Yesterday my six-year-old daughter came home in tears. Her friends had been telling her about Christmas, and she was very upset about the fact that she couldn’t celebrate the holiday as well.
Our conversation went something like this:
Mom, why can’t we have Christmas at home?
Because we are Muslims.
But it’s the birthday of Go-od!
Ahem, Muslims don’t believe that honey. We don’t think God can be born or die. He just is.
But mo-om! What about Santa? And all the gifts?
Sweetheart, Santa doesn’t exist. It’s actually parents who put gifts under the tree after the children have gone to bed.
There is shocked silence. Then:
You mean parents lie to their kids?
Um, well, kind of. You wouldn’t like it if I lied to you, would you?
No way. Lying is bad.
You’re such a clever girl.
But mom, what about presents? Can we have a tree and lots of presents?
What are you talking about? You get toys all the time. Every time we go to Wal-Mart for groceries you end up with a toy you don’t really need. Just last week we donated a ton of old toys.
But Christmas is all about toys and Santaaaa.
How did it get so late? Come on, it’s bedtime, let’s choose a story.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the holiday season. When I lived in Pakistan, I studied in a Catholic convent school, and the old nuns taught us every Christmas song there is. I still remember the words to most carols, and my personal favorite is Silent Night, which I used to sing as a lullaby when my children were little.
In the U.S., I have found that the holiday season is a very inclusive and diverse one, and people of different faiths (or no faith) can find something to enjoy. There are light shows at the zoo that we love to visit each year. At my children’s school, each class puts on Polar Express Day when they wear pajamas and drink hot cocoa. Nobody talks about Jesus, but everybody feels included and special. Such is the power of interfaith work during the holiday season that we can be happy with each other during special days and still retain our traditions.
But when you are Muslim (or Hindu or Jewish or Sikh or pagan or atheist) in America, the month of December can be a little tough, especially for children who don’t know what they believe yet. In my heart, I was a little frustrated at my daughter’s friends for bragging about gifts and toys and Santa, but, of course, it is their right to enjoy their celebration as well. As a non-Christian parent, the holidays can be worrying because you know your child is feeling left out. But the key is to take this time to talk about similarities between faith and culture. A mini-interfaith holiday season lesson, if you will.
So how did our conversation finally end? I reminded my daughter as I tucked her into bed that we have two Eid celebrations each year when she decorates her hands with henna, and wears fancy clothes and bangles, and gets presents from relatives. We don’t have a tree or Santa, but we are indeed surrounded by family, food, love and laughter. It’s the same, even though it’s different. Just like religion itself.
I do need to remind her, however, not to tell her friends the truth about Santa. They’ll be crushed.