Muslims are damned if they celebrate Christmas and damned if they don’t.
Just take the furor surrounding the recent Tesco Christmas advert which featured a Muslim family holding Christmas gifts. Shoppers later threatened to boycott the store but it’s a thin line – if Muslims don’t join in the celebrations as it’s a Christian holiday, they’re accused of being poorly integrated.
Christmas for me has been like any other vacation day: eating the contents of your fridge ’til you can’t move and binge-watching TV. But while I don’t personally celebrate Christmas, that’s not to say others don’t.
With that in mind, I spoke to a few Muslims about what it is they *actually* do on Christmas.
And sorry to break it to you, but Muslims don’t spend the run-up to Christmas day like Scrooge. Yes, some may not do anything at all but for others, spending time with family and exchanging presents isn’t so different to anyone else on Christmas Day.
Ahmed*, 22, London, photographer
I don’t celebrate Christmas personally, but it’s important for people to acknowledge and understand that everyone has a different background and lifestyle hence why there are some Muslims who celebrate Christmas and some who don’t. Whether a Muslim celebrates Christmas or not doesn’t really bother me – I’m too worried about my own life!
On Christmas holidays, I don’t really do anything. It’s not too different to a normal day. If anything, we either see family or make the most of the classic Christmas movies that come on TV!
I speak on behalf of many when I say that it’s not only frustrating but also upsetting when people make an assumption that I’ll be against a festive holiday because of my own beliefs. Christmas is a wonderful time of the year – decorations lace neighbourhoods and cities, and the cold weather in conjunction with the warm spirit of people who have come together to celebrate is such a beautiful thing to witness.
Although I don’t celebrate Christmas, I still love the atmosphere and appreciate it.
Zainab Khan, 24, London, Digital Creative Freelancer
My family do celebrate Christmas. We haven’t always but it’s something we started in the last five or six years with some traditions. It’s a time where everyone is off work, and can come together and I love Christmas vibes.
On the day itself, we usually watch a lot of Christmas movies and this starts usually the night before to get warmed up. On Christmas Day, we wake up and open some presents. Because we have two Eids, we just do something small and usually quirky for presents.
Then we have other Muslim family friends come over for brunch where we have a big roast meal followed up board games and/or Christmas movies – usually Home Alone and Elf. It is different to a normal day because everyone is off work and doesn’t have an excuse to escape family time. My most memorable Christmas was last year as we celebrated with a family that hadn’t done anything very Christmassy before.
I think it’s fair for people to assume that Muslims don’t celebrate Christmas but that doesn’t mean it’s because it’s disliked – people shouldn’t assume that.
Sabrina, 21, Birmingham, student
Me and my family like the festivities of Christmas as we’ve always been big festive people! We love Christmas movies, German markets and the lights. It’s always been around us so we just have this excitement when it comes around every year!
I don’t find it frustrating that people assume Muslims dislike Christmas. I’ve never experienced that. Obviously, we don’t celebrate the religious side of it but we do have our own Christmas traditions.
We sometimes exchange gifts but they’re things that we already know we need. So earlier on in the year, I’ll keep note of things my sister has mentioned and then when Christmas comes, it’s seeing their faces when they realise you always knew they had their eyes on that specific thing. We’re big treaters – we always use the excuse ‘we deserve it’ whenever we order takeaway for the second time in the week!
Christmas for me is about being with your family. It’s that time of year where you know everyone who works or studies will be off on Christmas Day. So you can spend that day spending time, catching up and just enjoying some time to disconnect from the world. Also, there’s a perfect excuse to stay in your pyjamas all day!
Me and my sisters always have the same pyjamas so the run-up to Christmas Day we’ll pop into Primark and see what cute Christmas pyjamas they have and we’ll all wear the same outfit on Christmas morning. That’s our tradition.
We exchange gifts in the morning then put on a Christmas film such as Elf, Arthur Christmas and Home Alone which are definitely my top three favourites.
