When my mom was 12 years old, she immigrated to Canada from Punjab, India. She lived with her father and four siblings in Victoria, British Columbia until she got married. My mom acquired many of her Christmas celebrations as a Canadian Sikh during this phase of her life.
Around the age of 16, my mom had someone incredibly special come into her life, her stepmother, Shirley.
Shirley was Indigenous, part of the Cree tribe and followed the Catholic religion. Everyone who knew her, adored her as she shared so much love with those around her. Shirley was a true gem of a human being, one of the kindest and warmest people we have ever had the pleasure of knowing.
She celebrated Christmas and brought her own family traditions into the Punjabi home she joined. Many years later, when my mom had me, she continued the same Christmas celebrations and traditions.
She told my dad all about the importance of the holidays – the tree, the gifts, the family coming together, the food, the photographs, and the home videos. Together, they made it all happen.
Every year, my siblings and I decorated a Christmas tree. My dad climbed the ladder and put up lights all around the house. We invited family over or made the trip to them. On Christmas Eve, we baked cookies and watched our favourite holiday movies (both Home Alone films are at the top of the list), and left out cookies and milk for Santa. In the morning, we woke up early, snuck downstairs and found a mountain of gifts under and around the tree.
We spent the entire morning opening gifts, laughing and just being completely happy. Then my mom would make cholay bhaturay for brunch (curried chickpeas with fried bread). The fresh and warm bhaturay were so irresistible that we continued to eat even when our stomachs were ready to burst. Since she cooked the cholay in a pressure cooker, they were perfectly soft, never too spicy, and were topped off with thin slices of red onion marinated in vinegar.
The rest of the day we enjoyed all the new gifts we received and would marathon the Harry Potter movies. For dinner, my mom would make a feast: a full turkey dinner. The spread included homemade stuffing, oven-roasted veggies, creamed mushrooms and potatoes, fresh rolls with butter, mixed salads and rice pilaf. The dessert was chocolate fudge cake or ice cream. The five of us sat around the table, passing around dishes, smiling and savouring every bite, praising our mother for everything she blessed us with.
There were other times when we wouldn’t be at home for Christmas. We went to my mom’s siblings’ homes, where all the aunts and uncles and cousins got together and exchanged gifts. We ate lots of food, danced, and danced some more. Especially on New Year’s Eve, the kids stayed up after midnight. We loved dancing with the grown-ups to our favourite Punjabi folk music and celebrating life with every morsel of our beings.
Growing up, I didn’t realize that there was anything wrong with this tradition. My mom had done such a great job with continuing with it every year. Other people outside of my family began to question it. They would ask, “oh you guys celebrate Christmas? I didn’t realize you were Catholic!” I would suddenly feel embarrassed and confused, and replied with, “well, we do celebrate Christmas, but we are Sikh.”
“How does that work?” they’d ask.
I didn’t really know how to answer at that time. I told them that my parents enjoyed decorating, getting into the spirit of giving and coming together during the holidays. They created so much magic and wonder with stories of Santa Claus. I tried to explain that there was nothing religious in our Christmas celebrations. We just simply loved Christmas!
My siblings and I attended a Catholic school from kindergarten until graduating high school. My parents didn’t want us to go to a public school. Luckily, we were accepted into a Catholic one, which at the time was not easy, as we were not baptised.
We attended mass at the local church with our classmates. Whenever it was time for communion, we crossed our arms over our chests so that the priest knew not to give us the host. He would bless us by making the sign of the cross on our foreheads with ash.
We learnt about the Catholic religion at school. We knew everything there is to know about the bible, the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ, and more. So, with Christmas, we felt conflicted. As we got older, we questioned if it was right to be celebrated even though we were technically raised as Sikh.
I remember seeing an Instagram story of a family friend, a couple of years ago, around the holidays. He said something to the effect of, “sad to see so many brown people putting up trees and getting caught up in the capitalism of Christmas, rather than attending the Gurdwara.”
I wanted to tell him, lovingly of course, that putting up a Christmas tree does not take away from being a Sikh or being South Asian. Being a parent now for over 10 years, I can see why my mother decided to bestow such a beautiful tradition upon us. Our parents raised us to respect all religions and cultures, which is something I have taught my own daughters too.
