Monday, 24 December 2012

A Muslim Celebrating Christmas? - Sarah Ager

For my family, Advent was always heralded in by the arrival of the plastic tree from the dusty loft and the annual untangling of lights. As the years went by, I slowly overtook the tree in height but my role as chief artistic director remained unchallenged for over two decades. The little knitted stockings on the tree housed chocolate coins which my brother and I would hunt for every morning and, along with a chocolate Celebrations Advent calendar, these formed a staple part of my annual Christmas countdown.

Then, of course, all those glittery baubles went flying up in the air two years ago when I became a Muslim and Ramadan suddenly became my main festival. As I'd only been fasting for two years, I hadn't developed any traditions for that particular festival yet. I was stuck in an awkward transitional phase where I still felt a bit at a loss when Christmas came along and, much like my annual Christmas lights, found myself in a bit of a tangle!

The Plastic Tree I Eventually Outgrew

I'd always been very traditional when it came to Christmas. I wanted to uphold each family tradition, from opening one present on Christmas Eve to leaving a shoe outside the door for Santa to hide (to his day, I've got no idea where this concept came from!). Bearing this in mind, a shake up like my conversion was pretty unnerving. I began to question everything that had once been so stable. 

What traditions would I keep? What should I avoid? 

Certainly, it was with a heavy heart that I gave my portion of crispy pigs-in-blankets to my brother last Christmas. Although he seemed pretty happy to have discovered this unexpected upside to my conversion! 

My opinions were constantly evolving on the subject of Christmas. I found myself offering diverse views to different people depending on which day they asked me. Like a shaken up snowglobe, it takes a while for the flakes to settle back down again. In fact, I revisited last year's Christmas article and found I could no longer relate the opinions I'd expressed back then.

I no longer feel like I've lost something. Conversion or not, Christmas would never be the same as it was when I was a child. I'd been worried that converting would mean I'd never be able to relate to Christmas again. Instead, I found that the upheaval made me reflect on why Christmas was important to me in the first place. 

Christmas 6 Years Ago

Having a perfectly symmetrical and colour-coded Christmas tree just doesn't matter anymore. What matters is being able to board a flight to see my family over a thousand miles away. What matters is the seemingly banal - hearing my mum fret that I've lost or gained weight, catching up with my Grandparents over a cup of tea, and chatting late into the night with my brother about everything and nothing.

Just being there.

And that warm fuzzy feeling we get from being with those we love is something that transcends religious red tape or cultural baggage. Whether we're speaking about religious festivals or celebrations like Thanksgiving, in the end, they all boil down to two very simple concepts: being thankful and being together.

How has your views towards holiday traditions changed over the years? 

Monday, 10 December 2012

30 Ways To Say "Turtle"

Recently, I was kindly invited by Jeanette Kramer (@jeanettekramer) to write a Guest Post for Latitude International Education:

The article looks at the surprising benefits of learning a new language, the advantages of attending a language school and the first-hand experiences of an Erasmus student in Bologna. 

Other interesting articles on the Latitude Website include:

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