In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. Today is December 24th, known throughout most of the western world as "Christmas Eve". For Muslims and Jews living here in the US, the Christmas season poses to us an interesting paradox; Respecting and even to a certain extent enjoying the holiday season, while maintaining our own identity. For the Jews their lunar calender is such that the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah falls around the same time as Christmas. For us Muslims however, our lunar calender makes all of our important dates approximately 13 days earlier every year. So, while their are times when our high holidays fall around the same time as Christmas and Hanukkah, at other times they fall in summer. This year our biggest holiday, Eid ul Adha, fell on the day after Thanksgiving. So for many Muslims it worked out that most other Americans were celebrating a holiday weekend at the same time.
We as Muslims do not celebrate Christmas. This is not because we don't believe in the miraculous virgin birth of Jesus Christ (peace and blessings be upon him), because we most certainly do. We do not celebrate Christmas for the same reason that early Christians, some modern Christians, and even Jesus Christ himself didn't celebrate it; because from it's inception, it was not souly a celebration of Christ's birth.
Prior to the rise of Christianity, many ancient peoples held various celebrations commemorating the winter solstice. The Romans celebrated a day called "Dies Natalis Solis Invicti" or "The Birthday of the Unconquered Sun" which was basically a celebration of the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice, in which the sun ceased it's southward decent and begins to head northward again as it approaches the summer solstice (the longest day). It was seen as the day in which the sun proved "unconquered" by the "death" of winter. Many early Christian writers made comparisons between this concept and the birth of Christ. John Chrysostom, an early Archbishop of Constantinople said, "they call it the birthday of the unconquered. Who indeed is so unconquered as our lord...". This, according to many scholars, may very well be the origins of the Christian celebration of Christmas.
The ancient pagan peoples of Europe also had winter celebrations centered around the winter solstice. Pagan Scandinavia had a festival called "Yule" held around the time of the solstice and indeed in modern times in Scandinavia Christmas is still called "Jul". When these people became Christianized, they largely kept many of their pagan traditions but simply put Christian "twists" on them. This was also the case when the ancient druid festival of the harvest became "All Hallow's Eve" or "Halloween" for short, or the ancient Germanic month of Eostur Monath (the equivalent to modern 'April'), named for the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre, in becoming "Easter". Many Christian puritanical movements forbade the celebration of Christmas for this very reason.
So, when I hear people say that they get tired of the "secularization" of Christmas and loosing the "true meaning" (meaning the birth of Christ), I find it somewhat ironic because in all reality, Christmas has always had "non-Christian" elements. However, without doubt, the miraculous birth of Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) is most certainly on of the most important events in human history. Allah, God Almighty relates the story of his birth and mission in many places in the Qur'an.
"Behold! the angel said, 'O Mary! Allah has chosen you and purified you--chosen you above the women of all nations. Oh Mary! Worship the Lord devoutly; prostrate yourself and bow down with those who bow down. (Qur'an 3:42, 43)
"Behold! the angel said, 'Oh Mary, Allah gives you glad tidings of a word from Him; his name shall be Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary, held in honor in this world and the hereafter and of those nearest to Allah. He shall speak to the people as a child and as an adult, and he shall be righteous.' She said, 'Oh my Lord, how shall I have a son when no man has touched me?' He said, 'Even so, Allah creates what He wills, and when He has decreed a matter, He only has to say "Be" and it is'. And, Allah will teach him the book and wisdom, the Torah and the Gospel, and appoint him a messenger to the Children of Israel. (he will say) 'I have come to you with a sign from your Lord in that a make a bird from clay, breath into it and it becomes alive by Allah's leave. I heal those who are born blind, and the lepers, and I bring the dead to life, by Allah's leave. I declare unto you what you consume and what you store in your houses. Surely this is a sign for you if you but believe. I come to attest to the Torah which was before me, and to make lawful to you part of what was forbidden. I have come to you with a sign from your Lord. So fear Allah, and obey me. It is Allah that is my Lord and your Lord; so worship Him, for that is the straight way." (Qur'an 3:45-51)
Of his birth, and Mary's labor...
"And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm tree. She cried, 'Ah would I have died before this! Would that I had been a thing forgotten!' But a voice cried to her from beneath saying "Grieve not for the Lord has provided a stream beneath you, and shake the trunk of the tree and it will let down fresh dates upon you". (Qur'an 19:23-24)
For us as Muslims, Jesus Christ, the son of Mary, is a beloved prophet and messenger of God. His birth is of the most miraculous events in human history and most certainly worthy of remembering and honoring. However, we do not know exactly when this event took place. We, as well as many secular and Christian historians, are fairly confident that it was not on December 25th. So first of celebrating on that day would not be appropriate; especially considering the origin of the date is rooted in pagan traditions. Besides the date, it is also not common in the Jewish or Islamic traditions to celebrate birthdays at all. Jesus Christ himself (peace and blessings be upon him) most likely did not celebrate it as it was not done in Jewish law and tradition at that time, and Jesus is well known to have been an advocate of Jewish law as he is quoted as saying in Matthew 5:17-19
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the law of the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But, whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven."
Some Muslims actually celebrate the birthday of Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), however the majority of Muslim scholars and laymen, myself included, generally consider this against fundamental Islamic traditions and a bid'ah or wrongful innovation in the religion. I do not celebrate Muhammad's birthday nor do I advocate doing so, although I don't harshly condemn those who do.
With all of this being said, I want to say that I respect and appreciate the spirit of Christmas. As I grew up in a basically Christian environment, I learned to look forward to not only the gifts but also the memorable time spent with loved ones. The spirit of charity, peace and goodwill towards mankind is a spirit that is shared in Islam. On Eid ul Adha, we remember the legacy of Abraham, who is considered the patriarch of the three great divinely inspired monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. So in addition to remembering the importance of our own religious traditions it is also a time to reflect on our connection to our Jewish and Christian "cousins" in faith. As a Muslim, I appreciate the Christian's spirit of peace and joy during Christmas. I wish to see Christians focus less on the shopping and the materialistic aspects of the holiday, and remember the message of Christ according to their own scriptures. And, if possible, to remember that we Muslims share with them a common belief and love for Jesus Christ (peace and blessings be upon him), even if our theologies may not be exactly the same. I wish all my Christian friends and family a blessed holiday.
...And Allah Knows Best...