By Yasmin Alibhai-Brown
23rd December 2019
The first time we had a tree, turkey and all that for Christmas was in 1989, seventeen years after I had landed on these shores.
In the early years, we migrants were nervous, didn’t want to intrude on the nation’s revelries, presume too much. Time went by and we began to adapt to the new country. Early attempts to get into the festive spirit were hopeless and hilarious- crackers made from newspapers, chicken legs and potatoes smothered with chilli and my little mum Jena, who sipped too much cheap brandy which she said she was prescribed ‘for her blood pressure’. That was it. No tree, no presents, no parties.
I was married then to my first husband. Our son was at a Church of England school so he became familiar with Christmas stories and rituals. Then, one dark December, his father left us. That spring I met an Englishman and by the autumn we were dating. He knew the coming Christmas would be sad for us. So he decided to give us the most extravagant, joyous time ever: a huge tree! Presents! Turkey!. I got my first silk pyjamas! After our daughter was born, the festivities got even bigger and better. This Muslim now loves it all.
As do many other British Muslims. Asif Ahmed, 40, is particular about the turkey. It has to be organic, Halal but pre-stunned. The sausages and ‘bacon’ must be made of beef because Muslims, like Jews, are prohibited from eating pork products. The British-Pakistani GP came late to Christmas and now wants it to be just perfect. His teenagers are getting the festive season he never had as a boy: “My parents stayed within the community. Dad was a factory worker, had mates in the union, but there was no socialising. I drew imaginary pictures of our tree and made up presents.
I was a king in the nativity play and didn’t tell my folks. Christ, the prophet, is praised in Muslim holy texts but for dad Christmas was for Christians. And all about drinking alcohol. We don’t drink but do everything else now”. Other Muslim enthusiasts still don’t have trees and stockings, but do put up lights and pretty decorations. Halal birds sell out. Dinner on the 25th of December is (almost) traditional, with spiced turkey or capon, ginger and garlic roast potatoes, curried sprouts and chocolate logs. Non-alcoholic, sparkling drinks are popped open. These days some mosques ask congregations to go to midnight mass, to show respect and faith unity.
The British Bangladeshi Choudhury family goes to the local church in Essex followed by a big Christmas dinner. They use Nadiya Hussain’s recipes – Hussain won bake off and is now a celeb cook. For the last five years, they have invited an elderly, childless Scottish couple who live next door. Mrs McDonald used to find turkey bland, “but theirs is so bright and piquant, I love it”.
This natural integration and goodwill doesn’t please everyone. Purist mullahs denounce ‘infidel’ celebrations while incurable ‘Christian’ grouches want to keep foreigners out of ‘their’ festivities. Some complained when Tesco showed a Muslim family in their 2017 Christmas ad. Ahmed feels sorry for them: “They don’t know how to have a good time. We do. Too bad. Merry Christmas to them and us”.
Original Headline: I'm a Muslim and I love celebrating Christmas- so do plenty of British Muslims around me
Source: The I News, UK