A Muslim’s First Christmas.

Growing up, I’ve always loved Christmas time as much as a Muslim can, without being considered to be actually “celebrating” it. The songs and the lights that bring cheer to dull winter streets, the festive movies and the genuine joy that is sparked within the community this time of the year is mesmerising. Some of my greatest childhood memories are that of my mom, dressing up as Santa Claus, dropping in a whole big bag of toys for my siblings and I. As kids, my mom always got us gifts for Christmas and took us to numerous Santa visits. She was cautious that we’d never have to feel left out among our Christian community, nor be the foreign kid in every playschool who ruins Christmas on everyone else by telling them their parents said Santa isn’t real. It wasn’t until I was about eight or nine that I was explained to why Santa stopped coming and why we don’t put up a Christmas tree nor celebrate Christmas in any other way.

In my house, we’ve never celebrated Christmas. It was always a day that was like any other and the odd time could be inconvenient, ie. when my mum would forget to pick up milk or a kitchen necessity that we’d be stuck without for the day. Never the less, not celebrating Christmas in no way shape or form stopped me from counting down the days, watching the Home Alone series, nor listening to my favourite Christmas albums all throughout December. This year, Ruth’s family invited me up for my very first Christmas. It was such a warm gesture for Ruth’s parents to ask to have me over on a day that is so special and all about family. I genuinely felt nothing short of that gathered around the table with them.

My Christmas experience began a few days prior to Christmas Day. This year, Julia, Ruth and I decided to start a new tradition of a Christmas Gift Exchange Sleepover. We settled on a price limit and I offered to host for our first year of this new tradition. Julia and Ruth had already told me what they wanted me to get them, and so my job was simple enough. I asked that they get me a multitude of small things rather than one big gift. I’ve never been one to shy away from surprises and it’s probably my favourite aspect of any gifts I receive, whether it be for Christmas, my birthday or Eid – the excitement of tearing up wrapping paper, frantic to see what someone’s picked out for you. It’s always even better when someone reassures you of just how well they know you and gets you the most suitable gift. And that’s exactly what Ruth and Julia did. So, Friday night, we ordered our take-out, set up our Christmas playlist, made a list of Christmas movies to watch and I kept them annoyingly entertained as I danced and sang along to my favourite Christmas songs. I had to keep holding onto my Christmas hat, so it wouldn’t keep falling off my head.

Julia was the first to open up her gift. I was so happy to see that she loved the new pair of heels I bought her just as much as I did when I first saw them. It’s moments like these that I am so grateful that Julia and I share the same shoe size, because I can see myself borrowing those nothing less than all the time. Ruth was equally as thrilled to see that not only did I get her a gift voucher for Arnotts as she had asked, but I managed to pick up a scarf she had eyed and desperately wanted. I was so surprised and ecstatic with the gifts my friends got me. Julia got me two sets of fairy lights, three sets of fake nails, and a set of false eyelashes, a photo frame, a body scrub set, and two notebooks for my writing. I genuinely couldn’t have picked better presents for myself. It was like a selection of some of my favourite things. Ruth’s gifts perfectly captured our four years of friendship. She got me a headphone splitter, perfect for all the times we fought over who got left and right. She also got me bottle of Mulled Punch, for all the times we wined the halal way, and finally, flights to Edinburgh, for all the times we’ve complained about wanting to travel together. So, we spent the night stuffing our faces and DMC’ing. It wasn’t too long before Ruth was fast asleep and Julia and I were fighting over which Christmas movie we should watch first.

On Saturday morning, I became a firm believer of the Christmas miracle, because I got my very own. For the very first time in my life, I believed that Christmas miracles weren’t an illusion created by movies and songs. The miracle I got that day, was the most precious gift out of all the ones I had received. I couldn’t sleep that night, not even for a single minute, partially because I couldn’t stop over thinking about what had happened that morning, but also because I was genuinely so beyond excited for my first Christmas the next day.

I got out of my bed at 9am and I spent my entire morning singing to Ariana Grande’s “Santa Tell Me” on repeat. I got dressed and applied my make-up. I headed up to Ruth’s house for 12:30pm, and was greeted by several chants of “Merry Christmas”, a big hug from Lorraine at the door, swiftly followed by John, and a “sup” from Ruth. Despite her hate for hugs and Christmas, Ruth didn’t squirm too much when I hugged her and wished her a merry Christmas. Christmas – it brings out the warmth in just about anyone. Ruth and I lounged about and fired through an entire pack of Rafeallos while watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Following dinner, Susan, Ruth and I chilled to Russ for the rest of the night – the best way to chill on Christmas Day if you ask me.

All I can say about Christmas dinner is, if you haven’t had it, you must, and if you have, you understand that I am in no means exaggerating when I say it is nothing short of glorious. I nearly converted by my third bite in. It was such a heart-warming feeling, just being present, sitting at the table with Ruth, her parents and family, with good food, good wine (coke, for the Muzzie), and a ramble of stories we shared. There was laughter all around the table. I was so shocked at how fast time flies by, as Ruth and I shared a number of stories of what we got up to together over the past four years. For four whole years, I’ve been spending my free nights in Ruth’s with so many friendship traditions beginning in that house that we had no clue we would be carrying on for so many years to follow. I genuinely never feel anything less than a daughter to John and Loraine in their home, and Christmas Day was no different. Almost as confirmation, under the Christmas tree, were two big bags of presents with my name on them, sitting next to all the others.

Overall, it was an experience I will forever cherish, remember, and am grateful to have experienced with people whom I love very dearly.