by Ifrah Jimale : Ask A Somali
The holidays are not my favorite time of the year for two reasons. One, it is the time that I am constantly aware of how much I miss my family who are scattered all over the world. Two, I am guilty if I celebrate Christmas because that is not what Somalis do, and I am still guilty if I don’t celebrate it because my friends say I am different from your typical Somali and do everything else and am always preaching to them how we should integrate and assimilate.
My preaching stops when religion is involved. These people I am arguing with about Christmas are non-Somali Americans. The friends and family that know me, know I don’t celebrate Christmas because it is a holiday I associate with Christians. I am a Muslim, therefore I don’t celebrate Christmas, I celebrate Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. Because these holidays move around, they’re not always in the winter.
I have a lot of fond memories of time spent with my family growing up. When I left Africa, in terms of holidays, I think time froze for me. I do the minimum celebration of Eids by going to the Masjid in the morning and praying. It is just not the same anymore. I remember, we used to stay up the whole night before Eid, and in the morning our parents would bring out the brand new clothes they bought for us that they had been hiding for weeks. We took a bath and put on the clothes, and then received candies, balloons, and toys. Everything about the morning made you laugh, the sun shone brighter, the birds sang sweeter, and family and friends visited. We played a game where if you greeted someone with “Eid Mubarak” first, they had to give you a gift. Gifts were candy, a coin or a toy and it was the best gift ever. It didn’t matter what you got. Just seeing everybody, and people laughing over the fact they said Eid Mubarak the same time was just magic. Watching kids on Christmas morning is the closest thing to recreating those memories for me.
Families from Somalia still do this every year, but as for me I am on the phone with my family, telling stories of past Eids when we were together, recalling little silly things and laughing about it.
Then comes Christmas every year. I’ve been blessed to be part of a wonderful American family. I buy gifts for my little brother and sister. They don’t understand religious and cultural differences and I am not about to be the Grinch and steal Christmas from them. Christmas is their holiday, so I don’t see anything wrong with giving them Christmas gifts. There is a big difference between recognizing someone else’s holiday, and the significance it has to them, and celebrating it yourself. This is why it’s also no big deal when someone I don’t know wishes me merry Christmas. I might even say it back. I’m fine wishing people well on their holidays, just like I’d like them wishing me a happy Eid.
Now this next part is going to be about selfish people, starting with the adults in my American family, co-workers and friends who every year sign me up for secret Santa despite the fact that they know I don’t celebrate Christmas. And those who ask me if I celebrate Christmas and won’t believe when I say I do not. They still insist that I celebrate because I bought gifts for a few friends and the elderly person in a nursing home whose family doesn’t visit anymore. Because I do a lot of things like an American, people consider me “Americanized,” and to them part of being American is celebrating Christmas. I don’t even need to explain here why this is a stupid thing to think. Just ask any American Jew. I don’t want to sound like Bill O’Reilly, but it seems like a lot of people forget the religious significance of Christmas. It’s not just gifts and trees and songs about Santa. It’s a central holiday of a religion I don’t practice.
People, quit asking me if I want to participate in the Christmas activities this year. I said no last year and it is still no. I don’t have anything against Christmas. A lot of people very dear to me celebrate it, and out of respect for them, I participate in a few of the minor things. I buy a few people gifts, and if I’m invited to a Christmas party I’ll attend, but it’s not my holiday.
Ifrah Jimale (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes the Ask A Somali column for the TC Daily Planet.