It’s that time of year when people wish me Merry Christmas while smiling awkwardly and wondering if they just offended me by not wishing me Happy Holidays.
The only reaction better than when I tell people I don’t celebrate Christmas is when I tell them I don’t eat bacon.
For the record – I prefer Merry Christmas. There’s something about Happy Holidays that feels so blasé and contrived. I’ve never been one for political correctness.
Besides, Hannukah ended Dec. 14 this year.
As a Muslim, I get a lot of people asking me this time of year what I do for Christmas. So I thought it might be interesting to write a column about what it’s like being Muslim during Christmas and to provide some insight into Islamic holiday traditions.
My family has always treated Christmas as a sort of second Thanksgiving. We usually have a big family dinner but don’t do Christmas trees or presents. When I tell people this, they are usually quite envious – I get the turkey, stuffing and all the fixings without the stress and financial burden of having to buy dozens of presents.
And then comes the inevitable follow-up question – if you don’t celebrate Christmas, what do you celebrate?
Muslims celebrate Eid, which is split between Eid al-Fitr (festival of breaking of the fast) and Eid al-Adha (festival of the sacrifice). The first Eid takes place after Ramadan, the month of fasting, and is a festive event complete with praying, a large feast, sharing of gifts and giving to charity. A central component of both Ramadan and Eid is being grateful to God for what we have.
Eid al-Adha is a commemoration of the Prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son at God’s command before the angel Gabriel intervened. It also marks the end of the pilgrimage to Hajj, which is one of the pillars of Islam. Some of you might be surprised to learn that Muslims commemorate the Prophet Abraham. Islam recognizes Noah, Moses, David, Joseph, John the Baptist and Jesus as prophets of God. The primary difference, and it’s a significant one, is that Muslims do not recognize the Holy Trinity. Islam’s unwavering monotheism is arguably the most critical component of the religion.
There are a lot of misconceptions about Islam and I’m not going to try and dispel them in a 500-word column. If you’d like to discuss theology one on one, shoot me an email and I’ll be happy to oblige.
But back to my original point. What I’ve been meaning to get at is that while Christmas and Eid may seem like vastly different traditions, at their heart, they both emphasize kindness, generosity and gratitude.
Even though I don’t personally celebrate Christmas, I appreciate the sentiment when someone wishes me Merry Christmas. I believe religion can be a unifying force that highlights what we as humans are capable of. And while I’ve never had a Christmas tree, the spirit of Christmas is definitely something I can say I’ve experienced.
Merry Christmas to you all.