Then we’ll begin to prepare a big dinner. We get excited planning what we’ll make and what dessert we’re feeling. It’s always a roast dinner with the sprouts, roast potatoes and gravy. Then it’s time for evening Christmas specials. This year there’s a few we are determined to watch so we’ll get dinner done early then get our desserts, a cup of tea and chill.
That’s what it’s about for us: no errands to run, no meetings, lectures or lessons. Just time to relax.
Ayo, 21, London, student
I am a revert Muslim so most of my family is Christian but this will be my first Christmas being Muslim. I haven’t celebrated Christmas properly in the last few year anyway as I felt there was a lot of miscommunication on the cultural and Christian aspects of Christmas.
My family will be celebrating it though and they have done what they can to accommodate for my reversion to Islam and it would mean a lot to them for me to participate, so I am caught up about how much I can participate so that I am not infringing on my own beliefs.
My family opens presents and they call relatives who are abroad to wish them a Merry Christmas. We host family friends and close relatives for food and drink. I have some extended Muslim family and we see them on Boxing Day. They personally take part in the festivities as they see it as more of a cultural holiday and also a time for all the family to come together.
We have a British themed Christmas lunch during the day and then a West African themed Christmas dinner in the evening – that tradition has been like that for a few years.
It is different to a normal day because everybody is at home and present, nobody works and we spend time as a family.
I find frustrating when people just assume anything about Muslims without actually asking Muslims first or actually looking at what Islam teaches and just believing right-wing propaganda and media sensationalism.
I won’t try to speak for a community especially on this topic as we aren’t a monolith but for me on a personal level, Christmas is ultimately a Christian festival and not a Muslim one. That’s all there is to it for me.
Esmat Jeraj, community organiser
If I had to sum up Christmas in three words, it would be family, food and festivity. Both Jesus and Mary are venerated within the Qur’an – in fact we have a whole chapter dedicated to his miraculous birth. And so while Christmas may not mark the date of his birth for Muslims, it is an opportune time for remembrance and reflection.
Keeping good relations with family is an important concept within Islam, and so I celebrate Christmas as a welcome time for family and friends to be together, to share food and to strengthen relationships.
I have lots of Christmas memories as a child including selecting the bumper Christmas movies and TV specials, gathering hundreds of Christmas cards we received and hanging them around the house and having an advent calendar.
As an adult, memories include the first time I hosted Christmas lunch for extended family. Inspired by Jamie Oliver, I set about feeding the family before settling in to watch the Dr Who Christmas special.
Christmas is also a time to remember those less privileged. Every Saturday, young volunteers from Who Is Hussain run a food drive in Charing Cross, and towards Christmas they really step up the services on offer trying to ensure dignity for guests of the project.
It has all the warmth and feeling of a family gathering (with the accompaniment of Santa hats and crackers), with guests and volunteers indiscernible from one another. We all sit together, share food and talk for several hours – it is a lovely way to mark the festive period.
Some Muslims will partake in Christmas celebrations, others will not. But very few are offended by or actively dislike Christmas.
Zain Awan, 24, London, Creative Director
My local mosque attends the midnight mass locally as a show of interfaith unity. I attended one year, and it was one of my most memorable days I can recall.
Christmas Day itself is a time for family, and while we don’t celebrate as a religious festival, it’s a perfect opportunity to spend time and have a good old roast courtesy of our local halal butchers and East End spices (tandoori turkey should be a British staple).
We normally have the traditional British Christmas stipends – things like Christmas crackers, the cheeseboard and samosa chaat and mango lassi as would any British household.
Secret Santa has always been a perfect way to buy crappy presents for each other. If I’m honest, as a British Pakistani, the biggest thing for this holiday is good food and good company.
As a Muslim, I’m not hurt by when people say we shouldn’t celebrate Christmas, regardless of whether they want us to or not.
We will still have the day off, wish those that celebrate it a merry one and will continue to show how to truly season a Christmas roast.