Crossing cultures: Muslims celebrate Ramadan and Eid with Advent calendars and crescent moon trees

Canadian Muslims are borrowing traditions from Christmas like advent calendars and a tree albeit this one is shaped like a crescent — as they prepare to celebrate religious holidays like Ramadan and Eid.

Canadian Muslims borrow a couple ideas from Christmas

Kids pose Ramadan advent calendars sold at Assmaa Maita's Favor-It Boutique. (Assmaa Maita)

Advent calendars and seasonal trees are popping up in stores and in households in time for — no, not Christmas — but the Muslim celebrations of Ramadan and Eid. 

Being Muslim in a pre-dominantly Christian country means plenty of exposure to Christmas and Easter traditions. 

Canadian Muslim families are now incorporating traditions like Christmas trees and Advent calendars into their festivities.

"It's mostly for the kids," says Assmaa Maita, who creates Ramadan calendars with chocolates through her online Facebook page, Favor-It Boutique. 

"They're happy they have their celebrations but when they are seeing all their other friends celebrate with all these lights and decorations and then they're getting nothing for their celebration, it kind of puts a damper on that," Maita said.
A crescent moon display, also known as crescent moon tree, created by Nasreen Dahrouge of My Hilal Yeg. (Nasreen Dahrouge)

"So stepping up the game almost in making these Advent calendars or those trees or anything in general, just brings a little more joy into Eid and Ramadan celebrations."

The calendars and crescent moon trees have grown in popularity over the years.

Websites like Pinterest and Etsy picture different designs of calendars, some with chocolates, others with trinkets or activities for each day.

There are crescent moon trees in traditional Christmas colours up to six feet in height and selling for hundreds of dollars. 

Religious celebrations are always evolving, said Pamela Klassen, professor and department chair for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto. 

"Religious traditions are constantly in a state of innovation and borrowing," Klassen said, "being shaped by the culture they are within, being shaped by literally the land and the territory they are within." 

Cyclical celebrations remain the same at their core, but the way they are celebrated changes all the time, she said.

Crescent moon trees conflict

Many Muslims have embraced Advent-type calendars as a welcome tradition, but there is debate around whether the moon trees are permissible. 

"There are some views that it is connected to Christian theology, Christian belief," said Imam Sadique Pathan of Al-Rashid mosque.

"There is a little bit of a distinction between that. There are those people who say, 'Well, is that not a symbol directly linked to Christianity?'

"Nobody can look at chocolate or a calendar and link it to any faith group. So there is that discussion."

Nasreen Dahrouge, creator of crescent moon displays which she sells on her Instagram page My Hilal Yeg, says she doesn't see her decorations as Christian.

"I think everybody has their opinion and there's no wrong in it. In my opinion, it's different. and this is exactly why I don't refer to it as a tree and I refer to it as a display," she said.

"If you look at any of the other decorations that we have during Ramadan, a lot of them showcase the crescent with the star or one or the other. The only difference is we took that, we blew it up, and we made it into a big display."

In the end, it's the intent that matters, she said.

"For me, it was for my children. I want them to be excited." 

Even Christian communities have been conflicted over the Christmas tree, Klassen said.

Her grandfather, a Mennonite minister in Manitoba, originally refused to bring a tree into the house because he considered them pagan, she said.

But by the time Klassen was growing up, her grandfather no longer had issues with Christmas trees, making the case that children can invite new traditions and rituals into domestic celebrations. 

Imam Pathan admits that intent matters in Islam and new traditions are only an issue if the true meaning of Ramadan, which begins Tuesday, is lost.

"It's about inviting family or helping the needy by helping your neighbour. It's about being there for people.

"And if this connection to God, of course, to Allah. If this is lost to any traditions through marketing and commercializing ... this is a concern," he said.


Kashmala Fida Mohatarem is a reporter and associate producer with CBC Edmonton.