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ILLUSTRATION BY JEN HSIEH

ILLUSTRATION BY JEN HSIEH


不妨想像這樣一幅畫面:透過凸窗,可以看到我們穆亞倫家裏立起一棵耶誕樹。時空是一九九七年加拿大的亞伯達省北部,前院草地上堆積的白雪,就像是北極的冰丘。
我哥阿里的個子最高,他剛在耶誕樹頂上放了一顆星,大家就一起數到三,然後母親插上了燈泡的插頭。我們臉上露出喜不自勝的笑容,就像綻放明亮光芒照亮四周。要不是一、二個關鍵細節,這畫面簡直就是完美的耶誕賀卡了。
其中一點,是沒有幼兒在場。我的年紀最小,十一歲,兄姊至少大我三歲。這似乎沒有什麼好奇怪的,要不是那年是我們家第一次出現耶誕樹。噢,還有,其實那並不是真正的樹,而是家中最強壯的一株盆栽,妝點後承受得住重量,不致枝葉低垂。
此外,那天也不是耶誕節,而是伊斯蘭曆九月的齋戒月。齋戒月是伊斯蘭教最神聖的月份,信徒要禁食、沉思與祈禱,不能把玩亮晶晶的東西,也不能歡天喜地。那天甚至不是十二月。由於伊斯蘭曆一年比西曆短少十一天,因此我們掛上裝飾物的那天,是一九九七年的一月底。
此外,你也看不出這是個祕密。當時爹返回祖國黎巴嫩,對於我們淺嘗一個基督教的節日並不知情。我們家從不歡慶耶誕節,但今年既然爹不在家,我姊賈妮說服媽,跨越宗教藩籬並不違背教規,而且僅此一次,下不為例。
媽告訴阿里和我:「今年我們會有個不一樣的齋戒月,一個有耶誕節的齋戒月。」
非基督徒移民家庭的孩子,成長過程中通常對耶誕節會形塑出不一樣的觀感。就算謎底揭曉,得知所謂的耶誕老人其實不過是張信用卡,還是不易面對。選擇之一,就是乾脆放棄過耶誕節,決定「不要」享受這個一年之中最美好的節日,完全不要。
有些孩子可能想彌補這個缺憾過了頭,就像我小時候那樣。住在加拿大鄉下的時候,我和朋友格外重視過「穆斯林耶誕節」的樂趣。
這個節日有個更為人知的名稱,叫開齋節,代表齋戒月進入尾聲,月亮即將展開新一輪的盈虧變化。對我來說,人生頭幾年的開齋節就是上清真寺,可能還有一件新毛衣可穿。但等我大到明白金錢的價值,就會期望拿到冰冷但實在的傳統禮物:錢。
許多叔伯阿姨會給我們藍色、紫色和綠色的鈔票,而我們唯一要做的,就是親吻長輩的雙頰,並說上一段阿拉伯文:「祝您年年健康。」我喜歡在開齋節的早晨上清真寺,因為親吻越多長輩的雙頰,就可以拿到越多的錢。
然而,依照伊斯蘭教的規定,一旦進入青春期,就必須在齋戒月期間,每天從日出到日落禁食,白天不吃不喝,整整一個月。於是,我過節的興致越來越淡。
到了十一歲那年,開齋節的到來已不再令人歡欣鼓舞。賈妮察覺到我們對過節興趣缺缺,於是和母親籌畫出這項耶誕節計畫。
一九九七年開齋節的前幾天,母親走進我房裏,我正在包裝準備送她的禮物,連忙將所有東西塞到床底下,活像個毒蟲遇到警察臨檢一樣。結果母親開始盤問:「你有什麼祕密得瞞着自個的老媽?」我只好拿出那瓶還沒包裝好的香水,而她已忘了齋戒月耶誕節這檔事。
耶誕節顯然沒有進入母親腦海,不過她還是盡量配合,在開齋節─耶誕節的那天早晨,裝出一副驚訝的樣子。我們在客廳電視上看了許多年的耶誕節特別節目如今派上用場,依樣畫葫蘆地演出。我們坐在地板上,身邊都是包裝紙,還有一株很特別的室內盆栽。我們互相傳遞禮物,每次驚喜之後都是一個擁抱。節日的溫暖與歡欣,讓我整個人暈陶陶的。
小時候親戚給我們錢很好;然而,給錢代表的是慷慨,不是理解。禮物送得好,會讓人在人生中不時想起餽贈之人。送禮這件事或許已經沾滿消費主義與資本主義的色彩,但仍然是表達愛的方式。
十多年後,我終於又過了一次耶誕節。那時我結識未來的妻子嘉奈七年,才頭一回體驗何謂「真正的」耶誕節,亦即賈米森家的耶誕節。燈泡、花環、蛋酒——每年一到十二月,凡是耶誕節必備的物品,他們家應有盡有。
與他們共度的第一個耶誕節清晨,我一進去,就發現儘管只是四口之家,耶誕樹下卻堆了三十件禮物,還掛了十一只長襪!我問:「還有其他親友要來嗎?」我未來的岳母答說沒有。原來,十一只襪子中的三只是給家裏的三隻貓;兩只是紀念死去的貓;還有一只是給我養在自己家裏的貓。最後一只呢?她說:「是給你的。」
我坐在樹下,打開一份來自「耶誕老人」的神祕禮物。我大口喝着味道很像蘭姆酒的蛋酒,聽着屋內播放的瑪麗亞凱莉耶誕專輯。氣氛很老派,又很美好。節慶的精神感染了我,傳遍我全身。
然而,直到不久前,我對耶誕的熱愛仍是最深藏心底、最不願家人知道的祕密。我對父母吐露過許多敏感的事,但耶誕節仍舊最難說出口。
數年前的一個十二月,我邀請爸媽來家中作客。我們準備了亮晶晶的耶誕樹,長襪高懸在柴火劈啪作響的壁爐之上。我對爸媽解釋,從基督徒、穆斯林到無神論者,耶誕節屬於每一個人,是一個超越宗派的節日,「人人都可以樂在其中。」耶誕節讓我覺得很棒,所以為什麼要抗拒?


