December marks the month of Christmas, where people all over the world get together with friends and family to share food and exchange presents. Leading up to the big day, people count down using chocolate advent calendars, lighting candles, and singing Christmas carols.
Christmas has not always been so heavily associated with Christianity. The word ‘Christmas’ indeed comes from a twelfth-century word for ‘Christ’s Mass’ but it is not just a Christian holiday, late December celebrations date back to prehistoric Britain.
Favourite traditions such as eating turkey, Christmas pudding, and sending Christmas cards, stems from the late 19th century, popularised by Queen Victoria and the royal family at the time.
Today, people of all religions, or none, celebrate Christmas, choosing aspects that work for them. In the UK, around 11% of South Asian people are Christian but Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs also join in the festivities.
One South Asian man who celebrates Christmas, is Sharaz Ronnie Dutt, a 29-year-old Christian mortgage broker living in Bradford, originally from Pakistan. Despite Christianity being the third largest religion in Pakistan, following Islam and Hinduism, Christians only represent about 1.27% of the population or around 2.63 million people.
Mr Dutt and his family are from the Shanti Nager area in the Punjab region in Pakistan and are Methodists, a denomination of Protestant Christianity. Mr Dutt is a member of St. Andrew’s Methodist Church on Northcote Road and attends mass on Christmas and Easter, although he would like to go more often.
Mr Dutt celebrates Christmas like any other Christian, he puts up a tree, decorates outside his house with lights, eats Turkey on Christmas Day and attends midnight mass on Christmas Eve.
People in Bradford tend to assume that Mr Dutt and his family are Muslim because of the colour of his skin, he says. In school, it wasn’t just white children who assumed this, but other South Asian pupils as well.
Mr Dutt said: “My school was probably 95% Asian, and 90% Muslim, which is why it was automatically assumed that if you are Asian, you were Muslim. People are often shocked, but not in a bad way, in a curious way.”
Pre-Covid-19, the Dutt family usually spent a lot of time in December around friends and family in their home. Due to pandemic restrictions last year, they were unable to celebrate Christmas as normal. Like all other families, they could only form a ‘Christmas bubble’ with one other family on Christmas Day.
Mr Dutt said: “On the 24th, we usually have people over. We go to midnight mass and then chill at home. Mum and dad usually go to church on the morning of Christmas Day, but we don’t since my siblings and I go at midnight. Mum and dad don’t cook, it is usually us kids, and then we swap presents.
“Our Christmas Day is quite standard; I don’t think it differs to any other family.”
Next door neighbours for over ten years, The Khans, who are Muslim, spend Christmas day with the Dutt’s and they return the favour by inviting Ronnie and his family over for Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, a tradition that goes back years.
The Dutt family go all out for Christmas, with the decorations “getting bigger” every year. As Christmas trees and decorations are harder to come by and are more expensive in Pakistan, the Dutt family send their festive decs to family members living in Pakistan every couple of years.
Seema Buttoo, a faith advisor for Bradford Hindu Council and a Hindu faith tutor for Bradford Council for over 22 years also celebrates Christmas. She said: “My tree is already up. A lot of Indian families take part in this festive time.
“I don’t really go to church services on Christmas Eve, but I do think about Christian friends that do. I attend carol services to support my friends.
“Our meat-eating families will have roast dinner normally, no beef but for vegetarian families, it’s vegetarian options. We have both in our house because some members are vegetarian and the others are not.”
Community officer for BEAP Community Partnership, Shazuna Ali, is a British Bangladeshi Muslim who joins in with Christmas festivities. Her late father encouraged his children to participate in all different types of festivities, not restricted to those in the Islamic calendar.
Mrs Ali imparts the same wisdom to her five children, with her eldest being ten and her youngest just seven months. She sends her children to a local mosque to learn about their faith but also sees Christmas as a way of spending much-needed family time together. Mrs Ali often spends Christmas with her childhood friend Rachel, who lives in Methley in Leeds, who involves her children in festive activities.
Mrs Ali’s friend Rachel decorates her house from the driveway to the back garden. Her children open gifts in the morning and tuck into a traditional Christmas dinner. In the afternoon, they go for a walk around the local area and have hot chocolate with marshmallows in the evening, followed by silly Christmas games and a movie.
She said: “I’m thankful to my dad for so many reasons. He let us enjoy every season which I love, he even let us be involved in street parties. It is why I want my kids to have that, so they are part of it all.
“I grew up doing these things, but I know what my religion is. At the same time, I know where I am, I am in Great Britain, I am in England, I’m going to enjoy the festivities we have here because it is amazing and why shouldn’t you?
“My kids find it difficult. I send them to the mosque because I want them to understand Islam. As they grow up, I am not going to be one of those parents who enforce it on them, because as they grow older, they will see for themselves.
“So, when I say to them, you are going to do this for Christmas, or go see aunty Rachel, they are like ‘no, it’s haram!’ and I say to them it’s not, you are just enjoying the festivities, and enjoying family time. We are not doing extra activities that we shouldn’t be we are just enjoying the moment.”
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