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Christmas is one of the most significant celebrations among the Christian community. On this day, Christians around the world commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ and spend this special day with their loved ones.
However, there are many things about Christmas that not many people, including our Muslim friends, know about. If you're curious to know what this annual celebration is about and what it signifies, we answer some of the questions you've probably always wondered about Christmas but never knew about until now!
1. What is Christmas all about?
Widely observed by the Christian community on 25 December, Christmas is an annual celebration that remembers the birth of Jesus Christ. Besides attending the Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day mass, it's also a special time for gift-giving and spending quality time with our family and friends ? Like most celebrations around the world, we visit our grandparents and relatives as well as enjoying a delicious feast!
2. Why do you exchange gifts on Christmas Day?
The custom of gift-giving on Christmas Day began when the Magi (also known as the wise men) presented gifts to baby Jesus shortly after He was born. The gifts were gold, myrrh, and frankincense, and each has a spiritual meaning. Besides that, the tradition of gift-giving also reminds the Christian community that God has given them the greatest gift of all, Jesus!
Christians love remembering this famous Bible verse on Christmas Day too:
'For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life' - John 3:16
3. Can Muslims give and receive gifts during Christmas?
The short answer is yes. Exchanging gifts with non-Muslims is part of fostering good social relationships with people of other faiths. According to muslim.sg, co-existing with Christians means accepting their celebrations as well, such as Christmas.
Based on the Contemporary Irsyad Series issued by the Office of Mufti, it is permissible to exchange greetings, wishes and gifts with people of other faiths. Several other fatwas by the Darul Ifta' in Egypt and Malaysia National Fatwa Committee Council as well as scholars such as Shaykh Abdallah bin Bayyah and the Mufti of Wilayah Dr Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri also concur with this view.
This does not mean that we accept or subscribe to their beliefs as part of ours. What is important is that we don't participate in any religious rituals or profess words or actions that might be against the basic Islamic creed. It's also important to be clear in the intent of your actions as well as the purpose of joining in the festivities. Hence, in this case, exchanging gifts and wishing non-Muslims well during their festive celebrations is an act of co-existing and maintaining good ties with them. Check out this article as we share more about what does Islam say about gift-giving during Christmas!
4. How is Santa Claus related to Christmas?
Santa Claus may be a popular patron of gift-giving during the Christmas season, but he's not a religious figure at all. In fact, his popularity in American culture only picked up around the 18th century! ?
The idea of Santa Claus was inspired by a Christian bishop named St. Nicholas who gave away all of his wealth and dedicated his life to helping anyone in need. According to Britannica, it was The Dutch who brought the legendary stories of St. Nicholas (nicknamed Sinterklass) to New York City along with the tradition of gift-giving ?
If you love the image of the white-bearded Santa Claus you see today, you have to thank cartoonist Thomas Nast who drew it for Harper's Weekly! In 1881, he created a depiction of Santa Claus inspired by a narrative poem from Clement Clarke Moore titled A Visit from St. Nicholas. It became so popular that we continue to see this famous illustration until today!
5. What do you eat around Christmas time?
Depending on where you are in the world, a traditional Christmas feast differs across families. In Western countries, it's pretty much the same as what you see in the movies. The dinner table will be filled with, but not limited to, stuffed turkey, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, Christmas pudding and more.
In Southeast Asia, some households celebrate Christmas with Western and Eurasian cuisine as well as traditional family favourites! If you ask your Christian friends in Malaysia and Singapore, their families are likely to enjoy a pot luck dinner. Don't be surprised to see chicken biryani and asam laksa served next to a juicy roast turkey! Here's a fun fact: did you know that Japan celebrates Christmas with a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken? ?
There are truly no limits to what our Christmas feast would be, but every year, we always look forward to savouring our traditional family favourites - similar to how much you crave for your family's famous beef rendang during Hari Raya ?
6. Can I wish Merry Christmas to my Christian friends?
The short answer is yes. Based on Malaysia National Fatwa Committee Council meeting in 2007, it is not forbidden for Muslims to offer festive greetings during Christmas. In an interview, Malaysia's Federal Territories mufti, Datuk Seri Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri shared that "Muslims can wish Christians Merry Christmas, as long as their religion is not glorified. It's only a greeting to express happiness for those who celebrate the festival."
The Federal Territories mufti also said that greetings through cards, emails or text messages to non-Muslims during their festivals is permissible ❤️
Watch HHWT Discusses: Food & Faith
Together with muslim.sg, we discussed food and faith with Singaporeans and learnt more about different celebrations. Watch the video as they share more about their religious festivals and how they celebrate it with friends of a different religion.
...And there you have it! We hope we've answered some of the things you've been wondering about Christmas. We want to take this moment to wish you happy holidays from all of us at HHWT! Don't forget to read how our contributor Nurul Mimsy experienced Christmas festivities during her two-week winter trip to South Korea ?