Holidays in Jail
For the 2 million Americans in prison, the holidays are a terrible time. It’s terrible for their family members too—they’re trying to enjoy what should be the most wonderful time of the year, and then they receive that automated collect call recording from prison. I have nightmares about those calls. Even though getting phone calls and visits are a blessing, I feel like such a piece of guilty shameful shit every time I get one, especially around Christmas time. What’s worse than not being able to give your family and your girl presents on Xmas ‘cause you’re a fucking idiot who got caught doing dumb shit?
Lamentably, I’ve spent the majority of the past decade’s Christmases locked up. I try to imagine I’m a tough son of a bitch and this doesn’t affect me, but I tell you, it’s mega-hard not to succumb to the depression. It’s a test of emotional strength to even watch TV, read the newspaper, or listen to the radio with the constant bombardment of all the holiday glory going on in the real world while we’re locked down. Some convicts try to celebrate Xmas in the stinky clink-clink and make the most of it, whereas I try my hardest to pretend it doesn’t exist, although that’s always pretty much impossible when I have to call home and eat that shit sandwich.
Being the Muslim at the Christmas Party
As a Muslim from a Christian family, Christmas has historically been complicated for me. Converting to Islam as a teenager, part of what I wanted from my religion was a new identity; the differences between Christians and Muslims held more value for me than the similarities, so I abstained from my family’s Christmas celebration. The boundaries between religions were crucial to my personal reinvention. I believed that there was no way of interpreting Christmas other than through the theological lens in which Christ was the son of God; because this violated my understanding of Islamic monotheism, tawhid, I had to stay as far from Christmas as I could.
In later years, I gave up on my Christmas boycott. I now join in my family’s annual party—with a discreet trip to Denny’s first, because everything at the family dinner has pork in it and Denny’s is the only thing open—and apparently celebrate the birth of someone’s savior, but not mine. I’m now confident enough in my own Muslim selfhood to not let it be won or lost by a holiday. Anyway, the boundaries don’t always mean to me what they once did; but for numerous Muslims with Christian families, Christmas can be a difficult choice. Besides the theological question of whether celebrating Christmas means that you join in the worship of a human as God, there’s the matter of what constitutes proper Muslim behavior. Celebrating Christmas could be classified asbida’a, “innovation,” the corruption of an Islam that’s imagined to be otherwise pure and pristine through mixture with the practices of other communities.
For pro-Christmas Muslims, the esteemed place of Jesus in Islam might offer a rational defense for sharing in a Christian holiday; the Qur’an not only recognizes Jesus as a prophet, but also supports the story of his miraculous birth from a virgin mother. Some Muslims might take part in their families’ Christmas celebrations with the intention to honor Jesus as a Muslim prophet. This can even connect to Muslim traditions regarding Muhammad. Not all Muslims believe that it is appropriate to celebrate Muhammad’s birthday, but those who do might consider the celebration of other prophets’ birthdays as well.
THIS IS HOW BULGARIANS CELEBRATE THEIR CULTURE
This morning, while traipsing through the VICE international websites (you can do that too, you know, by clicking on the language option at the top right corner of your screen), I came across this selection of photos that our Bulgarian office published last week. According to Google Translate, they picture some sort of street parade celebrating the 24th of May as the Day of Bulgarian Enlightenment, Culture, and the Cyrillic alphabet, as well a bunch of high school proms.
The translated blurb didn’t help me understand WTF is going on in these photos at all. Nor did the video below. But it looks pretty fun.