It’s that time of year again – the season where you have to awkwardly end conversations with your peers and co-workers in creative ways. And yet till this very day, I still struggle with finding a suitable and appropriate way to respond when someone says Merry Christmas at the end of a conversation. So how do you respond when someone wishes you a Merry Christmas?
I have worked and gone to school in spaces with all sorts of different religions and cultures. During late November and most of December, the preparations for Christmas begin everywhere. You see the commercials for gift ideas on television, the ads on social media, the stores and malls filled with red and white décor, and so on. And then the sayings – the wishes begin. ‘Merry Christmas’ becomes the new ‘goodbye’ ‘hello’ and ‘take care!’ It has become so routine for some that they do not discriminate or filter who they say it to either. Saying Merry Christmas has become so mainstream that the fine line between religion and a holiday phrase has become blurred for those using the term.
Being in public places and institutions during this time frame as a Muslim brings about a lot of first-world problems. Almost every other conversation ended with someone saying ‘Merry Christmas’ ‘Happy Holidays!’ and so on. I would have classmates, patients at my workplace, and non-Muslim friends of mine commonly wishing me farewell for the holiday season. During every single one of these encounters, you could blatantly see my confusion and fear wash over my face as they stood there waiting for a similar well-wish statement back. I never knew what to say or how to respond without looking like the ‘extremist Muslim friend.’
Along with the slogan for the holiday season come the gifts you receive. I received many gifts in the past years and I always felt guilty and had a look of confusion as I would awkwardly take the gift.
What do I say? Can I take it? Is this entire situation haram and should I give it back? Do I have to bring a gift for them tomorrow? Help!
Quickly I would take the gift with a forced warmish smile and mumble something along the lines of ‘thank you’ and quickly place the gift on my desk, hoping something would come up or my desk phone would ring to save my life. The gifts would range from small chocolates and cards to big, neatly wrapped boxes that I would have to find a way to carry home. But the burning thought in my head was that I just let someone give me a gift and said to have a happy day associating partners with Allah. I was conflicted and honestly lost for an alternative that wasn’t going to be hurtful to the person who was trying to be nice.
So I started to get creative – last year I mentally prepared myself for this season in advance. I had to know what to say and how to say it without sounding rude, unappreciative, and most of all, awkward. A friend of mine told me to respond to a ‘Merry Christmas’ exchange by responding with ‘Merry Christmas – to you’ but that sounded kind of standoffish and so unlike me. So I settled on a couple of middle ground comments back:
Okay, bye! – When someone says it at the end of a conversation (and quickly walk away – not in the same direction!)
Seasons greetings! – I mean, it is a season and I am greeting you…right?
Happy holidays! – This one still confuses me because honestly – What is the holiday that I am saying to be happy for?
Yes this list isn’t the greatest, now do you see the dilemma? I do know this though – I am a Muslim woman. As a Muslim, we are to be kind and to treat others with respect. So that was what I decided to go with. By smiling and even at times telling them as a Muslim I did not participate in the holiday but I wished them well, I knew I was not compromising my religious beliefs for a gift or cheerful moment. I would thank them for the gift and silently make dua for them.
What are your experiences in this type of situation? How do you avoid the awkwardness?