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How This Muslim Came to Love Christmas

Coming to terms with America’s most problematic holiday.

The world acquires a cohesiveness this time of year—all things rendered in red and green, Christmas lights wrapped around every roof, the tip of a festive evergreen visible in every store display. The Starbucks pastry case earns a few reliable seasonal additions, frosted sugar cookies and gingerbread-flavored desserts posed decoratively, ornaments you can eat. Cold hearts have trouble resisting the warmth of Andy Williams’ old-timey voice belting from every department store speaker, “It’s the most wonderful time of the yeeeeeeear!”

Is it friendlier this time of year? It feels friendlier. I am determined to believe that every grocery store cashier I encounter truly does wish me happy holidays, even though I celebrate not a single one.


I’m a Muslim who loves Christmas. I know plenty of people like me, wayward Muslims with Christmas stars in their eyes. My roommates and I have briefly entertained the idea of buying a non-denominational pine tree, decorating it with non-denominational ornaments and then drinking some non-denominational eggnog. We don’t celebrate Christmas, but we pretty much celebrate Christmas. Do we go to Mass or trade presents? No. But do we partake in every new peppermint flavored item on the Whole Foods’ shelves? Do we sing along enthusiastically to Mariah Carey’s moving rendition of “All I Want For Christmas Is You”? Do we tour our local neighborhood Christmas light displays with spiced apple cider in our mugs and true joy in our hearts? Every damn year.

Should you ask me, I will voice some pretty strong opinions on Judeo-Christian hegemony and the commercialization of religious ritual. My liberal arts education had me reading enough of Guy Debord and Roland Barthes to know I’m not supposed to enjoy Christmas caroling this much. I’m well versed in all the arguments against the excess of American holiday consumption. A first-generation immigrant experience has armed me with all the cynicism I need to say, “Capitalism is Christmas’ second religion” with very little irony, and I’m a person who likes irony. I’m a disaffected third culture kid alienated from almost every element of mainstream American norms.

But every year, around this time, I find myself vulnerable to the charms of yuletide merry-making. As a kid, I grew up on the sidelines of all the best merry-making—you ever get pulled out of class when you were about to start making gingerbread houses? It’s true heartbreak. If my teacher were throwing a holiday party, my mom would take me to the mall instead, which only served to compound my feelings of exclusion. It’s at shopping malls, after all, that you experience Christmas in profusion: a cacaphony of carols streaming out of every storefront, a jolly Santa sitting under a super-sized Christmas tree, a line of kids with Christmas lists that spanned the length of their bodies.

There are Muslim holidays, but in the U.S., they lack the immersive, all-encompassing nature of Christmas. Eid comes twice a year, and one of those times it’s preceded by a month of fasting called Ramadan. In Muslim-majority countries, Eid celebrations are as grandiose as Christmas festivities in the U.S. In the days leading up to Eid, the air is charged with positive energy. People are nicer. Crime rates goes down. If ever the clouds were to part and Jesus himself were to emerge from their pillowy tendrils, it would only seem like a natural result of our collective spiritual power.

But here in the U.S., our small numbers and physical distance from each other fragment the Muslim community. Eid loses the vivacity that communal celebration lends it. The ethnic diversity of the Muslim-American community means that culturally specific traditions no longer apply on a collective basis. And there is no institutional support; Christmas thrives, and thrives so well, because it has institutional support. You don’t get days off of work or school for Eid in the U.S. There are no door-buster gift sales on the last night of Ramadan. Most restaurants don’t offer special Eid holiday dinners.

The difference is that Christmas is not something we celebrate anymore, but an experience we consume. It’s not just food and presents: it’s sights, smells, and sounds. All packaged very tightly in shmaltz and nostalgia and delivered to us via a multitude of distribution channels. Covers of classic Christmas songs, holiday lights, seasonal chocolate bars at the grocery check-out, decorated pine trees in the lobby of every office building—all of it elaborately engineered for the production of a feeling.

