Laura El Alam

Even though a well-known holiday song calls it “the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” Christmas time can be a quagmire for Muslims who live in the West, particularly those of us with children. Wherever we go, we and our kids find our senses bombarded with Christmas stimuli: bedazzling decorations and twinkling lights, toys and gifts temptingly displayed, Christmas music playing in all the shops, delicious treats beckoning to our  taste buds.

Everyone around us seems to go into a shopping frenzy that starts before Thanksgiving and lasts well into the new year. Our children hear from non-Muslim friends about the long lists of gifts they’ve asked Santa to bring, in addition to heaps of presents they expect from family and friends. No wonder many of us suffer from FOMO — Fear of Missing Out — during the holidays.

There’s a reason Christmas is so popular: it’s a combination of most people’s very favorite things: food, gifts, family, decorations, music, and even  elements of magic (Santa, Elf of the Shelf, flying reindeer). That’s why it can be difficult for Muslim parents to convince our children that we don’t need to jump on board the Christmas train.

How can we make the day not only bearable but a gift that we can enjoy while still being true to our faith?

With a little planning, we can reframe Christmas so it’s not a dreaded time of year, but a positive one for us and our kids. We can avoid FOMO by being proactive and creative. Here are five tips:

1. Make it special for your kids.

But that doesn’t mean you have to try to make it into a “halal Christmas.” Even though their non-Muslim friends are looking forward to piles of gifts and particular foods and treats, your kids don’t need the same ingredients to make the day happy. Nowadays quality time with family is a rare and precious commodity. Your children will appreciate having your full, undivided attention. Take advantage of the day off work and school to spend time doing things they enjoy: playing board games, making crafts, discussing their favorite topics, going outside for exercise together, taking a road trip, watching a movie, or cooking a favorite meal. Being truly present with your kids is the best present you can offer them!

2. Join up with other families and make it exciting.

 You’re not the only family who isn’t celebrating Christmas!  Make plans with Muslim friends. Hold a big multi-family potluck in the masjid or at someone’s house. Bring games or plan a family-friendly Islamic lecture or trivia contest.  If you’re really ambitious, you can organize a retreat with other Muslim families at a campground or resort. Use the vacation time to invest in family, faith, and fun.

3. Or, see it as a unique, once-a-year opportunity to truly relax.

Maybe what your family really needs this year is down time. But be intentional about it so that “doing nothing” seems appealing and purposeful.

“It helps to have a plan for Christmas,” says Laila, a mother of five, “even if that plan is to do nothing so that it feels like a conscious effort and a choice to do nothing, instead of feeling like a lonely time where we are left out and deprived of the social interaction and warmth that comes with Christmas.”

“Christmas Day is great because finally no one in the family has anywhere else to go, or any pressing commitments,” adds Dorothy, a convert to Islam.

“Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are true days off for me, and I LOVE it,” explains Halima. “We basically just chill– read books, eat, play games, watch movies. They’re the most relaxing days of the year for me.”

4. Connect with non-Muslim family.

If you have family members who are Christian, it’s a good idea to strengthen the ties of kinship with them during the holiday season.

“I’m a convert so I used to spend those holidays with my Christian family,” explains Emily. “Since my grandmother has passed, my mom and aunt often come to my house on Christmas Eve and I cook the pasta meal that my grandma always cooked, then we drive around for a long time looking at lights and drinking hot chocolate. Sometimes we go to a restaurant or the movies because many are still open.”

If you’re a convert to Islam, it is permissible to spend Christmas with family.  This article offers some tips.

5. Plan ahead.

Instead of waiting until Christmas Day and suddenly realizing that your kids are bored, and almost everything is closed, and everyone is hungry but your favorite takeout place is closed, do some pre-Christmas planning. Find out ahead of time what venues and restaurants will be open, or do your grocery shopping in advance. Maybe this is the perfect opportunity to try that new halal diner in town. Many Muslim-owned establishments will be open on Christmas, so give them your business. If your family loves outdoor activities, designate a time to go sledding, skating, hiking or whatever else you enjoy. Basically, if your kids wake up on Christmas morning knowing there’s a plan for the day, they will be less likely to complain of FOMO and more likely to enjoy the rare opportunity to connect with their family.

Raised in a Midwestern Catholic family, Laura El Alam became a Muslim in 2000. She is a prolific writer whose work has been published in various magazines. Laura is the founder of Sea Glass Writing & Editing and runs the Facebook page The Common Sense Convert which aims to provide a beneficial online forum for Muslim women.