Like Mohammad Hussain, I never celebrated Christmas with my family growing up because we were raised Muslim and I'm pretty sure my father enjoyed buying all of the discounted Holiday-themed candies on December 26th and onward to have us put up a tree and put gifts underneath it. No, we just starved ourselves for 30 days and then got a bunch of money from family members on Eid.
But after I became a dad and had a family of my own, I decided to break new ground and do something fun for my kids: we'd celebrate Christmas.
This is why it's very easy to identify with Mohammad's Twitter thread about celebrating his first "proper Christmas" with his roommates while under quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic. His observations, as someone who's never celebrated the holiday as a child, is coming entirely from the perspective of a new outsider to the yuletide celebratory phenomenon.
Growing up, my Muslim family never celebrated Christmas. This year I am not going home, because pandemic, so my roommates are teaching me how to have my first proper Christmas.— Mohammad Hussain (@MohammadHussain) December 19, 2020
I am approaching this with anthropological precision.
Here are a few observations. pic.twitter.com/1WARv5nax4
One of the first things he noticed is just how much time is poured into preparing for the holiday. He called the celebration a month-long "part-time job" individuals willingly engage in on their days off in order to uphold their specific traditions. It's a lot more complicated than just putting "up a tree and then [giving] gifts to the family."
He soon realized that there were a lot of sleepless mornings and free days off that were now in possession of jolly Old St. Nic so the holiday can be thoroughly enjoyed.
Putting up lights on weekend mornings, never procrastinating because a tangible deadline hangs over your head at all times - Christmas can be super stressful.
Observation 1: Christmas is a part time job that you have from mid-November to the end of December.— Mohammad Hussain (@MohammadHussain) December 19, 2020
From the outside looking in, Christmas always seemed pretty simple. I always thought you put up a tree and then gave gifts to family. This is a lie.
Do you want to sleep in on a Saturday? Too bad. Go put up some lights inside the house.— Mohammad Hussain (@MohammadHussain) December 19, 2020
Oh you want to sleep in on Sunday? Too bad. Go put up some lights outside the house.
Next weekend? Nope. Every free moment you have will be spent agonizing over the gifts you must buy.
He also noticed that people are also very stringent when it comes to the adherence to their personal Christmas traditions, which is especially important when it comes to specific foods. Substitutes are not allowed and the same thing must be eaten each and every Christmas and they must taste either as good or better as the year before.
Observation 2: People have very strong feelings about their Christmas traditions.— Mohammad Hussain (@MohammadHussain) December 19, 2020
If someone is insisting that *certain food* is what you have to eat Christmas morning, because that's their family tradition, DO NOT SUGGEST ALTERNATIVES. They will stab you in the neck.
There are also very specific gift-buying protocols that must be observed. Sure, buy yourself a gift, but if you think you're going to put it in your own stocking then you've got another thing coming. (Side note: mint chapstick sounds phenomenal right about now.)
He's also learned that gift budget rules are more like guidelines if anything and that the exact gift you want to get someone will always cost a bit more.
Observation 3: You can buy yourself a gift but you can't stuff your own stocking.— Mohammad Hussain (@MohammadHussain) December 19, 2020
I don't understand this one but I told my roommate I bought stuff for my stocking and they said that's not a thing.
I don't care. I bought myself mint chapstick and I will fake surprise.
Observation 4: Your gift budget does not matter.— Mohammad Hussain (@MohammadHussain) December 19, 2020
You can set this budget as high as you want but the perfect gift will always be $10 too expensive. There is no winning. Just give up.
He also became privy to the ornament hierarchy and the distinct differences between "filler" ornaments and those that are meant to bedazzle trees for generations to come. After being encouraged to pick his own "long-term" ornament, Mohammed decided upon something that would make him smile: an everything bagel.
Observation 5: There are two streams of Christmas ornaments. The "fillers" and the "keepers".— Mohammad Hussain (@MohammadHussain) December 19, 2020
The fillers are the generic ones. The keepers are meant to be more special and unique. This second stream is stored in your family's reliquary to be one day passed on to the children.
Even if he was a bit astonished at the price of the ornament, the fact that it's going to be passed down from generation to generation makes up for it.
One thing that Mohammad did notice is that injecting religion into Christmas is entirely optional, something that seems kind of impossible for Eid.
Personally, I was a five-prayer-a-day Muslim kid growing up and noticed that the mosque was filled with people who only ever went once a year to celebrate the end of Ramadan in a fresh new outfit.
Observation 6: ORNAMENTS ARE EXPENSIVE.— Mohammad Hussain (@MohammadHussain) December 19, 2020
That cost me $15.99. That's more than three everything bagels. I am furious. For what it cost, you best believe that I am insisting that it be passed on to my great grandchildren. If they break it I will haunt them.
Observation 7: The religious aspect of Christmas is optional.— Mohammad Hussain (@MohammadHussain) December 19, 2020
I really like this one. If I was to suggest having a secular Ramadan to my mother she would have a heart attack. I will however be trying to get my family to do a Secret Santa for Eid. The name's being workshopped.
He was a bit flabbergasted about the fact that there was a Christmas menu too, and his biggest takeaway is that the holiday is a ton of work and those who actually check every box off their X-Mas to-do list are a bonafide master of the holidays.
Observation 8: You need a "menu".— Mohammad Hussain (@MohammadHussain) December 19, 2020
Yeah... This one is where they lost me. Last Christmas my family ordered Popeyes and watched a movie. My roommate has an entire menu with wine pairings and desserts planned.
To wrap things up I want to applaud longtime Christmas celebrators. This is a lot of work and very tiring.— Mohammad Hussain (@MohammadHussain) December 19, 2020
I will say I am having a very pleasant time. I am learning that I enjoy Christmas music and gift purchasing. I am also learning that I do not enjoy peppermint.