Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Eid ul Adha and the Culture of Commericalism

As we are celebrating the last day of Eid ul Adha and still recovering from the Christmas magic/mania, I thought I would post an article I wrote last year about the challenge the ever greater retail hype around Christmas poses to minority communities and the celebration of our holidays. With Christmas displays in some Cincinnati stores area going up before Halloween (an all time record for earliest retail Christmas campaign), the article is as relevant this year as it was last.

Religious Minorities and the Allure of Materialism
By Pamela K. Taylor

With Christmas still fresh in our minds, American Muslims are looking forward to our own holiday, Eid ul-Adha, a three day celebration that marks the successful completion of the Hajj, Islam’s annual pilgrimage to Mecca. For minority communities, Christmas is always a challenge, especially for those of us with kids. The lights, the carols, decorating the tree, candy covered gingerbread houses, Santa, his sleigh and his reindeer, and, most of all, the presents. It’s child heaven. The pressure to compete is fierce and many of us feel an enormous need to prove that our own faith has as much to offer kids, or at the very least that it has its own really good traditions even if they aren’t quite as glamorous as Christmas.

This year the Muslim community was particularly lucky. Christmas was neatly sandwiched between the two major events of the Islamic calendar – Ramadan and Hajj. With Ramadan and Eid ul Fitr falling in October, we had our own special month of fellowship and celebration to buttress the kids’ fortitude just before the November/December deluge. When the kids asked why we don’t celebrate Christmas, Muslim parents could point our own recent time of dinner parties, special foods, holiday sweets, new clothes, and, of course, presents. And if that didn’t quite satisfy their craving, we could remind them that Hajj and Eid ul-Adha was coming just a couple weeks later. More parties, more new clothes… more presents.

And there’s the rub. The push-pull. You want Eid to be just as good as Christmas, but you look at the stress, the holiday rush, the hassle of finding just the right gift for everyone on your list, the self-inflicted pressure to make Christmas perfect for the kids, and shudder to think Eid could become like that. You want it to be as fun and as memorable, but you don’t want it to become a carbon copy. You want to maintain its authenticity, but you’re not sure that authenticity can quite measure up, and you’re not sure you want it to, even if it could.

On the one hand, you’re delighted to find out that Hallmark is now making Eid cards and when you mail them you can pay your postage with a USPS Eid Stamp. You rejoice to find an Indian princess Barbie or building blocks with Arabian arches and domes. In a country where a person’s status is more often than not judged by the strength of his pocketbook, retail acknowledgement of Ramadan, Hajj, and the two Eids talks big to kids. It’s a validation of their identities as American and Muslims. It shows them that we are part and parcel of the fabric of this country, that we belong, we’re accepted.

On the other hand, you dread too much retail attention. You worry that consumerism will gut the spiritual aspects of Eid the way it has gutted much of the meaning of Christmas. When you set out your presents for Eid morning, you hope the kids realize that Eid is more about being grateful to God than getting goodies. You wonder if you would have gotten the kids quite so many presents if the spectacle of Christmas gift giving hadn’t just upped the ante two weeks ago. You wonder if the need to measure up is leading you down the garden path into the waiting arms of Sam’s Club and Kmart. And you wish that the Christian community hadn’t bought quite so fully into market capitalism’s message that more is better.

All along, to make matters worse, you’re second guessing yourself. When you hang lights, as Muslims in many countries do during Ramadan, you wonder if the kids will think you’re trying to copy Christmas, and sometimes you wonder yourself. When you pass out cookies to guests – a time honored Ramadan tradition, although in other cultures the norm may be baklava, date pasties, or sweet puddings, rather than coconut macaroons, powdered teacakes, lemon tarts, and chocolate peanut butter bull’s eyes – you hope the kids don’t think you’re just trying to trump sugar cookies with red and green sprinkles. You look to the American Jewish community and Hannukah, a relatively minor holiday in other Jewish communities which, because of it’s timing, has taken on a much larger role here, and wonder if this is a good thing, or a bad thing. It’s great to be able to say, look we’ve got it just as good as the rest of America, but not if it means you have to distort your own traditions all out of proportion.

It isn’t easy to decide how much rivalry is good and how much is too much, to know where the line lies between unhealthy competition and the kind that, like a longstanding school rivalry, deepens and intensifies loyalty. It’s tough to know whether to buying into American consumerism whole-heartedly, half-way, or not at all will help your kids learn to love their own traditions rather than look on others’ celebrations with envy. Will the glitz of all-out materialism make them love Eid the way Christian kids love Christmas (and do you want them to love it because of that, even if it does?) Or will they appreciate a more even-handed approach that balances fun with spirituality? Or perhaps, will they find the peace and tranquility of a more austere holiday that uplifts and instills a feeling of purity and grace more attractive?

Clearly there is no one answer that fits all children or all families. Sometimes, you feel like you are throwing darts at a board with your eyes closed, hoping you don’t hit anything fragile in the process. Other times, you move forward confidently, assured that you’re making the right choices, and trusting that God has guided you down the right path. But even in the best of times, it’s a balancing act in which you always feel a bit off-kilter.

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