Friday, December 26, 2014

All boxed up on Boxing Day

Different Spin 26th December 2014 article submission. Unedited version. Published yesterday, The Star.

Today marks Boxing Day, a holiday in certain parts of the world and a celebration for most. For those uninitiated, Boxing Day is celebrated the day after Christmas Day, when servants and tradespeople would receive gifts, known as a “Christmas box”, from their bosses or employers. Nowadays, Boxing Day is a bank holiday (for some countries) that generally takes place on the 26 December, and in some places, it is a day of super mad sales.

Today, I feel it is a true boxing day for me, not for the reasons above, but because I am feeling “boxed up”.

The kids and I unwrapped some gifts we received from the numerous Christmas gatherings we’ve attended a few days leading up to Christmas. The hosts of these parties have encouraged guests to bring a small, inexpensive gift each, for the exchange of gifts session or the “secret santa” game. We participate as it is fun and it is an excellent ice-breaker at parties when not everyone knows each other.

My children were naturally ecstatic to have presents to open, and I posted the pictures of them and their gifts on my social media. We don’t have a Christmas tree, but my 7 year-old daughter made decorations and postcards that were inspired by the Season of Greetings.

Suffice to say, this holiday brought a nice, warm fuzzy feeling amongst my family members. Most of my family, who are back home in Sabah went for the evening mass and we exchanged our Christmas wishes via Facetime and SMSes. Christmas holidays has been good so far.

But back to feeling boxed up to the brim with a swirl of emotions.

You see, I am in a mixed-marriage. My parents and siblings are Catholic, but I am Muslim. I also have in-laws and relatives who are Hindus and Buddhists. Being part of a multi-racial family is nothing new here and is something that is becoming quite a norm in Malaysia. So why the swirl of emotions?

Mainly because I was taken aback at one or two unsavoury comments on my instagram post that captions me wishing my family and friends a “Merry Christmas”.

Naturally I was upset.

I unloaded my frustrations to close friends on a group chat and it was then that I found out about an ongoing ‘debate’ that has sparked annoyance if not fury to some. There has been a call of from a certain group in Malaysia saying it is inappropriate for Muslims to wish “Merry Christmas” Apparently, Christmas trees are deemed a secret means of the Christians ‘covert conversion plan’ and poor Santa (yes, the man in a red suit) is getting the boot too.

My first thoughts were, “are you kidding me?”

They were not.

It brought me back to a time early this year, where my husband was photographed wearing a sword pendant. He was lambasted on social media for wearing a cross. Even after explaining what it was, the comments came flooding in. It was nice that most of the comments came to his defence, but the one or two that were really nasty, left a bitter taste.

Fast-forward a few weeks later, we celebrated our anniversary in my hometown in Keningau, Sabah. My husband, children and I came clad in my kadazandusun traditional attire, and we took a picture at my kampung house. This time around, a real cross was seen hanging on the wall of my Christian family house. Again, the horrible comments attacked me and the family and suggested that now that I'm Muslim, I should wear a baju kurung.

I can understand them getting cross at a cross, but by me embracing Islam, does not change my ethnicity!

This time, instead of explaining, I ignored and blocked unnecessary comments.

I am tired of explaining my actions and why I do what I do, to complete strangers, so I don’t.

In a previous article, I wrote about how your intentions or ‘niat’ is the foundation of all actions in Islam. So I shall stand by this principal whenever a societal debate takes place.

Hence, when I wish my family and friends a  “Merry Christmas”, it is to forge goodwill - nothing more, nothing less. I encourage my daughter from creating handmade decorations inspired by the Season of Giving because it’s allowing her to embrace and respect a tradition of another family member of hers, and she is honing her creativity skills in arts & crafts. My daughter decorates the house during Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Thaipusam, Harvest Festival and Chinese New Year too. So why exclude Christmas? And if the exchanging of gifts makes everyone feel happy and fosters silaturrahim, why not right?

I don’t recall my Muslim relatives facing these constrictions growing up. My Muslim cousins, who live next door to my staunch Catholic grandmother (Odu)’s house would help with the tree decorations and making of the tapai during the days leading up to the annual family Christmas gathering; and likewise, during Raya, my Odu  would be there, sarung and all, in the making of ketupat and rendang, while smoking her sigup or chewing on her sirih. She’ll also make sure the dogs and her piglets were confined. Gifts and hampers were always the highlight of the evening for us kids. And for the longest time, I continued to leave milk and cookies for the man in the red suit (even after I found out Santa was daddy), as it was still a thrill to get a note from “him”.

Respect, tolerance, love, faith and understanding. That’s what we need more of right now.

I am going to unbox these swirl of emotions now and pray for the above for not just Malaysians, but for our brothers and sisters around the world. May we be kinder and more compassionate in all that we say, think and do. God-willing.

Merry Christmas and Happy holidays folks! I shall see you next year!

This is a personal opinion of the writer. Her gift to herself this year is producing her own online show called DAPHNE, something that she has always dreamed of doing. Watch her recent  episodes on youtube/user/daphneiking

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