What I love about Christmas as a Muslim mum!

Knowing what excites us about a season or festival means we can be the architects of our family’s wholesome memories that live through generations beyond us.

‘Can we get a Christmas tree?’ My eight-year-old casually asks as I drive him to school one winter morning. ‘Christmas trees are pretty I say, what makes you want one?’. ‘So all the toys can go under it!’ he innocently replies.

When I was little, my father would always take us on a drive into Oxford Street, Regent Street and Piccadilly to see the street decorations in London at Christmas time. It was so simple and impromptu. We would laugh and joke in the car, maybe get some warm waffles or hot chocolate. It was nothing like the business of the school and work week. Time slowed down and we were all relaxed and together.

Everyone at school and in the street was more cheerful around Christmas time, there was hope and optimism in the air. I don’t remember yearning for presents or a Christmas tree. I just remember the cosiness and the winter walks.

As a mum now, I still love the cosiness and winter walks. Although I have added in new traditions over the years like a winter theatre trip or games nights. But in a fast moving world intent on profiting from our distraction and keeping us busy, how do I teach my children to appreciate the little things and notice the beautiful changing of the seasons, the wonder in the outdoors and the blessing of family? And how can I actively create wholesome memories in my family as my children grow.

Since my father passed away 8 years ago I have been thinking more and more about my early childhood experiences and memories. What is it about memories? Seemingly mundane every day activities become, with time, the warmest and notable. Playing in the autumn leaves or helping with the barbeque, the smell of freshly baked Iraqi ‘klecheh’ as I walk in the door from school. A feast for the soul and for the senses.

But it’s not just me . Research has found that children will recall with fondness the moments of connection, however menial the activity and will favour these, which may come as a revelation to many parents, over big days out, expensive gifts or far away holidays. The Christmas analogy would be the small child unwrapping their present, parking it in a corner of the room and playing with great excitement with the cardboard box!

My son’s request sparked a curiosity in me. I set to work thinking about what makes Christmas special for me and why. I also sought the help of the My Muslim Family community to find out what you love about Christmas and your reasons too, hoping to get some insights into the Muslim family and the festive season.

We asked you what your family enjoys doing around the Christmas season. A massive 83% responded that time spent with family was their main highlight. I was also delighted to read that a third of responders enjoy outdoor activities during this time. Despite the weather, there is beauty and benefit in every season of the year.

People love the decorations and atmosphere associated with the season (83%), closely followed by the cosiness and slowing down (75%). Both of these I wholeheartedly agree with. My jigsaw puzzles come out only during the Christmas holidays, I delight in reading more, writing and watching movies with the family. Board games are another firm favourite to play within our family and with the wider family when we get together. The priceless sound of children’s laughter, jokes and excitement fill the air.

Giving gifts around Christmas time is not something I grew up with nor is it something I value as a mum now. However, I was surprised by the responses around gift giving. Only a small minority of responders, 16.7% liked giving and receiving gifts at this time of year. Gift giving is a generous and noble activity. Historically, the giving of gifts can be traced back to cave men to strengthen relations and build trust. It is certainly encouraged in Islam as a show of appreciation and love for one another. But Islam does not associate it with any specific occasion. It is something encouraged throughout the year.

I then asked our community what you dislike about Christmas and around 60% of responders were not keen on the commercial nature of Christmas, with 50% reporting is was an expensive time of year. This is unsurprising as the average person in the UK gets into £439 of debt over Christmas and takes around 4 months to regain control of their finances once again. This is understood to be the result of increased advertising around this time of year as well as social expectations which put pressure on individuals to spend more during December than any other time of the year. In fact, 30% of you did report that you felt expectations were high. Interestingly, many of you (40%) report a dislike of the gluttony and wastage that occur during the festive season as people buy and eat more than they need.

I had noticed an increasing number over the years, of Muslim families putting up Christmas trees and decorating their homes round this time. So I asked our community about this. Only 25% of responders said they decorate their homes and put up a Christmas tree. Those who do decorate their homes reported that children see their neighbours have these and want them too, that it spreads joy.

Others who were less keen on Christmas decorations reported that children may be confused by it, that it is not a Muslim celebration and that we should focus on our Islamic festivals like Eid.
As someone who struggles with attending Christmas event at work, I asked our community about whether they attend the work Christmas event and the responses are shown diagrammatically here:

Some of the reasons shared for attending included fun and good memories made with colleagues. Those who wouldn’t attend cited alcohol, music and dancing, factors that I have struggled with over the years too. A few responders would attend depending on the setting and circumstance, think about it and attend appropriate events e.g. Christmas brunch or event with no alcohol.
Your responses were thought provoking and appreciated. They got me evaluating the importance of purpose and intentionality in what we do.

I recalled the wise words of a scholar years ago, that stayed with me. That we have some beautiful aspects of our faith that we should hold on to. These being our family values, our care for our neighbours and our generosity. And that living in the west has taught us some valuable and beautiful additional values like time keeping and incorporating exercise as a part of our every lives.

We can choose to amalgamate all that inspires a good and purposeful life thereby achieving a superior combination to live by.

Knowing what excites us about a season or festival means we can be the architects of our family’s wholesome memories that live through generations beyond us. With a clearer purpose and intention, maybe we can have the nice food without the wastage, the simple fun we know children treasure, without the debt and the cosiness at home without the theme necessarily.
So I will not be getting a Christmas tree this year. Not because I feel it’s wrong to do so, but because I don’t feel it serves a purpose. And I also won’t be exchanging gifts. My son will likely be disappointed. But our children will be disappointed with our decisions sometimes.
It’s only natural to get excited about Christmas. The kids are always off school, mum and dad have more time off and are more relaxed, people around us are happier and the atmosphere is buzzing. But these are ingredients we can sprinkle in to our Muslim festivals elevating their fun and appeal, helping our children get excited about the festivals that bring remembrance of Allah, like Eidul Fitr, Eidul Aladha and Eidul Ghadeer. This builds positive associations with our inspiring figures and an affinity towards them and our creator. We can only try and inshalah Allah will take care of the rest. Allah tells us in the holy Quran ‘That man will have only that which he strives towards’ (53:39) and ‘That is so. And whoever honours the symbols of Allah, it is certainly out of the piety of the heart.’ (22:32)

Tips to Create the buzz!
● Arrange time off in advance around the festival
● Decorate your home with your children and make it festive!
● Arrange activities and time with wider family where possible
● Slow down and be present
● Plan activities, story-telling, poetry, and fun workshops with other families/your community
● Be jolly, playful and fun- because our children pick up on this!

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