A Celebration for Everybody

Picture my family, the Mouallems, through the bay window of our home as we erect our Christmas tree. It’s 1997 in northern Alberta, Canada. Snow piles up across the front lawn like arctic dunes.
My brother, Ali, the tallest, has just crowned the tree with a star when, on the count of three, our mother plugs in the lights. Our effervescent smiles radiate almost as brightly. It would be the perfect holiday postcard if not for a few key details.
For one, there are no young children present. At 11, I’m the youngest by three years, which wouldn’t be peculiar if not for the fact that it’s our first Christmas tree. Oh, and it’s not a tree—it’s the most robust houseplant we could adorn without having it slouch under the weight.
Also, it’s not Christmas. It’s Ramadan, Islam’s holiest month, a time for fasting, contemplation and prayer, not tinsel and jubilation. Further, it’s not even December. Because the Islamic calendar moves back 11 days each year, it was late January in 1997 when we put up our decorations.
Another thing you can’t see is that it’s a secret. My dad was on a trip to his homeland, Lebanon, and was unaware of this brief brush with the Christian holiday. In our household, we didn’t celebrate Christmas. But with Dad away, my sister, Janine, convinced our mom that it would be totally halal if we crossed party lines—just this once.
“We will be doing Ramadan differently this year,” she told Ali and me. “We will be having a Christmas Ramadan.”
Non-Christian immigrant children often grow up to have a different outlook about Christmas. Even after the curtain is pulled and Santa is revealed to be little more than a credit card, it becomes no easier. Forgoing Christmas becomes a choice—a decision not to indulge in what is the best holiday of the year, bar none.
Some children may overcompensate for this absence, as I did. That meant playing up for my friends in rural Canada, the joy of “Muslim Christmas.”
This holiday is better known as Eid al-Fitr and marks a new lunar cycle at the end of Ramadan. For the first few years of my life, Eid meant going to mosque and maybe getting a new sweater. But upon reaching the age where one gains a concept of money, I was deemed ready for the traditional gift of cold, hard cash.
It came from aunties and uncles, in bills blue, purple and green. All we had to do for it was kiss the elder on each cheek and recite an Arabic phrase: “May every year find you in good health.” I relished going to mosque on Eid morning because it meant more cheeks and more money.
But, in Islam, when one reaches puberty, one is compelled to fast during Ramadan, from sun-up to sundown. No food or drink during daylight hours for a month. My morale waned.
By the time I was 11, Eid didn’t arrive with the same glee as before. Sensing our declining enthusiasm Janine had hatched the Christmas plan with our mother.
A few days before the Eid of 1997, my mother walked into my bedroom as I was wrapping her presents. I shoved everything under the bed, like a junkie in a drug raid. She started interrogating me. “Are you keeping secrets from your mother?” I showed her the half-wrapped bottle of perfume. She had forgotten about Christmas Ramadan.
Obviously, it wasn’t her thing, but she went along with it anyway, feigning surprise on the morning of our Eid Al-Fitr-Christmas. We re-enacted the studied TV Christmas specials that had been broadcast into our living rooms for years. Sitting on the floor, surrounded by piles of wrapping paper and a very special houseplant, we passed around presents and followed each surprise with a hug. I was overcome with holiday warmth and fuzziness.
It was kind of my relatives to dish out money throughout my childhood, but cash gifts are about generosity, not understanding. Presents, done well, really make you think of the people in your life. Gift-giving may be steeped in consumerism and capitalism, but it is nevertheless the language of love.
More than a decade would pass before I would have another Christmas. It wasn’t until I met my wife, Janae, seven years ago, that I had my first real Christmas, a Jamieson family Christmas. Lights, wreath, eggnog—their home in December is a checklist of Christmas classics.
On my first Christmas morning with them, I entered to find 30 presents piled around the tree, despite there being just four Jamiesons. And 11 stockings! “Are we expecting more family?” I asked. No, my future mother-in-law explained. Three were for the living cats, two were in memory of the deceased cats, one was for my own cat at home. And the last one? “It’s for you,” she said.
I sat around a tree and opened a mystery gift from “Santa.” I gulped rummy eggnog while Mariah Carey’s Christmas album plays in the background. It is hokey, and it is wonderful. The holiday spirit infected me and spread to my extremities.
However, until recently, my love of the season was my deepest, darkest family secret. I have broken a lot of sensitive news to my parents, but the hardest was coming out of the Christmas closet.
A few Decembers ago, I invited them over. Against the backdrop of our glittering tree and stockings dangling above the crackling fire, I explained to them that Christmas belongs to all of us — Christians, Muslims, atheists — that it is a non-denominational holiday everybody can enjoy. Christmas makes me feel great, so why fight it?

心動不如行動 — 馬上註冊!