Christmas: Cultural or Religious?
As a Muslim, Christmas has never been anything that I have celebrated. I spend much of the Christmas season watching from the outside, and not through eyes of yearning, but just as a spectator. I watch the stress of shopping for presents and the decision of which family members Christmas day will be spent with. When I was younger, I took part in the school Christmas plays (once I played Alien number 2 – I’m not sure which version of the Nativity Story that was), exchanged Secret Santa presents with my friends, and even at one point, wrote Christmas cards to all the other girls in my class. Participating in all these festive actions wasn’t me being actively conscious that I was getting involved in the Christmas celebration, but rather I was just doing what everyone around me was doing. With age came more appreciation and love of my faith, that I decided to no longer get involved in Secret Santa (it was way too stressful for me anyways), not attend the Christmas Parties (I’m a homebody, I’d rather stay in) and be fine with the fact that I didn’t have to participate in Christmas festivities, after all, it was just like any other day in my house.
For many around the world, Christmas is a celebration that they have wholeheartedly embraced, celebrate to the fullest and has created many national and familial traditions. However, when you really dig deep within the many celebrants of this holiday, you will find there is a mixture of beliefs within the people. The majority, as you would expect, are Christian, yet you also have atheists, agnostics, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs and even Muslims celebrating this religious holiday. Let me play devil’s advocate for one moment: how can you as either someone who has no belief in God or someone who is of a differing religion, celebrate a holiday intended to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ? This is exactly why for me, I feel as if Christmas now is more of a cultural festivity than that of a religious one. So much money is pumped into this one day in order to get the most out of people. From the moment we put away our Halloween costumes, Christmas trees and lights start being put up, Christmas jumpers are on sale and of course highly anticipated Christmas adverts appear all over TV.
Speaking of Christmas adverts, did anyone catch the Tesco one? Well, to give you a quick summary, the advert shows a variety of families cooking the turkey for Christmas lunch, even including a few family squabbles to keep it authentic. It ends with the tagline “Everyone’s Welcome at Tesco”. Cute, right? Well, it caused a bit of a stir, as the one-minute ad featured a Muslim family, which you can imagine did not sit right with some racist bigots, hailing it as “offensive”. But it also created some criticism from the Muslim community, myself included, who felt that the use of a Muslim family felt rather gimmicky and was a forced attempt at representation, especially as we all know very well that Muslims (and I’m speaking generally here as I know this is not the same for all of us) do not celebrate Christmas. This feeling was also backed up by the fact that Tesco, upon investigation, were not even supplying halal turkeys in their stores, despite insinuating Christmas is for everyone. Doesn’t sound like everyone’s so welcome now, does it? But despite this, here we have a massive British business promoting Christmas and trying to include a sense of diversity to show that, actually this celebration is for everyone and is inclusive for all people, whatever their background and faith.
It’s not just here in the UK that there is a blurred line between Christmas being a cultural or religious holiday. Even looking at places, such as Dubai, which lies in the UAE, a “Muslim” country, Christmas takes centre stage. Christmas trees dressed in masses of lights are erected, even some fake snow makes an appearance to make the city feel more Christmassy. But how does this really coincide with a place who’s legal system requires Non-Muslims to respect Shari’a Law (this is a set of religious principles which form part of the Islamic tradition).
I think it’s true to say that the way Christmas is commercialised nowadays has overtaken its Christian roots. As an onlooker, I would describe it as more of a cultural holiday instead of a religious one, at least here in the UK. Despite not celebrating the holiday, I do love the general positive atmosphere that fills the month of December, especially when we are in freezing cold temperatures. And anyways we all deserve an excuse to get a few presents and overeat for a day!
Written by Aisha Rimi