With my girls, I keep my parents’ traditions and those of my late Shirley Naniji, while creating a few new ones. As soon as December 1st hits, we start decorating the house. We bring out the tree, put on our favourite Christmas song playlists, and start the holiday movie marathons. Together, we write letters to Santa, take our yearly family photos, and print them onto cards that we send by mail. We come up with ideas about how to give back to our community and help those in need.
Every December morning, we anticipate what Elfie has been up to the night before, and the girls eat their daily chocolates from their calendars. We love to drive around the neighbourhood and check out all the beautiful lights that sparkle up the houses of the city. Also, after an afternoon of either shoveling the snow or building snow-people, we treat ourselves to hot chocolate with marshmallows while sitting by our (electric) fireplace. We make our rounds to all the family members in every city within our province, Windsor, Waterloo, Brampton, Orangeville, Guelph, and Mississauga. If we’re lucky, they come to us. But not even a snowstorm has stopped us from visiting family during the holidays!
Finally, on Christmas Eve, my daughters and I bake cookies. Just like I did with my siblings when we were kids, we eat them with milk while watching Christmas movies. We never forget to leave some out for Santa before going to sleep. In the morning, we wake up early, give each other hugs and kisses, and give thanks for the family we have, the home we live in and the love we share with each other. We wrap our arms around one another and then go crazy unwrapping all the gifts Santa left for us under our tree.
From my little family to yours, we wish you a magical holiday season and a very happy 2023!
Eid-ul-Fitr is a special holiday that marks the end of Ramadan — the month of fasting — for Muslims worldwide. Ramadan is a time of gratitude, spiritual focus, forgiveness, celebrating community and helping the needy. Eid-ul-Fitr celebrations mark the conclusion of the holy month of Ramadan.
Rubab Bukhari is a busy mom of five based in Calgary, Canada. She shared that Eid, for her family, is a day of gathering with loved ones and sharing a delicious meal together as a symbol for breaking fast. “Eid is celebrated as the most joyous occasion where we put up Eid decorations and exchange gifts with everyone in the house. New clothes are made for everyone; the girls get excited about getting henna on their hands and the boys get more excited about receiving their Eidi (gifts/money).”
A published author, spoken word artist and dance fitness instructor, Nazhah Khawaja shares how she’s built new traditions with her two children and husband in Illinois, Chicago despite not being exposed to the “Eid flavor” herself while growing up.
“My sister suggested decorating the house for Eid with the goal of getting the kids in the holiday mood,” she said. Regardless of the exhaustion that followed due to decorating while fasting, Khawaja realized that her sister “was onto something.” She added that “kids are very visual learners and interpreters — the visual display of decorations helps them to feel the festivity more. Forever grateful to my sister for encouraging this tradition that our family has embraced.”
Another new tradition that she has embraced is celebrating Eid festivities with her husband’s family who are non-Muslim. Furthermore, she insists on taking photographs during Eid-ul-Fitr to keep memories alive because one never really knows if the people in the photos will be there next time around. She also includes that the “Eid nap is a must — which means adults are dozing off while the kids are running wild; ample heavenly chaos and beautiful noise.”
Passing down familial customs from her mother, Khawaja remembers a story she had told her of how as soon as the dawn of Eid arrived, the villagers in Pakistan walked down unpaved streets welcoming Eid with a tune: “Mubarak Eid Mubarak/ Mubarak Khair Mubarak/ Saheliyon Eid Mubarak!” Khawaja’s mother used to sing it every time. “Growing up, my siblings and I would sing this tune in our not-so-refined Urdu, giggle at one another, create our own, often goofy lyrics, and even dance silly moves,” she shared.
Meanwhile, Bengali shemai, Kashmiri kheer and ma’amoul are the favorite Eid desserts in Janan’s household! She is the founder and CEO of the publishing company, Global Bookshelves Intl., a pharmacist by profession and a mother of three young girls, based in Louisville, Kentucky. They look forward to dressing up their best for Eid prayers the most.
Likewise, Ursula Sarah Khan who is a mom influencer and an accountant by trade, said that they fill their Eid-themed gift bags with all sorts of goodies like candy, bubbles and pencils. On Eid-ul-Fitr, her eight-year-old son, Ibrahim, distributes these bags amongst the boys after Eid prayers, while her five-year-old daughter, Eliyah, hands them to the girls.
They also bake Eid cookies together in addition to swapping their Ramadan decor with Eid decor, while still in their Eid pajamas in their Northern Virginia home!
