Celebrating Christmas as a Muslim - How I Handle the Holidays While Respecting My Christian In-Laws

Posted by Sidra Trajcevska on

Ten years ago, my sister-in-law to be invited me to her home for Christmas.  “It’s a big deal that you’re invited, and it means they’re accepting you. You have to come,” Nick said. I shopped the clearance racks for each of his six nieces, his two sisters, and his mom, tossed the gifts into cute gift bags, and joined his family for my first ever Christmas celebration.

What I learned that year was just how festive Christmas was.  The girls opened presents for a full half hour. It was like a scene from the movies -- bags being opened, paper being tossed about, one gift, next gift, next gift!! By the time they had finished, the floor was littered with gift wrap and boxes. I was amazed, it was even more spectacular than I had ever imagined, and I couldn’t believe I didn’t grow up with this! I learned two really important lessons that day.

First, I now fully understood why my American peers growing up were so enthusiastic about Christmas.  If we celebrated Eid with half the zeal as Christmas was celebrated, I’d be tickled pink, too. The gifts given aren’t even that elaborate, but the lights, time with family, opening tons of presents -- it’s all meant to make children more merry.  I filed these celebrations away for when we had our own daughter in 2016 so I knew how to make Eid just as festive.

Here’s the thing.  Even if your family isn’t multi-faith, we are raising Muslim-American (or wherever you are!) children.  These children will be communicating with their friends about Christmas in school and being asked what they want for Christmas.  They’ll have gift exchanges at school, holiday parties, write letters to Santa, and decorate cookies. The season is very much around us.  Then, they’ll go to work with colleagues who put trees up in their offices and participate in white elephant gift exchanges. We simply cannot ignore the holiday, and nor did my family growing up.

How does your family celebrate, or not celebrate, the holidays?  Read my blog post for (Link in profile) how I celebrate, how I grew up celebrating with my very Muslim family and tips on how I answered the question, “YOU DON’T CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS??” growing up.

It's important to balance the Islamic deen with our current environment.  I believe fully that Christmas can be used as a dawa opportunity.  Show our community how kind we can be, borrow from their generous spirits and use those ideas for our own Muslim holidays.

Here's how I balance Christmas, and have balanced it growing up: 

  1. I have a Christian cousin.  Her dad (my uncle) died when she was an infant, so she was raised Christian, but she’s still my family and we love her.  My family knew we had to keep showing her love, so, we would send her children Christmas gifts every year, as well as an Eid gift each spring.  It was important for the unity of our family to show her love for her holiday.
  2. My parents gave Nick’s family “Holiday Baskets” each year.  I remember shopping with my dad for their baskets when he and I were engaged as a symbol of unity.  My dad also accepted and gave holiday gifts to his peers.  We understood that though we didn't do Christmas as a family, that respecting the holiday was non-negotiable.
  3. Growing up, my parents purchased Christmas gifts for my teachers.  I feel it is important to give your teachers gifts on a holiday they celebrate to show them your appreciation on a holiday that’s important to them.  The holiday falls in the middle of the year, so why not celebrate their contributions to your child’s education? Some may argue they choose to give Eid gifts, and that's great, you can also give them a gift on Eid as a form of dawaa, which I intend on doing IA when the time comes.  If you feel strongly about not giving a Christmas/Holiday gift, perhaps give a small Christmas gift in December and a larger gift during Eid time.  
  4. I give gifts to colleagues and those who help me at work.  It’s their holiday, and I couldn’t imagine not giving my coordinator a gift when she helps me so much -- it’s a holiday she celebrates and she deserves a great gift.  My ideology shouldn’t get in the way or celebrating her at the holidays and year end.  But, I do also gift Eid gifts -- bring a few pies to work, share cookies with friends, or make gift bags of chocolate covered dates.  I've done it all.
  5. I shy away from saying “Merry Christmas” since I don’t want to wrongly imply that I believe in the crucifixion of Jesus/Isa (pbuh).  This is one area I'm truly not comfortable with and need to do more research on the history of the saying.
  6. I would always be asked WHY we don't celebrate Christmas.  I do let my in-laws and friends know that we believe Jesus was the child of the Virgin Mary, just as they do.  Let your kids share this with their friends. Yes, we love Jesus, too! We just don’t celebrate his birthday the way you do, but we still love him as our Prophet.
  7. Rudolph and Frosty are the products of marketing.  I have no problem singing either of these songs at the top of my lungs.  Heck, my mom was my preschool teacher and we sang BOTH these songs in my preschool Christmas musical.  My mom dotted my nose with red lipstick. I’m not a horrible Muslim because I participated in the Christmas musical as a three-year-old.
  8. Santa is Pretend.  Alayna will learn he is pretend, BUT, she will be given very strict instructions not to screw it up for other kids who believe in him.  It’s not our job to parent other kids, so, if you disagree with everything above, please at least tell your kids that yes, he’s make believe but that some of the kids parents tell them he’s real, so please don’t share this secret at school as their mommies and daddies will tell them themselves. My mom never told me this… so I may or may not have told my friend Jennifer that he’s fake, but she insisted she saw Santa helping her mom put presents under the tree.

    What do you think?  I'm fully open to your feedback and thoughts on all of this!




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