The following post is not intended to offend, so please make sure you have your unoffendable ears on … and now that I have everyone’s attention and everyone’s back is up in anticipation, here we go:
You would think that my relief at not having to run around buying last-minute gifts, bake up a houseful of edibles, and decorate said house inside and out would be the overwhelming feeling right about now. And it’s true, being Muslim around Christmas has its percs. But for most of my life, this time of year sent me into an enormous funk. I love Eid(s), but there was just something about the way Christmas was presented that used to make me wish that my family could forget about all the theological implications and go all out. (To be fair, my mom bought a Christmas tree in France and had it shipped to California when we moved, and I vaguely recall stockings near a fireplace, and yes, that would be me next to Papa Noel himself)
|I don’t know why I look drugged, I was actually a very cute kid. My mom (that cute lady holding me) says I screamed the minute I saw the ole man and wouldn’t let him touch me – note his folded hands.|
It didn’t help that my best friend in high school was the daughter of our city’s Martha Stewart. Going over to her house any time from November 26th onward was an exercise in sadism. No gaudy baubles here. Every inch of their house was so tastefully decorated in muted, winter tones – the whole thing could have stepped out of a Currier and Ives lithograph (this was in California!) while Harry Connick Jr.’s Christmas CD was piped into every room.
As I got older and grew to learn more about Eid, I grew to appreciate the meaning of my own holiday more, but I knew that it would never become the winter wonderland that Christmas was. A big part of that was because of the adherence to the lunar calender. As much as the sighting of the new moon added to the anticipation of the day, it made things hard to plan. Even more, because the lunar year is shorter, the holidays could fall on any season. It was this lack of seasonal tie-in that made it hard to – for lack of a better word – Christmas-ify Eid.
In the back of my mind, I guess I had always seen this as a bad thing without realizing it. AND THEN, in walks my new best friend Willow Wilson (full disclosure, I haven’t actually ever met Willow, and she doesn’t know I exist, but I’m sure we’d be best friends if we ever did meet), the author of Butterfly Mosque. In one short paragraph, she turned my angst about the peripatetic nature of our holidays and made it into something that puffed up my chest in happiness:
Sayeth the good lady Willow:
Festivals and fasts are unhinged, traveling backward at a rate of ten days per year, attached to no season. Even Laylat ul Qadr, the holiest night of Ramadan, drifts – its precise date is unknown. The iconoclasm laid down by Muhammad was absolute: you must resist attachment no only to painted images, but to natural ones. Ramadan, Muharram, the Eids; you associate no religious event with the tang of snow in the air, or spring thaw, or the advent of summer. God permeates these things – as the saying goes, Allah is beautiful, and He loves beauty – but they are transient. Forced to concentrate on the eternal, you begin to see, or think you see, the bones and sinews of the world beneath its seasonal flesh. (Butterfly Mosque, page 74)
When the dates of the holidays drift, you are forced to focus on the holiday itself solely for its sake. There is nothing significant about – say, for example – November 9th except that it is Eid (with all that that means) this year. And don’t get too attached, because next year it’ll fall in October, and before you know it, it’ll be in the middle of summer. This was such an epiphany for me that I had to share. I hope it resounds as much with my Muslim readers as it did with me when I first read it.
For everyone else, Happy Holidays. I pray that they bring you every goodness.