Your heart is the biggest gift you can give anyone,
I know we can do it
'Cause when I look around, there's enough for everyone...”
I hummed one of my favorite Christmas songs from Ariana Grande while doing my shift as a volunteer for Leukemia Foundation’s Christmas Wrapping gift.
Then a lady who was waiting for her gift to be wrapped asked me, “Do you celebrate Christmas, my dear?”
I smiled and said, “No, ma’am.”
“Oh, so it’s not your festival? So what are you doing here?”
“I’m just giving back what I have and I really like wrapping gifts.”
The lady smiled back at me and said one of the most heart-warming things I’d heard in this December, “Ah, I really hope that I get to do what you’re doing, crossing boundaries in the name of humanity. God bless you, my love.”
On the way home, a storm raged inside my head. I did not mean to break any boundaries. As a hijabi girl in a western country, I had mixed feelings when it comes to all of these stuffs related to Christmas. I grew up being told that I was not allowed to celebrate Christmas, not even saying “Merry Christmas” to those who celebrate it. I obliged by this rule until I met people at the uni who became my best friends and who celebrate Christmas.
These friends stunned me when they gave me warm greetings during Eid celebrations. It was beautiful and I can say today that it was the first time I got to understand the meaning of religious tolerance. So when Christmas came, I return their warm greetings and it made me feel over the moon.
Then I moved overseas to continue my study. In my spare time I signed up to volunteer at the Leukemia Foundation and instantly fell in love with the work that I extended my volunteering period. When the foundation offered me some shifts for wrapping gifts during Christmas celebration, I said, why not.
At first, though, I feared that it might get uncomfortable – me wearing hijab in that Christmas wrapping gift station – so I asked the coordinator. The answer was “My goodness, of course it’s okay!”
Later, just a few weeks before my first shift, the confusion came again. During the weekly Islamic Sunday School that I regularly join as a teacher, one kid started to sing “Jingle Bells” and the others joined. Then the other teacher told them to stop because Christmas is not our celebration.
That was when it hit me: a hijabi girl who teaches kids about Islam is joining a Christmas celebration. A traitor, maybe?
But then I realized there is a clear line between a traitor and a person who tries to practice inclusivity. I just don’t see the point of us – the Muslim community – calling for inclusivity, anti-racism, and stressing that Muslim-does-not-equal-terrorist, if we ourselves are not as open to other communities. Inclusivity can start when we celebrate together.
Even more, I think we can all agree that Christmas is the time of the year when families reunite, friends reconnect. And I don’t see the harm in it. It’s not that I’m going to go to a church on December 24 and 25, rather it is that I respect Christmas values. To be clear, it’s not celebrating the belief, but celebrating the values. I believe every religious festival is precious and must be celebrated.
And can we agree at least on this fact: that anybody, regardless their backgrounds, can celebrate this most wonderful time of the year – including me?
Shafira Jumantara is a post-grad student in Australia who is trying not to let the government fund go to waste. She is the kind of person who still has faith in the government. The kind of person who always has a thought on everything but never wants to take sides (a.k.a. avoiding conflicts).