But how does Santa Claus even know we are Muslim?
My parents are both immigrants from the Middle East. My mom’s family came to the United States when she was 12 years old, and my dad entered the country as an adult. Neither of them ever sat on Santa’s lap and rattled off a list of their hopes and dreams to a man with a belly and a beard. It was never part of their childhoods, and even though Baba Noel is a figure in Christian Arab culture, my parents did not ever have an emotional tie to this tradition.
I, however, went to school in a mostly-Catholic small town in Louisiana. All December, we sat in our Kindergarten classroom cutting out photos and practicing our writing skills with words like “toys,” “tree,” and of course, “Santa Claus.” My mother never denied his existence. Knowing my propensity for wanting to share every bit of knowledge that ever came my way, she would just tell me that Santa passes over Muslim children’s homes because he knows we do not celebrate Christmas. I needed more, though. This didn’t make sense to me. So I pushed and pestered, and asked again: But how does Santa Claus even know we are Muslim?
Now, I’m sure that if my mom didn’t have a 7-month-old to contend with, she could have come up with something else. Maybe she could have been creative and told me she registered our religion with Santa’s elves. I think, maybe, she just didn’t have the energy to continue lying to me. So she told me – at age 5 – that Santa was just a myth. And then she very quickly added that I should never ever tell my friends at school or else they will be very sad and cry. She promised me some new toys and gifts for the New Year. This actually became a tradition for us because my parents wanted us to return to school after break and have something share with our classmates when teachers would ask us what we had received for Christmas.
At first, knowing that Santa didn’t leave me out made me feel relieved, but that didn’t last long. As I got older, I envied the excitement and the magic of the season even more. I would still wait anxiously for the Sears holiday catalog to make it to my mailbox. I would cut out pictures and paste them onto a wishlist. I’d write a letter to Santa and give it to my teacher. But in the back of my mind, I always knew it was fake. I was just pretending.
I would watch all of the TV shows with their special Christmas episodes — the ones during which even the most cynical of the adult characters would be left believing in the magic of good old St. Nick — and I would long for that feeling. On Christmas Eve, when all of the TV channels broadcasted “The Yule Log” instead of any other programming, I would stare at the flames and lament the silence of my own night.
I promised myself that I would never let my own future children experience that feeling. As soon as my first child knew about Santa at two years of age, I started wrapping up dinosaur play sets and pajamas and a new jacket and leaving them by the fireplace. I now have three children. My youngest is 3 years old and talks about Santa with so much excitement. Sure, we are still Muslims. We don’t actually celebrate Christmas. On Christmas Eve, you won’t find us at midnight mass. But you will find us outside sprinkling “Reindeer Trail Mix” on the lawn. You will find us putting some cookies on a platter near our fireplace. My kids know that Christmas isn’t our holiday. We don’t have a stack of presents to the ceiling or a big, ornate tree. They know all about Eid Al-Adha and our other big celebrations.
But my Muslim kids will go to bed on December 24 with visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads. And when they wake up the next morning, they will find that a very inclusive Santa, one who does not even symbolize or define Christianity, has brought them a little bit of magic, excitement, and childhood. Santa’s magic will not pass my children by.
About the Author