Written by Dila Sarikaya.
Graphic by Emma Robinson.

Originally published as part of the Spring 2019 “Challenge” Issue.

As my Mom and I did some casual window shopping, I looked over my shoulder and saw a big Christmas tree– one of the extravagant ones shopping plazas put up during the holiday season. Its lights, sparkle, and sheer size caught my eye. In that moment, I knew I was not the only person mesmerized. Something so simple had the power to unite so many in a single space–and that is what the Christmas spirit is all about. I wanted to share these feelings with my Mom, but how would she react, I wondered. After all, we are Muslims who immigrated to the United States years ago. Christmas has never been a part of our culture and we have never been the type of family who follows American or Christian traditions.

I thought, “ah, what the heck,” and began to tell Mom how much I appreciated the holiday season, the cool weather, the shimmering lights, the palpable joy in the air. To my pleasant surprise, she responded excitedly sharing similar sentiments.

However, I know not all Turkish people express the same feelings. In fact, someone very close to me believes that it is ridiculous to succumb to Christmas activities, whether it be putting up a tree or participating in gift exchanges. This juxtaposition of perspectives has created a bit of an identity crisis for me. I don’t think the holiday season is beautiful because of the religious aspect. Instead, it is the sense of community and cheer that excites me. But is that wrong? 

Recently, I went over to a friend’s house on Christmas Day and engaged in their family’s holiday traditions. Everyone laughed and hugged; there was so much commotion as children enthusiastically opened presents. It reminded me of my family’s traditions during the Muslim holiday, Eid. As I took a moment to take in my surroundings, I began to realize that we are all the same in essence. Christian or Muslim, young or old; we all value happiness and community.

Truthfully, I am grateful for the holiday season I experience in the United States. It has allowed my family to become closer and form annual traditions. Every year, we visit a place called Santa’s Wonderland, a small town that is made to resemble someone’s imagination of the North Pole. My family and I go there to enjoy s’mores, take a hayride through artistic light structures, and simply be together. And for the first time, this year, we put up a tree and decorated it. We dubbed it the “New Year’s Tree” because we didn’t want my 6-year-old brother to fall under the impression that we suddenly celebrated Christmas. On New Year’s Eve, we invited family and friends over to our house and played White Elephant. Everyone had so much fun that I would not be surprised if it became an annual tradition. 

It is a little odd to think that I am now participating in holiday activities that once appeared distant. Now, however, my family and I have made these traditions our own by combining the feelings this season brings up: joy, compassion and unity. 

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