Young Muslims in Austria see Christmas as an Austrian tradition that they also want to celebrate. The only thing they don’t attach to the holiday is religious significance.
„I love Christmas", says Salma. When the smell of apple, cinnamon and Christmas cookies is in the air and the streets are lovingly decorated and lit up with fairy lights, the 20-year-old is happy. Salma is not a Christian, but was born and raised in Vienna has become. And for her, the Christmas season is a beautiful tradition. Salma is often asked whether Muslims also celebrate Christmas at this time of year.
Of course, the answer to such a question varies from person to person: some people celebrate, others don’t. In Salma’s case, however, it is clear- she sees Christmas as an Austrian tradition. And as an Austrian, she wants to live it out in her own way without any religious motivation behind it. „I don’t have to buy a Christmas tree or eat a Christmas goose with my family.“ Since their school days, they have given presents to friends, baked cookies, watched Christmas movies and strolled through the Christmas market.
„Respect and recognition
Sally Yacoub (name changed) is also Muslim, and she also enjoys Christmas. Whereby the matter with her has become more complicated. Her family is not only multi-ethnic, but also multi-religious: the mother is Christian, the father and children are Muslim. At Christmas they visit their grandmother and meet the Christian side of the family. „We sit together, nibble from the Christmas tree and get a little money from grandma", Sally tells. Homemade gifts, cookies and gingerbread are indispensable parts of the celebration. Cards are sent to the Christian relatives- „as a sign of respect and recognition", says the 16-year-old.
Sally doesn’t know the Islamic holidays very well". Only the end of the fasting month of Ramadan is always a special day when the family gets together and celebrates in a small circle. Sally is not familiar with gifts in connection with religious holidays: "We don’t fast for gifts.“ Only at school, where they play Engerl Bengerl every year. Each student draws a name and gives a little something to their classmate on the last day of school before the holidays- no matter if Christians or Muslims.
Derya Seker is a mother of two. Her daughter and son also celebrate at school and bring home handmade gifts. Seker thinks it’s okay. What she doesn’t understand, however, is why Christmas is so big is celebrated- While other religious-based festivities are rarely celebrated at school. „It’s a great pity to ignore the celebrations of Muslim children and children of other faiths.", says the 29-year-old education student. For her, it is a sign of denial of reality when half of the class consists of Muslims- and still no one congratulates on the Feast of Sacrifice. Although it is not their religion, the children are in a sense forced to celebrate Christmas. „It doesn’t bother me, but other religions should be treated equally.“
Customs instead of religion
Mona Egarter is already past her school days. At the time, she celebrated Christmas and also went to church regularly. Today she converted to Islam. „The religious meaning of Christmas was never really clear to me, but it is the custom I feel connected to and grew up with", she means. The 23-year-old Muslim woman did not spend the last three years in Vienna- and now she is "looking forward like a little child to Christmas days with my family again".
Whereas, one aspect of celebrating Christmas bothers her- that in Austrian society there is a "consumerist frenzy and a mad shopping rush" and yet no one become. Consciously trying to avoid it. Because even if Christmas is a nice tradition, you have to be critical of it and not lose sight of the meaning of it. For Mona Egarter it’s not a "holy night in that sense, but it’s a nice reminder of childhood". Christmas has a meaning- „Not a religious one, but a strongly emotional one".
At a glance
Christmas: In the Islamic world, Christmas does not play a role. For Muslims, Jesus is a prophet, not the Son of God. Young Muslims in Austria, however, have grown up with the custom and some of them celebrate it as well. When going to the Christkindlmarkt, devout Muslims are also allowed to drink punch- but only non-alcoholic children’s punch.