Are You Bi-Religious?
As a two-religion household (Bi-religious? Multi-religious? Inter-religious? Not sure of the proper term), we celebrate twice as many religious holidays as most families. Eid-al-Fitr, Eid-al-Adha, Christmas, and Easter, are a part of our household vernacular.
Despite growing up in a Muslim household, I heard a great deal about Christmas. It was impossible to avoid. It seemed like every kid in school celebrated Christmas. They always came back from Christmas vacation talking about the presents they received. It occasionally boggled my mind that kids would just be given a ton of presents on a religious holiday (sometimes multiple expensive gifts).
We never discussed Santa – I was familiar with him of course, but he was never a topic of conversation at school. There was never a point I “believed” in him, and as the kids from school who celebrated Christmas only talked about the presents, I’m not clear how many of them did either.
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I heard very little about Easter. It had nothing to do with religious education – Islam teaches a great deal about Jesus. We view him as a prophet who brought the word of Allah (God) to many people. The story of his birth and the crucifixion is part of Islamic teaching, though we are taught a slightly different ending to the story. I had at least a passing understanding of the meaning behind the holiday.
Islam is often viewed from the outside as a monolithic religion – we all act the same way, we all have the same goals, we all want the same thing. It’s absurd of course, but it’s an easy narrative to sell depending on the story. However, every group does this to some extent to other groups. Being a Muslim in a largely Christian country, I’m just more attuned to when I am the one being stereotyped (there are plenty of stereotypes in Muslim countries about the “average” American). How we celebrate holidays is a perfect example of the diversity that exists within religion and families.
My parents never gave us presents for our holidays – they gave us money. That may sound impersonal, but I loved it. I knew exactly what I wanted, and every time I received a cash gift I just saved it towards buying those things. I didn’t want my parents to just buy me something, I wanted to save towards the things I thought were important. It worked out well — they didn’t feel obligated to overspend on some fancy gift, and I learned the value of saving money over time to purchase things that were important to me.
Separately, the idea of telling someone what I wanted and then having them buy me that as a gift never made sense – it doesn’t seem like a “gift” if they just buy me what I want. I’ve always viewed a gift as something someone buys me that I wouldn’t buy for myself. I’m still the same way – it drives my wife insane. It’s hard to buy a Christmas gift for me given I usually say I don’t want anything (most common), or when I say I know what I want and I already planned to buy it for myself after setting aside some money over time.
There are many Muslims from different backgrounds where traditional gift giving is far more common. My wife and I have actually decided to give some type of gift to our children on Eid as well, not just money, though there is no “Eid fairy” bringing them gifts. We do try to buy them something that meets (my) definition of a gift. The point being, everyone celebrates their holidays differently, even within Islam.
Back to Easter – I knew about the gift giving tradition of Christmas and them being brought by Santa. Until my wife and I married and had kids, I had no idea that it was a part of Easter. It turns out, the Easter Bunny apparently leaves gifts on Sunday morning, the same way Santa does on Christmas morning. Nothing exotic, there’s no wish list or letter to the Bunny, but he does leave them a nice pair of clothes and lots of chocolate, and maybe couple books or something simple. The kids are equally ecstatic over these gifts as they are over any fancy or more expensive gift they get any time of year. It just proves that it’s usually the parents who let these things go overboard most of the time. Very few kids actually need ostentatious displays of gift giving to make them happy, but many parents need to give them in order to feel like they are doing it right.
I do wonder if we get carried away with the mythical creatures that bring things for our children. I will acknowledge that as a kid, I did believe in the Tooth Fairy. I still consider her the most legitimate of mythical creatures. After all, we are giving her a part of our body in exchange for money. It isn’t really a gift — it’s a tit-for-tat exchange, and we all know there’s a black market for everything.
Whither the Bunny?
As far as Easter goes — I have no idea how many other families celebrate the way we do. At some point none of our kids will believe in the Easter Bunny — I’m not sure if we’re supposed to stop the Sunday morning gifts, or just acknowledge it was us all along and continue with it the way you do with Christmas. It doesn’t really matter, because it’s the way we celebrate, and for now, it’s working for us.
What are your family’s traditions on major holidays? What do you do differently than everyone else?