As a little girl I remember watching soap operas with my parents, every day from 12:30-3:00. There were three different shows, but of the three, only one was the one not to be missed, was on from 1-2pm. During that time, we watched the stories of the Horton and Brady families unfold and I’m sure that if you asked me now, I’d be able to tell you about them all, just like they were extended family members even though I’ve not watched now for over 10 years.
Out of all of the days I spent that hour watching, in my parent’s living room or the TV room at the student union, my most favorite episode every year was the annual Christmas Tree Decorating episode. I looked forward to that day as much as some people looked forward to Oprah’s Christmas Show. I called it Ornament Day.
Mr. and Mrs. Horton had this tradition that they had special hand painted ornaments for each member of their family. During the episode, they would either hang their own ornament, or one of the Hortons would hang the ornament and you would be treated to a montage of reasons why that person was so special in the family. Highlights of each member’s life, or pivotal points in their story were played with a special song that the viewer would associate with that character.
So, why am I giving you the crib notes on The Horton Family from Days of Our Lives? Well, it was always my dream to have a tree like that, full of special name bulbs for each member of my family.
Khaled and I had our first official date on Christmas Cookie Weekend. Normally, you wouldn’t think much about that fact, but the truth is that I told him we needed a Christmas tree in his apartment not more than two weeks afterwards, and we went out and bought one. The next weekend we were up at Bronners’ Christmas Wonderland buying our name ornaments.
I guess now that 15 years have passed, I can see that somehow I knew we would be building our own ‘Horton Family’ when we ordered those ornaments. We were committing to building the foundation for what has become our close knit, interwoven family that is always together and in each others’ business and fiercely loyal to each other.
So, what is the point in all of this? Well, I didn’t truly grasp the complications of celebrating Christmas with Muslim children until my daughters, Pea and Kate, came home from school and told me that celebrating Christmas was haraam (forbidden) in Islam. Boy that was a tangled, beast of a mess to sort out! Depending on how strict you follow the letter of the book; some families do think that celebrating any holiday other than Eid ul Fitr and Eid ul Adha is completely wrong and non-negotiable. In our family, we celebrate my cultural holidays, the American Tradition, as well as the Islamic, Egyptian holidays.
Every year since that very first Christmas together, I go and buy the yearly Li-Bien ornament from Pier One, and when we are decorating, we tell the story of each item on the tree. I tell the story of how Baba brought home the train that encircles the middle of the tree, and the few homemade ornaments we have from the children’s time at non-religious schools. We also have the crystal ornaments my grandmother gave me the year before she died; the girls love to see me hang the glass angels, and tell them about Grandma Patricia. I have many ornaments that were on my mother’s tree as we were growing up, that were passed down to her from her mom. My second mom gives us all Hallmark ornaments each year, the children love to hang their own. We have special treasures from Great Grandma’s house that we bring out during our Christmas decorating and that always leads to remembering our time with her.
Our tree is a reflection of the years we have spent together, and the history of our family, much like the Horton Family Tree, and the stories we tell are of loving moments, memories that my children can tell just as well as we can.
Every year we visit the Lights before Christmas at the zoo before the weather gets too bad and we love to drive through certain neighborhoods in our town and see who added to their display and who decided not to decorate this year. I do my very best to send out Christmas Cards on a timely (and sometimes not so timely basis) and we collect and display the cards we receive in the arch of our kitchen. We sing non-religious songs (usually by The Chipmunks and other pop artists) and we have a lot of fun over the winter break hanging out together.
It is part of my family tradition to bake dozens upon dozens of frosted cookies with the ladies of my family, so to continue this with my generation; my sister in law brings over my nieces and joins my mother, daughters and I in baking for an entire day, gathering for an abbreviated version of Cookie Weekend. I started a new tradition in using graham crackers to build ‘Gingerbread’ houses to decorate and display. On the night we celebrate Christmas with Aunt Carol, we watch The Polar Express while snuggled under comforters all together on the sofa. We visit my family, and we Skype with Khaled’s family, all who wish us a Merry Christmas.
Our children have come to accept that we live in a home where Mommy was raised Christian, and it is perfectly ok, and fun, to celebrate the holidays and traditions that Mommy grew up celebrating. Most often the mixed culture families that we are friendly with leave town to avoid the holiday altogether. They don’t have a tree, they don’t have the lights, they don’t get to celebrate that part of their culture that is not only about religion, but about the love of family. I am blessed that this isn’t an issue for us.
Kristina ElSayed is a family keeper, a writer and a substitute teacher who strives to be a Renaissance Woman in the Mid-West. You can find her talking about living an Islamic Life and Parenting Muslim Children @ MyIslamicLife.Wordpress.com.