Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Muslims and the Holiday Season

Growing up as a little Muslim attending public school throughout my years, I understand what it's like for kids to go through some type of identity crisis during the holidays, especially during this time of the year where it seems as though everyone is celebrating something. I'd always feel this sense of lonliness or emptyness while everyone else was excited for the holidays. It wasn't until my teen years when my parents actually started practicing the religion they too were born into. But before this change came, there were things they could have done to make me feel better around the holiday time which wasn't done. Two key things to do with kids these days, especially if they attend public school, is to make the Eidain seem like the 2 most incredible days of the year, and the second thing is to help them understand why we do not celebrate any other holidays besides these two and not be lenient with them.

"Separation of church and state" is such a lie. There was never a time in school where the winter holidays were not celebrated. Before the holiday break would begin, the list would circulate the classroom asking us to jot down what we'd bring in for the party. Even though the Eids were great for me, I'd get hundreds of dollars and have fun visiting my family until midnight, when it came to the un-Islamic holidays my parents never taught me WHY we didn't celebrate it .So rather than understanding why, I felt left out at school.

During my elementary school days I'd get caught up in the holiday hype. I looked forward to Christmas parties, the numerous candy canes I'd go home with, the hot chocolate we'd drink in school, and by that time I had memorized all the Xmas songs that would play over and over on the teachers cassette player. When we'd go to the mall we'd stop for pics with Santa (lol I still cant believe we'd do this nonsense!).I exchanged gifts with all of my friends and bought gifts for my teachers as well. I'd turn on the TV and watch all the xmas specials. In the stores xmas songs would be blaring and decorations would be everywhere, even in the towns streets lights would be strung around trees and illuminated snowflakes were on each lamppost. It was inescapable, anything you bought came in a red bag. Even the Oreos came in red cream, Santa was on every can of Coke, and Hershey Kisses wrappers were festive as well. Everyone on the block would have decorations on their lawns, blow up snowmen, prancing reindeer, and light up santas. The Jews would have their menorahs displayed at the window. I'd collected dozens on dreidels by the time I was in high school and understood what each of the 4 symbols stood for.

Halloween, Easter, New Year, Valentines Day, and Thanksgiving were no exception. Again, there was non-stop commercialization on TV and in all the stores. In middle school I was in the schools chorus and memorized songs about xmas morning, hannukah, and even kwanzaa. 10 year olds were paying to have anonymous roses sent as Valentines and I couldnt help but feel flattered when I received one. Now when I think back to it I was only 10, what the heck?! We weren't Turkey people, but on Thanksgiving my mom would bake a chicken and we'd sit down at the table and eat dinner together, one of the few times we'd even do that. On New Years we'd stay up and watch the ball drop, I taped a paper with my 'New Years Resolutions' on the wall in my bedroom. I'd take great pride in making my Mother's and Father's Day presents at school... the list goes on...

Finally when I just entered my teen years, the imaan in my household shot up. And I'm thankful that the explinations I never got when I was younger, at least my brother was getting in his childhood. He sat out during the holiday parties and concerts. He did his own type of crafts when everyone else made gift baskets for their moms or colored pictures of ties for their parents. He went to school in his usual clothes while everyone came in costumes... and halloween night while many of this friends were out trick or treating, he was where he was every night, at the masjid learning how to read the Qur'an and memorizing it. My parents were sure to explain to him that we have our own holidays to get excited about and shouldnt have anything to do with the rest. I too became more fond of Eid and brushed the holidays to the side when they came around, though my memories were still with me of days passed and traditions lost. But for the most part we had normal days when birthdays would come by, we kept our door shut when trick or treaters rang our bell and so on.

Some parents may think there's no big deal in giving kids some exposure during these holidays so they don't feel left out. But in my opinion it'll only confuse them and when they become older and need to stay away from these practices, they too will figure 'whats the big deal'? Really the best cure for this is spending time with your kids, explaining to them, and keeping them on the right path from the start.

