While you go about your days as usual, there’s a strange feeling that begins to creep into your subconscious. It starts somewhere in November, and increases for weeks. Maybe it’s the atmospheric Christmas music seeping into your ears while you pump gas and shop for groceries. Maybe it’s the glittery lights that gradually appear on nearly every neighborhood entrance, store, street and home; or the increase in traffic and shopping bag toting crowds.
No matter what you think or believe about Christmas, here in the USA, Christmas tries to wear you down and draw you in. Without even realizing it, you’re humming Christmas tunes as you get into your car or sweep the floor. For converts, this overwhelming assault of holiday cheer elicits a mix of emotion. Guilt is one of them.
You remember putting ornaments on the tree while christmas songs blared and the sweet aroma of christmas cookies filled your cozy home. You remember going to sleep on Christmas eve as a child, excitement welling up in your stomach. It wasn’t even all about the gifts; so much was done to make the season special for you.
Having lived through the holidays for much of your life, you know the sincere love goes into it. How thoughtful people try to be when they choose gifts for their loved ones. How much joy goes into cooking and baking specialties. And how much charity is given and how much happiness can be present when everyone is genuinely working towards being happy, and together. It was truly special.
Trying to Do the Right Thing
This nostalgia is part of what leads us to experience deep guilt over not participating in Christmas with our families after choosing Islam. It’s common to feel helpless, confused, and downright sad.
Many converts simply go ahead and participate in all the Christmas festivities, largely to avoid feelings of guilt over not being there for their families during what is most likely their most cherished time of year. Explaining why we can’t be present is nerve wracking.
We fear that our absence sends a message of judgement and disapproval our families may not understand. It may be interpreted that we did not value all those beautiful memories, all the gifts and love we were given throughout our lives during the holidays.
If we don’t give gifts at Christmas, the lack of giving may send a message of mean-spiritedness, and no amount of gifts throughout the year might overcome our tarnished reputation for scroogeness.
Not being there for the holidays removes us from our families at a time so important for them. Our absence could reduce our standing with our families in general – reducing our potentially positive influence.
We are not there for our nieces, nephews, or grandchildren at the time they consider most magical. We feel less a part of their lives, and they must feel we are less a part of theirs. And we feel we are doing our families a disservice, and it hurts.
What’s Really Behind the Guilt
Some of these thoughts are valid, and others are actually filled with hot air! If we are feeling guilty about not being there for our families during their holidays, it may really mean that we simply are not there for them enough in general.
Holidays tend to encourage people to behave in ways out of the norm. The fact that you feel guilty about not being there for a few days out of the year is an indication that you can make some changes to how you interact with your family the rest of the year.
A Better Way to Live Guilt-Free
Think about what usually prevents you from keeping in touch and ‘being there’ for your family. Are you super busy? Do you feel tired and like you are not sure what to say? Try to get to the bottom of your reasons for not adequately staying in touch. Write them down, and determine which excuses are valid and which are merely excuses. Brainstorm solutions for the real problems, and follow my advice:
1- Phone Calls and Visits
Sure, you love your family and friends, but they don’t know that unless you tell them! How many times do you think of calling, but don’t? You’ve got to follow through. It can be a short phone call. Simply explain that you wanted to hear their voice, or share a funny thing that happened, or something you saw that reminded you of them, or “how are you doing?”, then listen. Depending on how far away you live, plan how often you can visit, then go!
2- Send Messages
There are apps such as MarcoPolo, that allow you to send videos to your loved ones. Every now and then, record yourself sending them a loving message. It could be as simple as, “Hi Dad, I’m at work and was thinking of you, so I’m sending this video to say, I hope you are having a great day and I love you!”
It takes less than a minute! How about a short text? Doing these things in between phone calls and visits will let your loved ones know you care and that you do think of them.
3- Remember Things
Was someone sick? Having a doctor’s appointment? Waiting for some news? Getting a promotion? When your family members tell you things about their lives, listen and remember, then call later to check up on how the event went, how they are feeling, etc. Remembering and inquiring about happenings in their lives that matter to them communicates that you care.
4- Give Gifts
Set aside some money, even if it’s only a little, exclusively to spend on gifts. Choose a time that you will have saved up enough, maybe every 3 months, or every 6 months or even once a year. Then divide up that saved money and use it to buy gifts for your family members and friends. Even the three dollar toys from Target’s bargain aisle can bring smiles to the faces of your nieces and nephews and give them something to remember your love by. Even a Hallmark card can let your Mom or Aunt know you are thinking of them. Gifts don’t have to cost a lot!
Of all the gifts I received from my grandmother as a child, the most memorable were the boxes of Cracker Jacks she would bring me when she came to visit. Cracker Jacks cost $1 or so – but they have stood the test of time, reminding me that my grandmother loved me and thought of me – more than any Christmas present she ever gave me! I didn’t even like Cracker Jacks!
5- Use Technology to Organize and Keep Yourself Accountable
Use Google Calendar or a calendar of your choice. Spend some time today scheduling in regular phone calls and visits. Schedule in everything, from saving money to buy the gifts and making your short video messages. Schedule how often you want to visit and call to say, ‘hi!’. When they tell you about things like an upcoming doctor visit, get in the habit of entering it into your calendar immediately!
With this technology we can really stay on top of everything and make sure we have the time we need to get them done!
I like using Google Calendar, because it has an option for ‘goals’. You name your goal, for example, ‘call Mom’, and choose how often you want to do it: Once a week? Twice a month? And then it will schedule that endlessly into the future, unless you change it. You can set alerts so that you never forget, and you can even check it off once you’ve completed it. It helps keep you accountable and reminded without overwhelming your mind. No excuses!
While just going ahead and participating in our non-Mulsim family members’ holidays may seem like a tempting option, there are plenty of other ways to send a message to our loved ones that we love them, care about them and want to be a part of their lives.
If you follow the suggestions above, your family will not only know how much you care, but you might transform their disappointment over you not being there at their Holiday gathering. Instead of being angry at you and sad that you don’t do things with the family, they may be more understanding and accepting.
The guilt we feel over not being with our families at the holidays is actually just the manifestation of the guilt we have about being too self absorbed and not doing enough and not showing enough care in general. If we fix how we behave towards our loved ones throughout the year, holiday season guilt will melt away and we can feel more confident in our decision to distance ourselves away from events that involve shirk and other best-avoided practices.
(From Discovering Islam archive)