Christmas: a 25-year long love affair
To a Muslim kid growing up in a predominantly ‘Christian’ society, the 25th of December is always going to evoke a complex mixture of envy and joy. The joy is easy to identify – the reign of the mince pie; carol concerts; nativity plays; exchanging Christmas cards; Santa. The envy is somewhat more muted – no mater how much we loved Eid, it could never quite match up to Christmas in terms of sheer scale.
Christmas is so BIG, so obvious, so all-encompassing. There’s no need to explain what it is or why it is celebrated – for anyone who has had to explain the concept of Eid to children through the notion of fasting and Abraham almost-but-not-quite sacrificing his son at God’s behest will understand the bewilderment that follows. In my experience, children in Muslim families often secretly wish that Eid was a bit, well, more of a THING. Case in point: one year, my sister tried to make an ‘Eid tree’ out of the skinny, wilting palm tree that stood in the corner of my parents’ living room. She artfully draped bits of tinsel from its anaemic looking leaves and tied coloured streamers to the branches in a valiant attempt to make the tree look festive. By the time she had finished, the vision could have made the stoniest of all Grinches weep: a child’s quest for festive joy resulting in a rather dismal looking end.
As I grew up and became increasingly able to distance Christmas-as-celebration from Christmas-as-corporate-exploitation, I became increasingly protective over my celebrations of Eid. As Muslim kids, Eid was our thing and rather than trying to make it fit the ‘Christmas mould’ we should just appreciate Eid for what it is – an opportunity to wear new clothes, eat loads of food and finally capitalise on the fact that you have an enormous extended family by collecting armfuls of presents and crisp, cool cash. Except – the allure of Christmas never really went away, and now, at the age of 25, it still hasn’t gone away. I don’t think it ever will. Why? Because for me, Christmas is the perfect holiday: an abundance of delicious food, great television, lots of parties, decorations and cosy wintery weather. And all without the hassle of having to buy presents, or entertain vast numbers of relatives – and, on top of that, you don’t have to worry about making up time at work or school because everyone else is off is work too (a joy denied to those of us whose religious celebrations don’t coincide with the Gregorian calendar of festive fun).
So there we have it: I am a positive Yule-ophile. And it’s getting worse: last year I bought my first ever Christmas tree for my flat, along with a wreath for the front door. (Although my family has always been rather pro-Christmas, we never had a tree). Instead, our Christmas spirit was demonstrated by my mum insisting that my dad buy a stack of blank video cassettes (this was in the days before Sky+) and my sisters and I would comb through the Radio Times to see what we wanted to record. Wallace and Gromit was always a favourite, along with feature length films we had been too uncool to see in the cinema when they had originally been released. As a family divided between ardent Royalists (my mum) and Republicans (my sisters and I) with my dad floating somewhere in between, we don’t usually listen to the Queen’s Speech but maybe I’ll give it a go this year – or listen to whichever alternative crackpot Channel 4 have managed to rope in. And we always have Christmas dinner. In fact, Christmas food shopping is my favourite thing, possibly in the world. Loading up the trolley with gigantic foil trays, sacks of King Edward potatoes, and armfuls of mince pies is my idea of heaven. And then there’s the meat. Last year I cooked up a giant capon, the year before that we did turkey, and this year I am frantically trying to source a halal goose in time (although I fear I may have left it a little late). I always do roast potatoes, sprouts, carrots and gravy. Chipolatas, brandy pudding and sausage stuffing are obviously usually off the menu, although this year I’m thinking of making a halal lamb sausage version of pigs-in-blankets (I may have to market them in a less porcine way to convince my dad to try them – maybe sheep-in-blankets?). I make a mean mulled apple juice which I think will go down a treat, and I have read the BBC Good Food Christmas Magazine back-to-front and upside-down. So food-wise I’m all set for the most wonderful time of the year.
In fact, all I’m waiting for now is for the office to close for the holidays, my train ticket back up North to arrive in the post, and the Channel 5 Christmas Eve screening of Miracle on 34th Street to make my season. Merry Christmas, one and all!
by Shahnaz Ahsan
Shahnaz Ahsan is an exiled Yorkshire-lass living and working in London. She blogs about writing things at shahnazahsan.tumblr.com and cooking things at dinewithsha.tumblr.com