Comedian | Professor | Writer
(& Smartest) Arab
Now, for me, Christmas is really cool. As I’ve mentioned before, both of my parents are Palestinian. My father is Christian, and my mother is Muslim. To some, this union might seem like it would produce some bizarre results. It’s important to note, though, that all four of my parents’ children are great successes. There’s a high school math teacher working at a prestigious school in Jordan, a management consultant working for a prestigious firm in Dubai, a music manager working for a prestigious artist in New York City, and me: a college student who started as a chemistry major, then received a degree in history, then a master’s degree in Middle East studies, then a law degree, and then became, logically, a comedian. See, I’m not confused at all.
Growing up in my house was fun. We celebrated everything: Eid, Easter, Eid, and Christmas. One year we even celebrated Yom Kippur for good measure. We moved to America when I was only three years old. A few years after that, my grandmother moved here too. And she lived with us. Arab mother-in-laws are notoriously difficult. They’re especially cranky when their Christian son marries a Muslim girl. My grandmother came to this country because both of her children had moved here and my grandfather had passed away. Unlike some others, we Arabs don’t leave our old people alone, and we don’t put them in retirement homes. They live with us until we hang their picture on the wall.
I remember when my grandmother moved into our house, because she didn’t come alone. She brought with her something extremely special. She brought with her a memento of another famous Palestinian … a beautiful, huge portrait of the Virgin Mary. That portrait stayed in our house until she passed away in 2005. While I’ve been home for this holiday, I asked where that portrait was. Only one person knew: my mom. That’s right, my Muslim mom has been protecting that portrait of the Virgin Mary all this time. She won’t tell anyone where it is… that’s how seriously she’s protecting it. She won’t tell anyone… anyone.
My childhood was happy and fun. And no time was ever more fun than Christmas. My grandmother especially loved it. She would get us lavish gifts, like homemade sweaters, striped socks, and collared shirts. Hey, she lived most of her adult life surviving on food rations and donated clothes. To her, new clothes were like a new Ferrari. Actually, she had no idea what a Ferrari was.
My mom loved Christmas too. She decorated the tree, cooked a great dinner, and made sure we got at least a couple of the things on our Christmas list. My mom might be Muslim, but she definitely gets into the Christmas spirit.
Christmas for a Palestinian is bittersweet. People around the world are celebrating something that happened in the place we call home. And they visit Palestine to see things that we are proud to protect. Remembering Jesus and Mary tells us once again that our history is deep, expansive, and proud. It didn’t start in the year 1948. It started before the years even had names.
But while Christmas allows us Palestinians to dwell on our treasured history, it is also a present reminder of where we are today. Like Jesus, we have been told that we do not belong in Palestine. Like us, he was told that his stories have no place there. Like him, we have been driven out. Like us, he fought against power. Like him, we refuse to shut up.
Jesus is revered in both Christianity and Islam. As my saying goes, “Muslims are nice, they love Jesus Christ.” His tradition is protected by all of us, Muslims and Christians alike. We Palestinians have always stayed linked by our common stories and experiences. Since Jesus is one of us, Muslims and Christians among us have always gotten along in his backyard. My house just happens to be a place where they actually sleep in the same bed.
Jesus once said, “That which you do to the least of my brethren, you do to me.” Those words hold especially true for Palestinians, as rockets, bulldozers, and prime ministers don’t care whether or not their victims eat pork. They want to do away with us either way.
Now, I’m not too religious, but I love celebrating this particular Palestinian’s birthday every December 25. I particularly love remembering the truest parallel between him and us, his brethren 2000 years later. Like him, we spend our days telling our stories to anyone who will listen. We’re protecting everything that belonged to Jesus, including the truth.