but as you’ve mentioned with your in-laws, it’s much more cultural than religious in our family. Sure my mom and grandma go to church but rarely is religion brought into the holiday for us.

  3. CommentsMaceo Nafisah   |  Saturday, 10 December 2011 at 2:52 pm

    Thanks for your comments Korman and Amanda. Yes, it’s true Korman, for many people Christmas is not a religious holiday but a time to spend with family. Amanda, it’s nice to know how your family spends both Eid and Christmas together that is a great blessings.

  4. CommentsHahn   |  Sunday, 25 December 2011 at 11:09 am

    Love it. Here in Malaysia we have 3 major races. Malays, Chinese and Indian. We celebrate Christmas, Deepavali for hindu and Idul Fitri for Muslim together by visiting their home. We call it Open House. So it does not really look like religious celebrations because the hos normally prepare halal food for all of their friends to share. For us it just another Open House with free foods and drinks for those who celebrates their religious celebrations.

  5. CommentsRenee   |  Friday, 17 February 2012 at 4:29 am

    I was raised as a Christian and we had an unforgettable christmas celebration each year with family, special food, great christmas songs and a beautiful christmas tree.
    However .. after a lot of reading about all the different religions I became a Bahá’í .
    My husband also became a Bahá’í.
    One of the reasons that we choose for this religion was that in this religion all the prophets of the world religions are seen as one in the source.
    In this way I can join all rituals of other religions if I would like to, as for us these rituals grew from a same source.
    However … Bahá’í’s have celebrations, but no virtual rituals and for me that feels as a freedom.
    But as we live in a more christian environment here – with in December the beautiful christmas trees everywhere – we kept this christian and pre christian winter rite a little bit during the time our children were young.
    Our children have their own lives now, but I still make a bouquet of pine branches as I love the smell.

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