Blending older traditions with some newer ones, Sarah carries on her mother’s age-old tradition of making sheer khorma — a Pakistani dessert made with vermicelli, milk, dates and nuts — in the morning.
She also explains to her children the importance of Zakat or charity, which is what her mother taught her: “I now take this same approach with my children to ensure they have a deep understanding of the generosity Islam teaches.”
Speaking of home and family, Haffsa Rizwani — a Canadian, currently residing in Stockholm, Sweden, as a PhD candidate — said: “Living away from home, Canada, where my immediate family resides, we have a tradition of traveling from Stockholm to my aunt’s house in Oslo, Norway, every Eid. Especially to mark the celebration as a family event for my children.” Together with her aunt, Haffsa’s daughter gets her henna done and goes shopping for bangles! She goes on to explain how Eid-ul-Fitr is an opportunity to not only dress up, but also regain that morning ritual of chai and evenings with games like carrom board; “a game played till my uncle wins.”
As Rizwani so eloquently puts it, “While my children are still quite small, my daughter is now of age to appreciate and understand the meaning of gratitude, blessings, and giving back. She now has the empathy to comprehend the inequalities and injustices in the world. Ramadan is therefore a month of being thankful and making extra duas. Eid is a day of celebration with gratitude and blessings.”
February 28, 2023February 28, 2023 4min readBy Sara Qadeer
Hi! I am Sara and I am a mom to a beautiful, neurodivergent child. This piece explores some challenges of parenting an atypical child in a typical world.
It is a sunny day in the summer of 2020 and I am trying to enjoy the only entertainment that has finally been “allowed” by our province. Parks. Sunshine was always free; scarce but free. I have eyes on my daughter, running and somersaulting, with that untethered quality they say she gets from me, while socializing with two girls her age from a distance.
All of a sudden, the distance called ‘social’ gets smaller and as I run and call out in vain my child has the kid in a tight and loving but forbidden hug. I understand that pandemic or no pandemic, physical space is a basic right but for my daughter, it falls under the ‘but why?’ category.
The next 15 minutes are spent apologizing to an exasperated mother asking me why my kid was not taught the dangers of COVID-19 and personal space. She is four, I tell her, she just got excited. At some point, I zone out and just let her say her piece. Some of it is in a language I have never heard before, complete with hand gestures and melodrama as if it was not a preschooler but Bigfoot.
Maybe later I will do the thing we all do; oh, I should have said that. Maybe I won’t. This is not the first time my kid has drawn public attention and it is not the last.
Six months later, we received a diagnosis for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). After the reaction time (read stress eating and ugly crying) ended, we began our journey of raising an atypical child in a world that insists on the typical.
Textbook wise, neurodivergence includes Autism, ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, OCD, hyperlexia and Tourette Syndrome.
I could write a book on my journey as a mom raising a child who is neurodivergent (ND). I will in due time and the first chapter would be, “Fighting for inclusion in a world insisting on exclusion.” If you ask any parent with a neurodivergent kid, they will tell you that it is not finances or the fear of the future bringing them down, it is just people. But that’s been the case since the dawn of time anyway.
If you are someone who is kind and inclusive but are confused by the jargon, read on for some guidance that will make you an ever-favorite ally and, well basically, just decent. It is just basic decency after all to be inclusive and kind.
If you have a kid on the spectrum for ASD or ADHD or any other neurodivergence in your social circle, the first step is to not stop being friends with their parents. Yes, that happens. Parents can get super isolated and alienated because their kid is a certain way. Give ND families a chance to breathe. Invite them to BBQs, ask them what their kid will eat, encourage your kids to include them — the whole nine yards.
There will be meltdowns, at birthday parties, at the mall, in restaurants. Sometimes the best thing to do is to look the other way. Ask the right questions. Rather than asking “what happened?” or “why are they doing this?”simply say “how can I help?” Maybe you can help with another sibling or give the child some space.
Do not equate a sensory meltdown or otherwise to a parenting failure or a lack of discipline. ND parents face a lot of judgment on those grounds. That is one of the top reasons they scoop up their kids and leave before dinner is even served.
The biggest challenge in our community is acceptance. There is a dire need to accept that around 30 percent of our population is neurodivergent. This includes adults and undiagnosed individuals. You and I might not even know if we are atypical, the world is just getting to know this word and what it entails. As for the South Asian community, neurodivergence is practically stigmatized and seen as ‘spoilt’ child behavior or ‘mom spending too much time at work, on social media, Netflix, sewing, knitting, kayaking…’ The list goes on.
