Journal: The festive season brings time off from work and school, but not every expat in Luxembourg catches yuletide fever.
With more than 160 nationalities living in the Grand Duchy, it isn’t surprising some expats don’t do the 25 December holiday. “Asking a Muslim how they celebrate Christmas is a bit like asking a Christian what they do at Ramadan,” Waleed, a practicing Muslim, said with a smile.
“Most Muslims have a huge respect for Jesus, but Christmas is not the actual day of the birth of the prophet Jesus. It is a holiday made to coincide with the earlier, pagan holiday,” he stated. “Having said that, many Muslims in Luxembourg have children at local schools, so they often celebrate with decorations, gifts and a special meal. I think it’s quite typical when you live in a European country to adapt to some of the local customs.”
As many children in the Grand Duchy attend schools with different nationalities and religions, it is inevitable that they will become aware of Christmas, irrespective of their family’s faith. For many parents this is a key factor in deciding how best to mark the holidays.
“We celebrate Christmas at my parents-in-law in Slovenia,” said Lucy, a practicing Buddhist. “We eat a special meal, decorate the tree and give gifts. As a child I had Catholicism forcibly imposed upon me and I don’t want to do the same to my kids. In time they can decide upon their own spiritual path.”
François, who was brought up as an atheist, agreed: “I may not personally believe in god or celebrate Christmas, but I would never force my beliefs on my children. These days, there is more and more focus on commercialism than religion and I know that this is the aspect my children get excited about. St. Nicholas, presents and gifts are mentioned in our house much more than Jesus and the Christmas story.”
“When you are living in a predominantly Muslim country, Christmas is not something that your children think about,” Wandeer explained. “But here in Luxembourg, where they are surrounded by images and taught about Christmas at school, it wouldn’t be fair to exclude them because of religious beliefs.”
For those without children, the decision whether or not to celebrate is made somewhat easier. “My husband is not particularly religious and I am a Buddhist,” said Judith. “We spend Christmas volunteering at the ‘Noël de la rue’, which has been providing those who are homeless in Luxembourg with a meal for more than 30 years. It is a great initiative and in keeping with traditional Buddhist values.”
Sanju, who runs a local restaurant and is spiritual but agnostic, also finds plenty to do on Christmas. “Usually, I am working at the restaurant,” he explained. “I like the philosophy of Jesus as he was a liberal, so I will offer free drinks and snacks to my friends during the Christmas period, regardless that I have no specific faith.”
“As in Christianity, many of the world’s religions hold Jesus in high esteem, be it as a prophet, a wise teacher or a Bodhisattva [enlightened one]”, in Judith’s view. “If you combine this with the Christmas themes of peace, joy, love and kindness, then there is certainly something for everyone to celebrate regardless of faith.”