BODY AND SOUL
Sunday, December 19, 1999
It's called Christmas and even in Pakistan it's time to be
I'M EN ROUTE to
Pakistan for a quick visit to the land of my birth - a short and
sweet winter getaway from work, home and the rat race.
I know that on my
return, Canada will have been transformed into a hyperactive
buzz of Christmas shopping, Christmas partying, dreaming of a
Canadians will be too politically correct to actually say,
On the flight,
I'm reflecting on the recent military coup in Pakistan, but I'm
pleasantly surprised to see that the Pakistani magazine I'm
reading is more interested in Christmas.
This edition of
Humsafar, the Pakistan International Airline in-flight magazine,
boasts a colourful cover collage of a Christmas tree, ornaments,
gifts and food.
Inside, there are
interviews with members of Pakistan's Christian community on how
they celebrate Christmas and a description of the spirit of
Christmas - what it means in both religious and secular terms,
the spiritual and commercial aspects of the celebration.
A day later, I'm
in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan.
My niece presents
me with a red-and-green outfit - I love bright colours -
"to wear to your Christmas party."
We go out to
dinner at a restaurant that is decorated with a Christmas tree
and lights. The owner has just returned from a visit to Canada
and we get into a discussion.
people," he says, "but very mixed up."
I rush to the
defence of my countrymen, then stop and realize that, in a way,
I travel on to
Karachi, where hotels are advertising their "Merry
specials in large, bold letters.
halal turkey - prepared according to Islamic dietary laws - for
those who might be interested only in the food and not the
faith. There will be Christmas pudding without alcohol and
non-alcoholic egg nog.
are packed with the goodies it takes to make Christmas fare and
the decorations are to die for.
Pakistan is celebrating Christmas with gusto - minus the
mistletoe, since Pakistanis draw a line at kissing en masse.
And they're not
getting into a dither about calling it "Happy
Holidays," either. I find it all refreshing and
Karachi is a
shopper's delight and so I start shopping . . . for Christmas
gifts, of course.
I buy ornaments,
angels with ethnic adornments, a silver cross for a religiously
oriented friend, secular gifts for the not-so-religious,
beautiful Christmas and Eid cards, more outfits in Christmas
As usual, I go
totally overboard and some eyebrows are raised in my family over
obviously don't get a chance to celebrate your own festival in
Canada, which is why you are so involved in Christmas,"
I tell them that
Canadians are fortunate to be able to celebrate anything we wish
- that's how liberal we are - but maybe we're a bit too nice.
In order to
accommodate diverse religions and cultures, I say, we have
stopped wishing each other "Merry Christmas" and
instead say, "Happy Holidays."
My family laughs
and agrees that this sounds like wishing for someone to take a
On my return to
Canada, I'm still thinking about my Christmas-in-Pakistan
My office staff
has been kind enough to schedule the office party before the
start of Ramadan, but in my absence, they decided to call it a
I make it quite
clear that I don't like "Happy Holidays." I love
getting into the spirit of the season, wishing people a
Even if they
don't celebrate Christmas, it's not an offence to wish someone
would be merry. It's a happy thought.
And I believe
that participating in the spirit of the season doesn't
compromise anyone's faith - it makes us better human beings.
I decorate my
office, wear my red-and-green outfit, hum a bit of "Jingle
Bells" and try to encourage people to just go with the feel
of the season and wish each other a very "Merry
starts, I take time to explain it to those who seem curious. And
I tell them that we Muslims would love to be wished
calendar tells me that this is also the season of Chanukah,
Kwanzaa and Hogmany, as well as the feasts of St. Nicholas and
St. Lucia and several other special days.
And I'd like to
wish everyone happiness for each one of these feasts,
individually and distinctly. In essence, all these celebrations
are about spirituality - about sharing and caring, loving and
giving, tolerance and respect.
My worst fear is
that if we don't watch this political-correctness bit, we may
end up saying, "We wish you a happy
So, before that
happens, let me wish joy to the world, peace and goodwill and a
Merry Christmas to all.
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