Christmas and Eid
By Marriam Azam

Being a Muslim, Pakistani American is not an easy thing when it comes to this time of year. We’re bombarded with Christmas songs chiming their religious messages into our ears in every building we step into. We’re invited to Christmas parties, and we arrange to have holiday dinner at home thinking ‘ah, why the heck not…the family will be off from work so we might as well eat dinner together’.

We convince ourselves that there is no real underlying meaning behind putting up a tree and exchanging gifts, and we try not to take any significant pleasure in adorning our windows and (non-Christmas) tree with lights. We try to think back to Eid and if we exchanged gifts and who we exchanged them with. We try to remember why we didn’t put up lights, and whatever happened to that Eid party we planned to throw.

At desi gatherings in our home, we make excuses, ‘it’s for the kids’, to convince our friends that we didn’t fall prey to total assimilation, that we remember our roots, and that we’re not really American. We struggle with maintaining our identity among our own.

In our house, like many other desi houses, the little, very festive Christmas tree stands short (but proud) under the lighted window. Below it, the living room corner is carpeted with gifts all wrapped up in snowman wrapping paper, topped with red and green bows. As we exchange emails between family members to schedule the most convenient time to open presents, we each emphasize that they are late Eid presents, or ‘around your birthday’ presents reminding ourselves that we don’t really celebrate Christmas.

But Christmas time, what a wonderful time it is. Everybody seems to be in a festive and joyous mood. Even the perpetually elongated eight hours at work seem to jet by with enough holiday treats to make anyone’s mouth water. Everybody is home from school and work for the holidays, with the opportunity to eat together, spend time together, and remember what it’s like being part of a family. The children look forward to surprises wrapped up in festive colors under the tree, and the smell of holiday cookies baking in the oven. Mom’s cheeks have a rosy glow to them while she hums away preparing for her holiday dinner.

Is it really necessary to deny the simple joys of coming together with our loved ones for something simple and fun? Should we feel guilty about assimilating with American culture, when we live in America? Should we have to defend ourselves to those that call themselves one of our own? Does it really matter what the reason is that brings a smile to our faces and inspires us to think about our families? Christmas, Eid…it all has the same cultural significance, the same message, the same basic framework centering around family. So what’s wrong with celebrating Christmas in addition to Eid?

Please pass me a Christmas cookie.


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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