As we approach the end of the year, television and all other media channels simply burst into colour and action, bombarding us with advertisements and shopping discounts geared towards satisfying our capitalist cravings, as radio stations and loudspeakers in shopping malls blare out empty promises of happiness in merry-making and in the holidays and Orchard Road lights up in such brilliance never seen before in any other month of the year. It’s the holiday season they say; Jingle Bells and White Christmas become the anthem of the people, as if snow would fall onto this tropical country and reindeers would survive the heat and rain of the unpredictable North-East Monsoon. Amidst all these summons for celebration, do we as Muslims understand the origins and implications of such festivities?
Firstly, if we desire to step up to the national aspiration of developing critical thinkers in thinking schools, we should question, why should this month be considered as end of the year? If you can sense that this notion of end-of-the-year is rather arbitrary, you are one step closer to graduating from the real school of critical thinking. Well done!
The holiday seasons follow the ancient Roman solar calender known as the Julian calender, declared by Caesar himself, coinciding with the Winter Solstice period of the year in which poor preparations for harsh cold conditions may result in starvation. As such, 1 January was arbitrarily declared the start of the new year in honor of the rebirth of the Sun God, Sol Invictus (from this sun worship worldview is also where Sunday is arbitrarily declared the end of the week for holiday and rest). Prior to the Winter Solstice is a period of merry-making known as Saturnalia where the poet Catullus describes Saturnalia as the best of days. It was a time of celebration, visits to friends, and gift-giving, particularly of wax candles, and earthenware figurines (like our modern day toys?). Additionally it was also a time where the temporary reversal of roles are observed; Masters served meals to their slaves who were permitted the unaccustomed luxuries of leisure and gambling. Clothing was relaxed and included the peaked woollen cap that symbolized the freed slave, which looks an awful lot like Santa Claus’s peaked red hat . A member of the familia (family plus slaves) was appointed Lord of Misrule, and as the name suggests, they were in charge of chaos and disorder. Perhaps this was their idea of fun? God knows. Sometimes celebrations grew out of hand to the extent that some Roman Emperors actually attempted, in vain, to shorten the festivities to three or five days. These festivities were eventually christianised with the coming of Christianity in Rome to what we observe today.
But how do some of our history-illiterate Muslim brothers and sisters respond? I breathed in some oxygen molecules of exasperation and disappointment. We may live in the 21st Century as independent people but our minds and habits are still held captive, enslaved by our Colonial masters in compounded ignorance (jahil murakkab). Some say that slavery was eradicated by the 20th Century, yet we still see today two types of slavery; of the mind and of the desires (nafs). We will continue to remain enslaved by these things unless we are prepared to Islamize ourselves in thought and soul; as mentioned by Al-Attas, Islamization is a liberating process to becoming the man of Islam whose reason and language is no longer controlled by magic, mythology, animism, his own national and cultural traditions and secularism. As such, Islamization refers to a man’s progress towards realization of his original nature as spirit, and this is exactly what our festivities of Eidul Fitr and Eidul Adha in Islam represent; our ascent towards recalling our true nature (fitra) and of the Primordial Covenant we once took to witness Allah as our Lord in the realm of the souls, as opposed to those drunken merry-making intended to forget!
Well I’m not exactly suggesting we should do away with the Gregorian-Julian civil calender and go out with arrows aimed at some poor merry-making reindeer. We should at least be aware of the calender and the holiday season’s origins and be prepared to engage with them constructively. Let me suggest to you something better; let’s give ourselves and others the gift of a better understanding of our religion, shall we? Let’s jingle the bells of our hearts and minds with the knowledge of Islam and its worldview.