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
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.