I grew up saturated in Christmas every December. I loved the minty tang of candy canes, the Christmas specials of my favorite sitcoms, and the days off from school. But I was, and am, a Muslim. For my parents, that meant that while I could enjoy some of the cultural aspects of the holiday, setting up a tree in the living room with gifts beneath, along with lights, ornaments, alcohol-free eggnog, and a gingerbread house was a tad bit too much. Muslims have Eid, they explained, and that was fine with me, too. So I grew up expecting Eid to be exciting, while surrounded by Christmas festivity.
But it was far more complex than that. I was never “surrounded” by Eid as I am Christmas. And nothing brings this point home to me more than my own children’s reactions, 30 years later, to the beautiful Christmas lights dotting the homes of our suburb. I interpret their sighs of delight to some sort of feeling that Eid is lacking. Which is why I remind them how Eid is so awesome, nudging them to recall all of the things my husband and I have done to make their holiday memorable. Gifts? Check. Family get-together and fancy clothes? Always. A sense of shared holiday spirit with other Muslims. Of course.
But it still bothers me. I feel like ranting about how “when I was your age”, I prayed on the cold concrete of a hall where wrestling matches were held, not the carpeted, plush floor of a Holiday Inn banquet hall; I never got gifts, just cash that was handed over to my parents once we got home from Eid festivities; I didn’t party with a horde of cousins my age, but mostly family friends whose kids were older or younger. But amazingly, I still had fun and loved Eid, looking forward to my holiday, even though my non-Muslim friends were collecting gift upon gift, and Christmas artwork in class every December was an expected part of the school curriculum.
But as is the case of many parents of my generation, we seek the bigger, the better for our own children. And when it comes to our celebrations, Christmas is our reference point, the standard that we seek to make Eid in America live up to. We may not put up date palm trees in our living rooms, but we make sure our kids have the pricey gifts; we put up lights and decorations in our homes, maybe even our cars; we invest in “Eid Mubarak!” balloons, banners, streamers, and even bibs (as I made my one-year-old wear on Eid-ul-Fitr this year).
I was making Eid a competition with Christmas – which it’s not. And it was my kids who made me realize it.
“Abbu was saying the lights look so nice,” my nine-year-old told me, while we were recently driving past a home with Christmas finery on display. “They’re okay,” she said shrugging nonchalantly.
“Do you feel like you’re missing anything when it’s Christmas?” I asked hopefully. It was a tense moment.
“Nah,” she said, wrinkling her nose. “I have two Eids. Christmas only happens once a year.”
It was clear then, that I had been projecting my own sense of competition and inadequacy onto my kids, who were oh-so-much wiser than their mother. So while I’ll still be looking for nice gifts, I can probably ease up on making my Eid more “Christmas-y” next year.