x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

A seasonal holiday celebration

I thought I'd have to convince my husband, but he's been bitten by the Christmas bug already, if his excitement at decorating our little tree was anything to go by.

A few days ago, Mr T decorated his first Christmas tree. Christmas music was blaring in the background, a cinnamon and spice candle had cosied up the apartment and we had plans to finish up the evening with a mug of hot cocoa and ginger snap cookies. It was, to me, the perfect evening, watching my husband frown in concentration at our shoulder-high, fake silver tree before placing a blue ornament on just the right branch, then turning to me for reassurance that he had done well in his choice.

He had never had a Christmas tree before. And me, being Muslim and religious and practising and brought up by my wonderful, pious parents, I've had way too many trees to count, both fake and real, miniature and large.

It wasn't always like this: I was born in Kuwait, and lived there until around age nine. I don't have any memories of Christmas there, save for some crafts we did in school around December. It wasn't so "in your face" to make a child eager to partake. After all, as children, we had Eid and all the presents we got then to look forward to.

But growing up I got to live in Cyprus, Syria, Jordan, Canada and Denmark - countries where Christmas time starts in November and doesn't let you go until mid-January. And because of the festivities of the holiday, one can't help but want to be a part of it all.

In our family, celebrating Christmas was tweaked until it felt just right for us. For us, it was never about an elaborate Christmas dinner (I don't think my mother has ever roasted a turkey, and I certainly don't plan to). It wasn't about reading A Christmas Carol or Santa coming down a chimney or us waking up to presents under the tree. It was an excuse to decorate our home, have a fun evening as a family, watch a silly Christmas movie with fairy lights twinkling in the darkened room, and eat a ridiculous amount of candy cane. Then, on Christmas day and the days following, we'd dress up in our best clothes and visit all our Christian friends, just like they'd visit us for Eid.

Mr T, it seems, has been bitten by the Christmas bug as well, if his excitement at decorating our little tree was anything to go by. Certainly, he's biased: he embraces anything that puts a smile on my face. Nevertheless, I've noticed he has his own favourite customs about this time of year. Mainly, eating German stollen or Italian panettone for breakfast.

I thought I'd have to persuade Mr T to get on the Christmas wagon with me. I had a whole lecture planned, about how putting up a few decorations and dancing to Mariah Carey's Christmas album didn't mean I was any less Muslim; it just meant I was ready to embrace any excuse to celebrate, and having a theme just made it easier to decorate.

I needn't have worried. As soon as I hung two stockings on the drawer knobs of our dining room hutch, he figured it out.

"You're expecting presents, aren't you," he said, not really asking.

As if I would let an opportunity to demand a present out of Mr T pass me by.