Omer Aziz, The Globe and Mail

When I was growing up in Scarborough, there was always one time of year that was bound to cause tension and arguments in my family. My parents had come to Canada from Pakistan, but my brothers and I were born here, children of both East and West. My father was a secular man who had little time for religion. For my mother, Islam was our way of life. We were one of countless immigrant families living in the Toronto suburb, with all the anxieties of a colonial people, straddling two cultures, two worlds, our existence teetering on an East-West axis that could tip at any moment. And every December, as Christmas approached, this axis did tip, and in our house there began a clash of civilizations.

One year, my father said he wanted to put up a Christmas tree. “Jesus is our prophet, too, and we should celebrate his birthday,” he said, making a theological argument rather than a secular one. It was true: As Muslims, we accepted the prophethood of Jesus – Isa in Arabic – and were taught to revere him.

(Islam is the only major religion in the world other than Christianity that recognizes Jesus’s mission, and that goes for all 1.6 billion Muslims. And the case is actually stronger than my father put it: The Koran refers to Jesus directly and indirectly in at least 93 verses, making him the most-mentioned person in Islam’s holy book. He is called the “Word of God,” the “Messiah” and, in several instances, “the Christ.”)

But my mother was flatly opposed. There would be no Christmas tree because Christmas was a Christian holiday. We ought to wish our fellow Canadians a “Merry Christmas” out of respect, but we should not participate in the ritual celebrations. Look at Jews – they didn’t celebrate Christmas, either. They preserved their own traditions, and we Muslims should do that as well.

It was an argument that would repeat itself every December, provoked by my father’s annual threat to bring home a Christmas tree and ending with a feud over culture and ownership. A chill would descend over our family life. The Christmas tree was the red line – symbolic, like the tree’s pagan, Germanic origins, of a European past that was not ours. We were to be without Christmas.

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