As Muslim parents, how do we approach the issue of talking about Christmas with our young children? It can be difficult to navigate the “feels” of the season, especially for younger children, while strongly upholding Islamic values surrounding the celebration of Christmas.
‘Tis the season
If you are a millennial parent, then you are probably feeling nostalgic right about now. The Christmas festivities have begun from candy cane, hot chocolate, glorious light decorations, and fuzzy Hallmark Christmas movies. You may be secretly singing along Christmas jingles at the store while making your weekly grocery run. The fancy holiday dinner and secret Santa swap are approaching at work, and it is just too tempting to give up.
If you grew up in the West and are a parent now, I completely feel your pain. It’s so easy for us to subconsciously join the festivities and even make excuses for it because the winter season brings out our inner child. The child who couldn’t go to the classroom Christmas party or write letters to Santa because mom and dad said, “Christmas is Haram.” But it never made sense to you. How can a time where people give gifts, be courteous to one another, and give back to the needy be a bad thing?
The reality is many of your parents were probably immigrants, and therefore, they were navigating uncharted territories. They were overworked and didn’t have the time to explain why Christmas was not okay. The opposite can be true, too. Perhaps your parents were busy surviving life that they did not make a big deal about joining Christmas celebrations at school. Either way, they’ve done their best and may Allah bless and honour them. Ameen.
Now it’s your turn. You are the parent. What should you do? Being the product of the social media generation is not easy. Instagram is normalizing Christmas for Muslims because it has become a commercialized holiday. Some of your favourite influencers are putting up crescent trees and are decorating ornaments in the name of celebrating winter or, better yet, celebrating the birth of Jesus because he is our prophet, too. At this point, we’ve heard it all.
Beyond social media, you have an essential decision to make for your child. Should you explain Christmas in the same way your parents did? Or should you avoid it altogether because your child is too young? These all sound like critical decisions you need to make, and I will help you simplify a few things.
It is never too early to start discussing Christmas with your child
Identity begins to form between 18 months to two years of age, and it is greatly influenced by a child’s interactions with their environment. A toddler is considered a categorical thinker and will begin to observe differences in appearances. For instance, a two-year-old might think all bearded men are Muslim, so Santa must be one too. However, preschool children will slowly phase into operational thinkers and will understand religious identity through observational behaviours. For example, a three-year-old might think that everyone prays in the same manner as Muslims. School-age children will rely on parents and important people in their lives to make sense of religion and how it’s supposed to be modelled. Once a child hits their adolescent years, religious beliefs will begin to take the same meaning as the adults in their lives. Islam will begin to be seen as a religion of choice rather than a set of cultural or familial behaviours.
As children continue to grow, so does their comprehensive understanding of religious beliefs. Therefore, it is vital to begin the conversation during every developmental phase to support their growing self-identity now and in the future.
Christmas and everything it entails should be talked about in age-appropriate ways, especially for those who live in an environment that heavily promotes it.
Talking about Christmas helps children through identity confusion
During adolescence (12-14), children go through a stage in which they re-examine their identity to find out who they are and what roles they play in society. Many children at this age will reference their upbringing and become critical of the religious choices their parents made. Research shows a significant concordance between parents’ religious beliefs and children’s developing self-identity. Parents who modelled religious beliefs and directly taught faith values to their children resulted in positive social and emotional functioning for the children (Bridges & Moore, 2002). Therefore, assimilating in the name of “they are too little,” or “it’s harmless” might cause children to experience developmental identity crises during the teenage years.
“Christmas is Haram” is not age-appropriate for two to four-year-old children
Haram is a comprehensive and robust word that children cannot cognitively conceptualize or appreciate in the early years. Instead of saying it is Haram, challenge yourself to use limited and straightforward words to tell the story about Christmas. You might be required to do a little research on your part to understand the evolution of the Christmas holiday, but it will be well worth it. This topic will continuously come up every year, and the more equipped with the knowledge, the better you will handle the endless questions.
The best approach in talking to children about Christmas is through story-telling enveloped in respect, compassion and understanding of other religions.
All while remaining firm and grounded in the beliefs and values of Islam. Taking an informative approach and not an avoidant one will only support your child’s core identity development well into adulthood.
Simplicity always wins with young children.
Children of all ages do not enjoy being lectured. Keep it engaging when an interest arises. Here are some ideas of what you can say. Remind your children of Muslim holidays that they can look forward to and make sure they are a big deal in your home and community.
Toddlers (18 months-2 years): “Oh yeah! Those light decorations look cool! They are called Christmas lights. Christmas is a holiday we do not celebrate. We celebrate Eid and will have so much fun.”
Preschool (2.5-5): “That man taking pictures with kids at the mall is dressed up as a character called Santa Claus. He does not really give gifts to people or go down chimneys. It is all pretend. As Muslims, we do not believe in him or celebrate Christmas. I can’t wait for Ramadan and Eid to come!”
School-age (6-9): “We can say, “Happy Holidays!” instead of “Merry Christmas!” because Christmas is a Christian holiday. In Islam, we believe that Isa was a special prophet, not the Son of God. In our faith we celebrate two Eids!”
Pre-teens (10 – 11): “Taking part in Christmas rituals can mean that we approve and accept a non-Islamic faith. The Prophet said, “Whoever imitates people, he is one of them.” Let us learn more about the history of Christmas together.”
Adolescent (12-14): “Your friend gave you a Christmas gift and you want to give her something too? How sweet! Make a list of her favourite things so we can get her a nice gift after Christmas is over.”
The bottom line is that we are raising the generation of Google, and therefore, we can no longer wish away necessary topics that impact our children’s religious identity. The conversation needs to happen sooner rather than later to equip our children with the fundamental tools they need to navigate the complexity of this world.
If you would like further support, please feel free to reach out to me, and I will help you navigate these discussions with your child.
In the meantime, I will be running a live workshop for Muslim kids on Christmas. We will talk about what it means, and how we can navigate it as Muslims. I look forward to seeing you there!
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Facebook: Eman Ahmed
Source: Muslim Matters