Ayesha Hazarika: One Muslim's guide to a Merry Christmas

Christmas is always a tricky time of year for my family. Being Muslim, we don't really feel we should celebrate Christmas. But being Indian, we feel we need to have the biggest, blingiest tree going.

Muslim women take a selfie in front of the Christian manger in front of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Picture: AFP/Getty
Muslim women take a selfie in front of the Christian manger in front of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Picture: AFP/Getty

I have a love-hate relationship with Christmas. And so do a lot of us.

It’s the relentless pressure that starts building from Guy Fawkes’ night. The non-stop bombarding of images of the perfect Christmas, the perfect relationships, families and, of course, so much money to splash about on the finest and most lavish of gifts.

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It’s become a festival of shopping and consumerism and that’s just my family. I genuinely believe that if you stopped buying presents for anyone over the age of ten, Christmas would turn into a much more magical occasion.

Besides, let’s get real, presents are always such a major disappointment. Everyone is rubbish at present shopping. It’s just a fact.

People mean well but it always ends in a rictus smile with the words “I erm … really like it … no honestly …” which is code for “have you got the gift receipt?”

I’ve had some corkers. The best was when I got a darts board. Yes. A darts board.

And it wasn’t even a real one. It was a safety one made out of stickle-brick. Mega square. I had been hoping for a Sindy House. You can imagine my disappointment. I too fess up to being awful at shopping.

I have a gender fluid approach to Christmas shopping which means heading into Glasgow city centre on Christmas Eve with no clue what I’m going to buy and organising drinks with old school friends in Sloans and then doing a supermarket sweep in Boots and hoping that everyone I love is really into exfoliating. They’re not.

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And then there’s the hauling everything home only to give it away to charity shops. I once had to pay £150 in excess luggage to get my unwanted gifts back to London to then get rid of them.

Shopping for grown-ups is a waste of time, money and energy. Everyone stopping this ludicrous activity would seriously help close our productivity gap. Yes. And a merry Christmas to you too. Can you tell I’m in a festive mood?

Despite having a terrible cold, I am actually warming to Christmas mainly thanks to two activities.

The first was a trip to the cinema to see It’s a Wonderful Life which I had never seen before. All the hype around the film had put me off but it exceeds all my expectations and there was something really magical about going to the cinema on a Sunday morning.

All the clichés about the film are true but it has a relevance in these times more than ever. It really is a ‘wonderful life’ affirming film about the things that really count – friends, family and community.

It’s a film about why your life really does matter, no matter how small and insignificant you feel.

Times are hard for people financially and emotionally. At a time when there is so much pressure on families, if things are difficult because of money or family breakdown, it can make people feel incredibly worthless.

We all know that depression soars at this time of year and loneliness is a growing epidemic in our society. Jo Cox started a piece of work into loneliness before she was killed which Labour MP Rachel Reeves and Tory MP Seema Kennedy completed and it was published last week.

The figures are stark. Over nine million adults are always lonely. For 3.6 million people aged over 65, television is the main form of company and more than one in ten men say that they are lonely but would not admit to anyone.

What we all know is that spending time with people rather than giving them stuff is the best gift. As annoying as your family – and you as a human – can be, I defy anyone to watch It’s A Wonderful Life and not want to make sure you hug your loved ones close.

Everyone should be made to watch that film around December 20 and then make an effort to speak to their neighbours.

There is one other activity which always does wonders to lift the soul – and that is a spot of carol singing.

As someone who is from a Muslim background and not particularly religious, there is nothing more fun than going to a lovely candle-lit church and singing your heart out.

I sometimes feel a bit po-faced about religion and why it matters to people until I find myself having a near-religious experience belting out Oh Come All Ye Faithful, especially that last verse when the choir and the big organ kicks in.

There is something magical about people coming together and singing. It’s a bit like posh, sober karaoke to be honest but there is nothing nicer. I remember fondly going to midnight mass with my brother’s in-laws who could not be more different to me politically, culturally or religiously, but we would have the best time and bond especially over the post-show mulled wine and mince pies.

If that’s not the spirit of Christmas, then I don’t know what is.