-Before Ramadan came around my mom was sure to set aside a day for me to have my friends over for an iftar party and another day for my brother. She'd make whatever we wanted and we'd have a blast with our friends. Everyone would come dressed in their cute outfits and we'd have fun just eating and hanging out with each other. A week ahead of time we'd put lights up around the windows and a 'HAPPY RAMADAN/RAMADAN MUBARAK poster at our window. Just recently we found the light up Happy Ramadan/Eid sign and started using that. Sometimes we'd be the only ones with lights up in our windows on the block haha, but we liked that even our home, inside and out, reflected OUR holiday was here!

-The night before Eid we'd do a super clean up of the house, we'd iron our clothes and prepare sweets for the blessed day. Sometimes my mom even had weird urges to rearrange the furniture LOL. I enjoyed this preparation time because it was time in the kitchen with my mom making our favorite treats. We'd go outfit shopping together and shop for gifts for me to exchange with my friends.

-The day of Eid, of course everyone would enjoy that. We had our own custom of visiting family in the morning and making time for sick family members most importantly. My mom would never go empty-handed to someones house. My dad always took the last 10 days of Ramadan off and Eid as well. I felt bad for friends whos parents went to work. I understand sometimes you just cant get the day, but they wouldnt even make it exciting when theyd come home from work. Some friends on Eid ul Adha would even go to school. Come on, thats the Eid thats celebrated for 3 days and from day 1 people are treating it like nothing!

-The day we'd return to school after Eid my mom would give me something really nice to wear, hoping she'd prompt friends to ask me, "Why are you all dressed up?" And so I could answer, "Eid!!!" with this I was able to explain to lots of my friends what Eid was.

-Since I was nearing high school at this point, my mom would send treats for my brothers classmates at school and a book for them to read about the holiday of Eid. I really liked this because it gave my brother a chance to get excited over something in school and also these young children were being exposed to the fact that there are holidays out there they don't know about. Any non-Muslims my brother was really close with would be invited over for iftar parties too and would be able to watch my brother and the other Muslim kids make salah and my mom wouldn't exclude them when she bought Eid gifts for my brothers friends either.

-Though we never celebrated the Islamic New Year, my mom again would give us nice clothes to wear to school so we could tell people its the New Year for Muslims - even my teachers never knew that Muslims went by a different calendar. Through this eventually I was able to give one of my teachers a da'wah pamphlet explaining Islam because this triggered her interest in it. In middle school the few Muslims would get together and have iftar parties and invite some of the non Muslim teachers and classmates, I always admired some of them who fasted just for the day and some even for the entire month! Many of them asked for a copy of the Quran after experiencing a little bit of Ramadan.

-Even though we only celebrate the Eidain, many Muslims forget that Jumu'ah is also a special day for us. In the summertime and whenever we were off from school my mother would give us nicely ironed clothes to wear to Jumu'ah. The clothes we wore then we never wore for any other occasion unless it was really special. We'd leave early and be among the first people there. She'd let us have our friends over or let us spend time at our friends house. She'd cook something extra special on Fridays and was sure Thursday night to finish all her cleaning. There is not a single Friday I remember coming home from school and not seeing the lines from the vaccum on the carpet indicating she'd vaccumed and there would be a fresh smell in the air, sometimes oil burning in the corner or the carpet powder smell still lingering. The beds would have crisp, clean sheets and my father would come home early from work to attend Jumuah salah with us and take us out if we thought of anywhere to go.

