My misadventure trying to make Eid like Christmas for my Muslim kids.

It was already halfway through Ramadan this year before I scrambled to hang as many decorations as I could in my home in celebration of the holy month. I hastily ripped open plastic packets of streamers and banners with little lanterns and crescent moons, and stood over a wobbly chair to hang them up high on the walls. I strung out blinking lights in the shape of tiny lanterns. In the kitchen and bathroom, I laid out colorful hand towels embroidered with Ramadan greetings. I dared to experiment with a large Ramadan-themed tablecloth, but the kids grabbed at it and sent dishes tumbling. Still, my house was looking more festive than ever.

Ramadan has always meant a lot to me. I’ve been fasting during this month, along with most other Muslims, since I was a kid. But my decoration frenzy was not about me. I had two little minds I was trying to infiltrate.

My fears were validated when, regarding my handiwork, one of the kids pointed and cruelly—adorably—called out, “Halloween!”

As with many parents of young kids, I’ve found parenting my son and daughter—2 and 1 now—to be a total blur. It’s been hard to find the quiet moments I need to reflect and connect with them. I barely know what day it is. Most days feel like I’m just going through the motions, constantly cleaning up spills, soothing tears, and playing referee between the two rival siblings. I needed to stop to realize how much of the world they are taking in, and how formative this time is for them. And it wasn’t until this Ramadan that I noticed that my young kids had amassed huge swaths of holiday stuff—so much stuff—just none of it Muslim. Christmas pajamas. Halloween books. Easter toy eggs. Valentine’s Hershey kisses. I immediately began worrying about their little sponge-like brains, soaking up everything they learn at school—which is fantastic for subjects like reading and math, but a bit daunting when they start memorizing Christmas carols and becoming fixated on greetings for holidays like Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day.

It seemed like an intervention was called for. As I looked up at the decorations, I felt like I had pulled it off. But my fears were only validated when, regarding my handiwork, one of the kids pointed and cruelly—adorably—called out, “Halloween!”

To be fair, I am guilty of indulging those cultural festivities. It seems innocent enough to dress them up in green for St. Patrick’s Day and the like. But it’s hard not to feel a twinge of guilt about not doing the same for the Muslim stuff they won’t get at school. If I don’t at least try to get them excited about the Muslim holidays, will they even know when those holidays come and go? The prospect of them not celebrating and enjoying them when they get older just kills me.

I ultimately realized I only want Ramadan to be a big deal in my kids’ lives because it’s a big deal in mine. And that’s because there’s a lot of pressure coming from my family to pass it on to the next generation.

I was raised by parents who immigrated from the Arab world. They never experienced living in a non-Muslim-majority country until they arrived in the United States and started a family. For them, there was this immense pressure to safeguard our cultural heritage and shield us from what I think of as “Christmas creep”: They were worried about us losing touch with our Arab and Muslim traditions and faith amid the glittering allure of Christmas lights and festivities.

They did everything they could to “guard” us from this. I resented them when they put their foot down and refused to entertain the idea of us getting a Christmas tree. I needed to “choose between God and a tree.” The fact that her 8-year-old kid chose the tree was enough to make my poor mother spiral. But it was never about the tree. To them, even the slightest capitulation to the American holiday culture all around us symbolized an erosion of our cultural and religious identity, a fear that embracing other traditions could lead us away from our own. It got to a point where anything like having candy canes around Christmastime was like spitting in the face of our Muslim forefathers. And those feelings lingered. Even when I got married and bought a house and got a Christmas tree one year, I felt a little dirty.

No one wants an “I’ve become my parents” moment. But suddenly, now, I get it. And the slow slide I could already see happening in my babies’ lives made me feel like I was betraying what my parents had fought hard to preserve.

Though I’m now beginning to experience those same unsettling feelings about having my young kids be bribed away from our traditions by cheap candy—Easter was a trial this year—I’m committed to not repeating the same mistakes my parents made. I don’t want to try to hopelessly avert the eyes of my kids during non-Muslim holidays. I’m not convinced that having chocolate on Easter has to be seen as diluting their future Islamic identities. Maybe chocolate is just chocolate, and I can spare my family that guilt. Instead, I wanted to make Ramadan feel special in a way that felt natural to them. I wanted to prepare them to engage effectively with people of diverse beliefs while staying true to their own faith.

And that explains the panic-decorating. I just didn’t do a very good job. Every other day I was scooping up bits of decorations that had fallen from sloppily applied adhesives, and even the toy lanterns I put out have all but disintegrated. But the kids are still young. I have more years to instill the sense that this is our holiday that we take seriously at home.

One thing I’ve learned this year is that it isn’t really about the decorations. This year, we also orchestrated playdates, inviting other families to join in our celebration of Ramadan. We had Ramadan evening dinners to gather loved ones and their children for iftar feasts where they could stay up past their bedtimes and run around and scream and indulge their primal selves. My goal became clear: to ensure that my kids experienced a richness in Ramadan that they’d remember in the coming winter holiday season.

Now, as Ramadan comes to a close and I start to let the decorations I hung up late unstick and fall, I have put together an awesome agenda for my kids to go all out for Eid celebrations. I don’t want to do what my own parents did and make my kids feel like Christmas and Halloween are off-limits because their allure can seem overpowering. I’m just going bigger.

This year for Eid, we started the morning with unwrapping presents. Wrapped gifts on Eid is a bit outside of the Muslim tradition. But if I’m “competing” against Christmas, I’ve got to bring out the big guns. Next, they got a sweet breakfast, strawberry cheesecake, while we parents enjoyed our first morning coffee in 30 days. And after a bath with extra bubbles, we dressed them up in fresh new clothes and took them to a nearby Eid fair, where kids their age played in a bouncy house and enjoy other carnival-type rides, and took pictures in their Eid clothes with the cherry blossoms in the park so they can remember this day forever.

To top it all off, I’m giving them simple little goody bags to hand out to their classmates at school. Just like they receive candy and little plastic toys for other holidays, I want my kids to experience the joy of sharing their tradition with others, too. For me, it’s about more than just indoctrinating our kids and maintaining our religious identity; it’s about instilling in them a deep appreciation for their heritage and guiding them toward a balanced understanding of the world around them.

It’s not really about competing with Christmas or trying to outdo other traditions. It’s about carving out space to honor and cherish our Muslim heritage. With each gathering, each shared meal, and each moment of reflection, we were not only celebrating Ramadan and Eid but also building a foundation for their futures.

It’s about arming my kids with the values and principles they need to navigate an ever-evolving world. So, in my eyes, making Ramadan and Eid special for them is one of the greatest gifts I can offer as a father. As long as they don’t turn around and ask me to get them a Christmas tree. If they ever ask, I’ll just tell them to wait for our next holiday.

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