Twenty-two years into her marriage, my mother finally got what she’d wished for – a Christmas tree. My mom’s not exactly pushy when it comes to asking for things she wants. We never asked, she never told us. Last year, when my mom was actually not in town for Christmas, my aunt got her Christmas tree over to our house and we set it up, realizing what we’d been missing out on.
We celebrate Christmas every year, even without a a tree.
We celebrate any event that the family can take time out for, with Christmas, Eid, New Year, Easter and birthdays topping the list. Of course, another major factor to this dual celebration is because my mother’s a Christian and my father’s a Muslim.
My siblings and I have been raised according to the teachings of Islam while my mother has always practiced Christianity freely.
The dynamics of it have never been complicated, nor were we ever pushed into either direction. From day one, we had the Azaan sound in our ears. Eventually, we were taught to pray five times a day, read the Quran and say a small Dua before going to bed. If we missed out on any of this, my mother was the first to chide. She’d be mindful of our namaz timings, nagging us into praying if we were being lazy. She woke up at Fajr to make Sehri for us, even though she didn’t have to fast and had to wake up for work about two hours later.
Growing up this way, we were always prepared the same way for Christmas as we were for Eid
Which, in my family, means greeting visitors in our night suits and then heading out for lunch or dinner. However, it was interesting to talk about celebrating these events in school, because a lot of the children back then didn’t really understand how being a Muslim and celebrating Christmas worked. Each year, I realized that the stories I told had a pattern. It went something like this:
Christmas started as soon as the clock struck 12 am
Growing up, we’d see our mother don her best attire and leave for the church around 11.30 pm for the midnight prayer. She would return around 2 am, which gave us enough time to draw her some Christmas cards, set up the table with cake and wrap the gifts we had bought for her(often, at the last minute.) Then we would wait for her to return, make her the center of attention and head off to bed after the early celebration.
Christmas is basically my mom’s favorite holiday, which meant that we had to be up at a decent time
And our routines went in this order:
A) Have breakfast
B) Have more cake from last night
C) Greet our maternal relatives
All the maternal side of my family would gather at our place for a Christmas get together. Time goes on, people grow up and grow apart, but there’s always that one moment that makes you realize where you were and how far you’ve come. For someone like me, who used to get into fist fights over presents with my other cousins, it’s when I get to those cousins’ babies in my hands and hand over presents to them that makes me think of how life has been a journey for us all, and it is our love that has kept our family together in the face of everything.
D) Have some more food
Christmas basically rakes in a multitude of plum cakes, fruit cakes, traditional sweets and chocolates for our family. Tis’ the season to
be jolly get fat.
E) Make, unmake and fuss about family plans
Bonding over a Christmas lunch or dinner with the entire family has always been the best part about Christmas. With two working parents and hectic routines of our own, it’s one of those rare days where we can all sit together at a table and eat, laugh and listen to my dad read out jokes he got on WhatsApp. (We usually try to talk over this part.)
F) Visit the Church with my mother
St. Anthony’s Church has been a huge part of my life growing up. I used to accompany my mom sometimes, when she went for mass. As a child, I wasn’t always appreciative of the majestic building but now I realize that every inch of that place is absolutely beautiful, including the people that came to pray.
Christmas prayers are serene, with hymns and verses of the Bible being read out and there is always a strong sense of unity. I still remember a few of the verses I heard when I was a child, and I remember telling my mother that yeh toh hum ne islamiat main bhi seekha tha and she would smile at me and nod with a twinkle in her eye. It was then that I truly realized that there really isn’t much of a difference between the two religions. Both taught about love, respect and humility and both are practiced by one of my parents.
All those visits and all my current visits to St. Anthony’s Church or St. Patrick’s Cathedral have always left me with a sense of peace and awe of the utter beauty of these beautiful places of worship.
Which brings me to the best part about Christmas:
My mom’s smile. At the end of it all, when it’s all over and we come back home, just knowing that she’s had a good day makes the day a whole lot better for all of us. But we know what’s going to follow. The festivities usually continue till the end of the 1st of January, where the entire process repeats.
Obviously, growing up this way, we were met with a lot of criticism.
From people who couldn’t understand our lives, straight up telling me that we’re all going to hell, to certain teachers in school telling me I was wrong in accompanying my mother to church, I learned a valuable lesson – to love and respect a person for who they are and not for what religion they follow.
I’ve often been told that I can’t celebrate Christmas or that I’m being un-Islamic by wishing my mother on Christmas day. It’s funny because I don’t ever remember asking for anyone’s opinion on the matter.
You please your God by not celebrating Christmas and I’ll please mine by having the tolerance to watch my mother celebrate something close to her heart.
I have always believed that religion is a private matter between one’s conscience and the God they believe in. You can quote a million Quranic quotes against this and I’ll quote a million and one that talk about mercy, compassion, tolerance, love and, most importantly, the pedestal given to mothers.
I personally believe it to be a privilege to have grown up in the background that I have. I take pride in being able to celebrate more festivals than others (because that means double the presents and double food), in sharing in the happiness on a global scale on Eid and Christmas and also on being able to decorate my own Christmas tree.
Sorry, guys. I’m not a photographer.
On that note, Merry Christmas to everyone celebrating.
Cover image via: christiansinpakistan.com