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Back where I grew up, in the United Arab Emirates, we never decorated for Ramadan or Eid. We used to celebrate with lots of food and prayers, but lights and sparkling decorations were never part of that celebration. We were actually happy with the Ramadan atmosphere: shorter school hours, having Iftar after hearing the Maghreb Azan and the firing of the Ramadan cannon, and of course, the different types of desserts especially made for the holy month, which include Qatayef and Kanafeh.
A year ago, I moved to the US with my two boys, Ghazi and Yousuf, who are 6 and 3 respectively. Two days after moving here, Ramadan started. It was hard to be away from family and all the celebrations and religious atmosphere, but I did not really mind any of that. At the end of the day, the holy month of Ramadan is supposed to be for fasting, remembering the poor, and building a closer relationship with Allah, and you can do that anywhere on earth. So, Ramadan and the two Eids went by, and things seemed alright as we got used to living in the US.
But then came Christmas! From the first day of December, all the schools started decorating and encouraging children to show their creativity in celebrating Christmas. Attractive lights filled the streets, Santa Claus distributed presents to children of different ages in malls and parks, and people showed off with their best skills to decorate their trees and put them on display in front of their houses and on their balconies.
One day, Ghazi asked a question I had feared:
“Mama, I like Christmas lights. Can we please get a tree and decorate it?”
I was not sure what to say or how to react. I did not want to disappoint the little boy, and at the same time, we never celebrated Christmas, so I was not sure whether it would be okay to do so.
I turner to him and said: “Okay, we will get a very small tree, something like a small bush. We will put a few stars on it, and we will remember all the good things Allah gave us.”
He was happy to hear that, and we went ahead and bought the tree. As I was decorating it with the kids, I had one idea in mind: next Ramadan, we will decorate the house, we will put up lights, and we will distribute small giveaways to make other people in our neighborhood aware of what this holy month brings to us.
Ramadan came, so we had to accomplish our mission of decorating the house. We cut some colored pieces of paper into different shapes of lanterns. We stuck some glittered stars of different sizes, along with a Ramadan crescent, on the front. I also thought I should introduce the idea of fasting to the boys, by telling them what it means to fast, and why do Muslims fast. My older son expressed his interest in fasting with me, so I encouraged him to do so just for the first three hours in the morning (8 am – 11 am). When he finished his fasting period, he would eat one date, and head to his pillow, where he would find an envelope with a note saying “Bravo Ghazi!” Inside the envelope, he would find a star along with a small gift; on the first day it was a dollar, on the second day it was a lollipop, and on the third day it was a trip to Chuck E. Cheese.
I believe in the importance of letting children understand the real meaning of these holy days through playful ways. Children like lights and gifts, so why not use these two things in educating our kids about Ramadan and Eid? And especially for kids who grow up in communities where Muslims are minorities, it is very important to remind them the whole time about the beautiful things our religion has. A good example that I also use in Ramadan is storytelling. Throughout the year, before going to sleep, I tell my two boys a short story featuring things they like, such as cars or spaceships. In Ramadan, these short stories become stories about them – Ghazi and Yousuf – doing good deeds in their communities, such as showing honesty and helping other people. These stories also include incidents that Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, went through, or a story of a Hadith that he told. My boys liked the story of how the Prophet’s grandchildren used to play around him while praying, how they used to jump on his back while he was doing his sujood, and how he spent a long time doing that until they went away, so that he would not bother them.
I feel happy and comfortable doing that. The boys may not have understood the full meaning of Ramadan and Islam yet, but I can tell from their enthusiasm while making the decorations or listening to the bedtime stories how happy and excited they will be when Ramadan next year comes.
For more on MMW’s Ramadan series, and to read the rest of this year’s Ramadan posts, click here.