Despite disliking my younger childhood memories of holidays and how my parents never helped me feel better about not celebrating xmas and so on... I cherish the memories I made in my early teen years when we started practicing and made our Islamic holidays more special. We never went on vacations or had over the top parties... actually we never had parties! haha... but the time we spent as a family, the special customs we had during Eid and Jumuah complete my childhood memories, and rank highest. When other Muslims are discussing what theyll wear to go trick or treating or the awesome turkey their mom made for Thanksgiving, or even now, the roses their husbands bought them on Valentines Day...I smile to myself and remember how wonderful my mother made Eid for us and the special feeling and warth that filled the home on these joyous days. Even when, alhamdulillah, my father returned from Hajj when I was a sophomore in high school - we didn't throw a big party or anything. We wrapped some presents he brought back for people, whoever visited was offered Zam Zam water, and spent time together and thanked Allah for his safe return. We huddled together in the room sipping hot chocolate while my father shared his Hajj stories for the next following nights. I loved how we didnt need to spend money or do over the top things to have fun with one another.

I hope inshaAllah as my family grows we can make the Eidain more and more special. I already enjoy Fridays when I iron my 1 year olds clothes and dress him nicely for Jumuah, and when my husband would occasionally dab Yusuf's head with some of his oil haha. I dont want my child(ren) to ever feel left out or anything during the holiday seasons, but like myself, to remember how much fun Eid is.

I pray the families of our generation, whether they have kids yet or not, can also practice these traditions in their household. I see more and more Muslims getting excited for Thanksgiving and birthdays than they do for Eid. More Muslims are making time to attend birthday and holiday parties than they are making time to go out for Jumuah. Its time we start cherishing our OWN holidays more and stop trying to fit in with everyone else and give time to their holidays, most of which now are unfortunately commercial and the true teachings and traditions are lost anyway.


Fara said...

This is sooo true! People need to stop getting their kids involved in these other holidays its not good at all, take pride in your Islam!

Umm Travis said...

What a beautiful post sis! You perfectly express how I feel, and why I think we shouldnt celebrate the other holidays. Such a lovely reminder, jazackallah khair!

And ma shaa Allah about your brother, I got chills when u mentione dhe was in the musjid while others were trick or treating. May Allah reward him!

Adventurous Ammena said...

masha'allah, nice post sis... insha'allah we can all experience what you had during your teens for ourselves or our children

Random Muslima said...

Salamu alaykum sister, mashaAllah such a lovely post!
As a convert I have to create our own traditions (decorations, food, clothing like you told too) to to make the Eidain feel festive and subhanAllah for years it was such a task, but according to my sons comment, he never realized that since mashaAllah he has developed love for eid...
Just loved your post ukhtee! MashaAllah BaarakAllah.

NiDa said...

SubhanAllah sis, very true. May Allah reward your parents sis for bringing your family up in this comandable way :)!

erin said...

MAsha'Allah I love this post... really inspiring and lovely :)

Anonymous said...

mashALLAH!!muslims frm bosnia??subhanALLAH ive never met any bosnian muslim fam like urs its waaaaay better than mine mashALLAH may ALLAH reward ur parents with good..also mashALLAH to ur bro! he younger than u??

Anonymous said...

oh wait!forget about the bosnian blog..but the other stuff

Lazeena Umm Yusuf said...

ameen haha. its okay! my brother is 14 now alhamdulillah in case you're still wondering.
p.s. i love bosnians!

ModestJustice said...

Whoops I meant to post it on here :D

But I wanted to buy Funslides >.>

Anonymous said...

Asalamu Walaikum Sis,
Thanks for sharing your experiences and views. I have linked this post over at Safiya's as she hosting a discussion about Muslim students:
You and your generation are the missing link to help Muslim families with school-aged kids maneuver through these complicated years.
Thanks again! Jazakallahu Khair!
Love and Peace,
~Brooke aka Ummbadier

Anonymous said...

haha--I DID type missing link-short people distracing me ;)

UmmYaseen said...

Asalamu Alaikum.

Very Nice Blog MashaAllah. As a Niqabi I haven't experienced negativity but positivity. I guess Allah is really in my corner while I travel through this dunnya alhamdulillah. Before I was married I worked as a Social Worker and Substance Abuse Counselor and always had everyone wanting me as their helper (and these were non-Muslim women). I love your blog and I hope and make Dua that Allah continues to keep you on his straight path. Everything is so true about what you mentioned. Masallama