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A Muslim’s Perspective of the Holiday Season

‘Tis the season for hot chocolate, eggnog, gingerbread houses, tinsel, lights,  presents, and ugly sweaters, the “most wonderful time of the year.” Where Mariah Carey and Michael Buble are on repeat and couples take cheesy pictures in matching onesies or under the mistletoe. While this is quite a spirited time of year, and people are inclusive by saying “happy holidays,” in order to remind others that there are Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, the Islamic community sits by and admires the bright lights and decorations without hanging up any of our own.

Yes, Muslims don’t celebrate Christmas, a statement made by many of us, and yet every year, without fail, friends are still shocked to hear it. The holiday season has always been something that I have been partially a part of; going to see the state trees in D.C., getting roasted chestnuts and hot chocolate from vendors, and doing karaoke to George Michael have been pretty constant staples.  I think I find more joy in seeing people get so excited about getting into the holiday spirit, especially children. Babies and toddlers getting excited about lights and toys, the noises and new smells, and of course seeing how many marshmallows they can fit in their mouths rather than their mugs. 

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Instead of celebrating by opening presents and sitting around a pine tree, my family has made French toast, hot chai, and blasted classics from the ’60s to the ’80s for the past few years during the winter holidays.  My siblings and I laugh as we tell our dad how people are still shocked to hear we don’t celebrate Christmas, or that if friends invite us over to celebrate, they create a separate menu without the alcohol in eggnog or hot toddies, and substituting ham for chicken. Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas just as much as the next person. Participating in Secret Santa’s or White Elephants, watching Hallmark Christmas movies (thanks to my roommate for getting me obsessed with those last holiday season), and attempting to make a cohesive (or at least semi-stable) gingerbread house, and am honestly quite used to the fact that our house isn’t decorated, nor do we have a tree- because we never have.

This holiday season, due to the ongoing pandemic, celebrations are going to look a bit more odd than usual.  Christmas toasts done over Zoom or FaceTime, recording the lighting of menorahs, and sending pictures of Kwanzaa decorations, it’s going to be a bit of a shift for those celebrating. Though I know it will be difficult, and for some, it was incredibly hard during Thanksgiving, let alone the winter holidays, but I want to put something in perspective for you: Muslims observed 30 days of Ramadan and both Eid holidays in quarantine, Hindus managed Holi, Diwali, and Navarati in quarantine, Jewish families had celebrated Passover and Rosh Hashanah during quarantine, and Catholics made it through Easter, Good Friday and Palm Sunday during quarantine- are you sensing a theme? 

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Don’t misunderstand me, I understand that cultures and traditions vary with their forms of celebrations, but it’s also important to remember that we need to protect ourselves and our loved ones, especially now as the cold is beginning to set in and flu season is upon us, that we are as vigilant as possible to protect those closest to us. I promise that you will all make it through this holiday season, and though it will be difficult and even uncomfortable, know that your family and friends are a call or text away, and find ways to still enjoy the season; whether you decide on group calls to show off sweaters, sending each other recipes to finally try, or even Netflix partying holiday movies- keep the creativity going. Stay healthy, good luck on finals, and happy holidays to you lovely Hokies.

Shanzeh is a senior at Virginia Tech and is originally from Northern Virginia. She's studying multimedia journalism and minoring in international studies; you can usually find her in a cozy corner with a cup of coffee most likely listening to a podcast or watching a news relay. Shanzeh hopes to become an international correspondent and has aspirations to be writing, reporting, and photographing for a news outlet in the future.
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