I am not fond of Christmas and these holidays are very difficult for me to deal with. This has nothing to do with me being a Muslim. I have been a Grinch before this. I do not like excessive noise or crowds of people. It bothers me especially the excess, the lack of meaning and loud claims for kindness and mercy to decorate our lives for few days. This year is proving particularly hard for me.
Experiences of 2015 have forced me to question the paradigms under which I had lived until now. Life is suing me for an extra effort of introspective, growth and openness and that can be painful at times. A few weeks ago, I was venting my sorrows and doubts to my mother. I told her that the last thing I wanted to do was install a Xmas tree. She looked at her own Xmas tree full of golden balls and said:
“You know why I like Christmas trees? You were born a week before Pinochet’s coup. That year, the Dictatorship forbade people to buy, sell or cut pines trees under punishment, which ruined our Xmas, since plastic ones were very expensive. I built a tree for you at home, made of brass and wood. The center was a broomstick and the branches of wire. I cut leaves from empty cans of milk. I lost a child before you came to my life. And you were born in a country that suddenly lost freedom. I could not deny you hope. The Christmas tree has been my way to convey hope. That was my present.”
Listening to my mother, Christmas took on new meaning for me, a sacred dimension. I understand the sacred as those things, memories and spaces that are vital for us, all of what gives our lives meaning, purpose, reason and inspiration. I come from a family of women where husbands, brothers and male cousins are scarce. Joy, mourning, religion, knowledge or strength have been developed and shared from womb to womb.
Xmas is the temperance of my grandmother heading the table, handing out chocolate and cookies. Women and girls alone, keeping the joy up despite fear, because fathers and husbands had been caught for the curfew at work, the university or the pub, and they won´t be coming that night.
Xmas is the strength with which my aunt hugged me one Xmas Eve during the 80’s, with all the lights, except those of the tree, off. Lying on the floor in silence, while we listened to the sound of military boots and rifles, chasing people on the street.
Xmas is the faith of my friend whose son was lost at sea on the 23d of December, 15 years ago. She still waits for him and her tree is each year crowned with a picture of the boy, instead a star; and her energy to move forward with her life.
Xmas was the discovery of love and my first letter to declare it. 25 years later, I still write the same, because love is timeless.
Xmas is the endurance to face a prejudiced and orthodox society, when you’re pregnant and unmarried at age 17 attending Xmas Eve’s Mass.
Xmas is the sentiment of sisterhood of your sister and female cousins, posing their hands nicely on your 8.5 months pregnant belly, promising unconditional love and caring to the new girl to come, saying she is not yours, but OURS.
Xmas is the enthusiasm of my daughter at age 8, cutting paper angels for a garland to hang above her bed to ensure she would receive the gift she dreamed. This was not always possible so Xmas was also the honesty to talk about that.
Xmas is all the books I have received this month by post, expressions of feminist friendship worldwide- a beautiful, powerful network of which I am part.
There is a verse in the Quran, in Chapter 4 called “Women” that says: “and remember the wombs…” which has taken on new meaning along with this reflection. To “remember the wombs” is not only to respect women as part of creation, but also to honor the ties that bind us as women through those gifts of wisdom. Also, it means we should never forget our divine origin in the body of a woman and where we came from: Who were the women who fed us, loved us, cared for us, advised us, protected us and cherished us and how they have influenced our life experiences? It is a reflection that seems appropriate to make at the end of the year.
If Christmas is a celebration to remember God’s will for humanity, I have to say that for me, it is a perfect occasion to celebrate the sacred wisdom of women in my life and honor the divine gifts they have given me over the years. Looking back at my experiences, I have come to believe that the Divine lives within us. The greatest miracles of Xmas I’ve witnessed in my life come from the spiritual strength of my community of women. From the women in my life, the women I love, those women of all ages, past and present, God’s gift revealed through them for me, in this Xmas, is called RESILIENCE.
Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente is a Writer, Mentor and Community Educator in Capacity Building for Grass Roots Female Leaders and Advocates. A Muslim Feminist who is an Independent Researcher of Gender and Islam in Latin America on Feminist Hermeneutics, Muslim Women Representations, Queer Identities and Movement Building. She blogs in Spanish at Mezquita de Mujeres, a site dedicated to explore the links between Gender, Religion and Feminism as well to Women from the Global South as Change Makers in their communities.