It’s nearly Christmas! This means:
1. I’m having palpitations about the number of gifts we’ve bought (zero).
2. I’ve failed (again) at Christmas cards, homemade decorations, and Christmas pudding *wrings hands/hangs head in shame/yells “down with Pinterest!” and punches air with anarchic glee*
3. Everything. Must. Smell. Of. Cinnamon.
4. My selective memory/eternal optimism leave me with only romantic memories of snow (both my babies were born during snowy times). So I’m thrilled by the Daily Mail snow ‘terror’ alerts. Snow is beautiful. I love snow. I want it to snow. Snow.
5. I’m having an annual flip out with my inner grinch. I had Christmas banned as a child and (small detail) I’m not Christian, so each year I feel like a Christmas fraud and I worry my children will see through my attempts to create meaningful tradition from nothing.
mistletoe multiculturalism, and wine making it up as I go along…
I think it might be an unwritten law of blogging, parent-blogging at least, that December is dedicated to wish lists and that elf on the shelf thing, but I won’t be going there. To me Christmas is about lots of the usual fun (foooooooood, Bridget Jones on tv, all the wine, a 48 hour period of intense Christmas shopping involving tears and expletives, the tinsel debate – yay or nay?) but with an added layer of niggling worry that I’m doing it all wrong.
As the half-Iraqi, half-British, step-daughter of a Pakistani revert to Islam (I am all the hyphens), I grew up in an intersection between different faiths and cultures. We stopped celebrating Christmas after my parents began practising Islam when I was about 10, and we were herded with the psychological equivalent of hot-pokers into an Islamic ideology that was intolerant, exclusive and uncompromising. Some of the cultural changes that occurred after the ‘conversion’ were gradual, but Christmas ended abruptly. We had one year’s grace when we were allowed to put up a Christmas tree on New Year’s day as an odd compromise, but that was just weird for everyone. The following year there was nothing. After that, whenever I heard Bob and the gang sing “do they know it’s Christmas?” with their earnest, self-important faces, I’d feel terribly sad. For myself. It was obvious that Ethiopia had more pressing concerns than missing out on *cough* a-white-saviour-complex-themed *cough* Christmas, but me? I was heartbroken. What can I say? 10 is a selfish age.
As the years went on, new challenges arose that made Christmas a non-issue. I spent my teenage years battling for clarity amidst conflicting cultures and the pressures of a religious ideology that I had little respect for. Despite being mixed race, my white skin and blonde hair granted me white privilege. I felt it from a young age, especially when I saw my ‘half’ (I hate that phrase) siblings battle against racism and stereotypes that bypassed me. But my ‘whiteness’ also meant I grew up on the periphery of each of my cultures. I was the perpetual oddity; the novelty gori (white person…with loose morals) in the Pakistani-Muslim community, and to white British people I was the curious convert girl. As is often the case, my siblings and I were seen as half this and half that; lacking in culture and identity, rather than having it in abundance. Those feelings of cultural inadequacy have stuck.
My experiences leave me with conflicting ideas about multiculturalism. I see how positive and enriching it can be, but I hate that it’s become synonymous with misguided, lazy notions of tolerance. I know people want multiculturalism to work, but they need to be more considered. Communities, schools, families and individuals mustn’t assume that multiculturalism necessarily plays out as the utopian ideal of cultures existing side by side, in harmony. In reality, conflict, tribalism, prejudice and abuse cam seethe just below surface level. It’s wrong when the traditions of any ethnic group or religion trump all other value systems. And it’s dangerous. I remember my life turning upside down after being forced to convert, and how not one teacher batted an eyelid. They never questioned my upset, my transformation, or the way I retreated into my shell. Religious misogyny was played out overtly, day after day, in my life and the lives of so many girls I knew, but no one in my school, or the wider community, dared challenge the status quo dictated by religious leaders. Maybe they were worried about being seen as politically incorrect and culturally insensitive. Or perhaps, on a subconscious level, they were making the value judgement so often confused with cultural tolerance: that ethnic minorities and Muslims don’t deserve the freedoms afforded to other British children. Either way I realised pretty quickly no one would help me, so I kept my head down and focused on university, knowing it would be my escape from religious fundamentalism. A few months after starting my degree I met my now husband, was disowned, and the rest is history. And heartbreak. And freedom.
During the cultural hiatus between leaving home and having children I had to feel my way with all things festive and previously forbidden. As is the case with most parents, I want my children to enjoy things that I couldn’t and to have traditions in which they find comfort and happiness. But the guilt I was taught to associate with Christmas, birthdays, Halloween…and anything else enjoyed by the kufr (non-believers) was deeply ingrained. As time’s gone on I’ve developed into a more rational person, but I think Christmas will always be symbolic of a monumental and disorientating shift in my life. The ‘convert’ years have left me with a sense of cultural dislocation, so I continue to make up ‘tradition’ and cultural identity as I go along.