And that feeling is belonging. As a kid, my relationship to Christmas was contentious because my relationship to America was—and sometimes still is—contentious. It was characterized largely by my exclusion from the shared culture. And buying a Christmas tree or making a gingerbread house might feel like a capitulation to the Christmas Industrial Complex or a betrayal of my otherwise dissident spirit. But America’s Christmas makes belonging into a material acquisition process and it’s a thing that’s hard to resist when belonging feels this good. The truth is, it doesn’t care who you are, or which God you believe in. Christmas—much like capitalism—claims us all as worshippers.

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via Collection of the New-York Historical Society / Wikimedia Commons

Fredrick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818. At the age of 10 he was given to the Auld family.

As a child, he worked as a house slave and was able to learn to read and write, and he attempted to teach his fellow slaves the same skills.

At the age of 15, he was given to Thomas Auld, a cruel man who beat and starved his slaves and thwarted any opportunity for them to practice their faith or to learn to read or write.

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Culture
via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

On April 20, 1889 at the Braunau am Inn, in Upper Austria Salzburger located at Vorstadt 15, Alois and Klara Hitler brought a son into the world. They named him Adolph.

Little did they know he would grow up to be one of the greatest forces of evil the world has ever known.

The Hitlers moved out of the Braunau am Inn when Adolph was three, but the three-story butter-colored building still stands. It has been the subject of controversy for seven decades.

via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

The building was a meeting place for Nazi loyalists in the 1930s and '40s. After World War II, the building has become an informal pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis and veterans to glorify the murderous dictator.

The building was a thorn in the side to local government and residents to say the least.

RELATED: He photographed Nazi atrocities and buried the negatives. The unearthed images are unforgettable.

For years it was owned by Gerlinde Pommer, a descendant of the original owners. The Austrian government made numerous attempts to purchase it from her, but to no avail. The building has served many purposes, a school, a library, and a makeshift museum.

In 1989, a stone from the building was inscribed with:

"For Peace, Freedom

and Democracy.

Never Again Fascism.

Millions of Dead Remind [us]."

via Jo Oh / Wikimedia Commons

For three decades it was home to an organization that offered support and integration assistance for disabled people. But in 2011, the organization vacated the property because Pommer refused to bring it up to code.

RELATED: 'High Castle' producers destroyed every swastika used on the show and the video is oh-so satisfying

In 2017, the fight between the government and Pommer ended with it seizing the property. Authorities said it would get a "thorough architectural remodeling is necessary to permanently prevent the recognition and the symbolism of the building."

Now, the government intends to turn it into a police station which will surely deter any neo-Nazis from hanging around the building.

Austria has strict anti-Nazi laws that aim to prohibit any potential Nazi revival. The laws state that anyone who denies, belittles, condones or tries to justify the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity shall be punished with imprisonment for one year up to ten years.

In Austria the anti-Nazi laws are so strict one can go to prison for making the Nazi hand salute or saying "Heil Hitler."

"The future use of the house by the police should send an unmistakable signal that the role of this building as a memorial to the Nazis has been permanently revoked," Austria's IInterior Minister, Wolfgang Peschorn said in a statement.

The house is set to be redesigned following an international architectural competition.

Communities
via Chela Horsdal / Twitter

Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle" debuted the first episode of its final season last week.

The show is loosely based on an alternative history novel by Philip K. Dick that postulates what would happen if Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan controlled the United States after being victorious in World War II.

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Politics
via Mike Mozart / Flickr

Chick-fil-A is the third-largest fast food chain in America, behind McDonald's and Starbucks, raking in over $10 billion a year.

But for years, the company has faced boycotts for supporting anti-LGBT charities, including the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

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In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

via Wikimedia Commons

"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

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Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?

Lifestyle

Oh, irony. You are having quite a day.

The Italian region of Veneto, which includes the city of Venice, is currently experiencing historic flooding. Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro has stated that the flooding is a direct result of climate change, with the tide measuring the highest level in 50 years. The city (which is actually a collection of 100 islands in a lagoon—hence its famous canal streets), is no stranger to regular flooding, but is currently on the brink of declaring a state of emergency as waters refuse to recede.

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