It is 2022 and we are all trying to make space for people at our tables. This includes people who might not look or act or perceive the world like us. As a parent I have fears that all parents have, but somehow those fears have been heightened to exponential limits ever since my kid’s diagnosis came through.
How is she doing? Did someone bully her? Does she have friends? Is she included in activities? What if she says something silly and they laugh at her? What happens when she is older? Will she go to college? I should not be thinking that. I want to think about how much she is learning at school, what game they played today, what she and her friends talk about and all other typical mom things.
Except I am not a typical mom. And that is okay.
My child has wonder; she has innocence. I see things from her lens and her computation of the world is unique. The biggest misconception people have is of intelligence. A child with autism finds difficulty in processing social cues (like sarcasm) but otherwise they are as smart as you and me, if not more. Probably more.
Some days are hard but not all days are hard, and not every moment of that rough day is difficult. We, parents of ND children, do not keep obsessing over the fact that our kids are atypical; we binge watch the same shows, we have hobbies and interests and date nights and ‘me-time.’ Some days are magical and the most important thing for people to know is that Autism families are not looking for pity parties, just kindness and inclusion with a healthy sprinkle of understanding— an understanding of the atypical in a world only rooting for the typical.
Holi is a Hindu festival that celebrates the coming of spring and is observed near the end of winter. It’s also referred to as the festival of colors or the festival of love. Although my daughters and I are not Hindus, (we are Sikhs) we still celebrate Holi. Our Holi celebrations always include reading about this festival, making colorful art, playing with the colorful powders, and making some delicious, traditional sweets. This is always such a great occasion to discuss the diversity of Indian culture with my daughters. I use this opportunity to teach them about inclusivity and respect for different cultures around the world. All across India, different states celebrate this festival in their own meaningful ways.
My first experience celebrating this beautiful festival was in university. My roommates, friends and international students put together a lovely day of Holi celebrations outside. We were completely covered in variety of colors — pinks, purples, and blues. There was music, laughter, dancing, and an overall joyous atmosphere (including bhang, which is essentially a cannabis milkshake). It was particularly heartwarming to see so many Indian students coming together as a community, so far from home, to connect with such a beloved tradition.
For those of us, brought up in Canada, such celebrations were amazing opportunities to genuinely experience the true spirit of Holi. Similar to how it is done in India, everyone became one – there were no small groups or cliques doing their own thing; class lines and caste systems, predominant across India, disappeared. Everyone joined together; our skin tones hidden under the bright colours of the Holi powders. It surely was an unforgettable time.
As a child, I got to experience Holi only through Indian Cinema. Bollywood films like “Silsila,” “Darr,” and “Mohabbatein” stand out in my memory. The actors are dressed completely in white at the beginning of the song, enjoying Holi celebrations, and are then painted from head to toe, in various bright colours, by the end of the song. Since then, I’ve learned that certain colours hold meaning and significance. Red symbolizes love, fertility, and matrimony; blue represents the Lord Krishna; and green stands for new beginnings.
Now, as a mother, I don’t want my children to experience our culture through a screen. So we bring these Holi traditions into our home in our own creative ways. We certainly tend to get creative since around March there is still ample snow on the ground outside and a chill in the air!
The activities we have fun doing are:
Making rangoli designs using coloured powders (this is a helpful site we’ve used)
Making paper flowers to decorate the house with (like the ones here)
Making tie-dye shirts (we’ve got a kit for this because the girls love it)
Baking a traditional Indian snack, like gujiya (we bake them because I get paranoid about the girls being around hot oil).
“Let’s Celebrate Holi!” by Ajanta Chakraborty and Vivek Kumar (for three to seven-year-olds)
“Festival of Colors” by Surishtha Seghal and Kabir Seghal (for two to eight-year-olds)
“Why Do We Celebrate Holi” by Anitha Rathod (for eight years old and above)
This year, Holi falls on the same date as International Women’s Day! To combine the two celebrations, my daughters and I plan on sketching South Asian females we look up to the most, and then adding bright colours using different types of paint. For another element of texture, we might add the paper flowers to these as well. I’m thinking these are going to be frame-worthy pieces of art!