By Chloe Lombardi, Medill, Immigrant Connect

Christmas Day 2005 — I’m sitting on one of the tall black bar stools in the kitchen, staring out the window, mindlessly picking on the left over sugar cookies we baked for Santa last night. I intently watch the goings-on of the world as they unfold 23 stories below, oblivious to the chaos unraveling in the next room.

Today the sidewalks are dusted white by a light snowfall and I see no trace of shoe prints. The Statue of Liberty looks lonely, dazed in fog, without any boats passing along the Hudson River. I find sanctuary taking in the details of the sight of a bustling city in a rare state of sublime tranquility.

Suddenly, the swinging door that connects the kitchen to the living room thumps the back of the stool I’m sitting on, knocking me out of my trance. I watch my dad storm into the kitchen and spastically open and close cabinets pulling out every item. In a brief moment of pause, he asks me if I know where the gravy is. Why would I know where the gravy is?

“Don’t you dare speak to me that way,” he yells, his veins popping off his neck.

I rush into the living room to find my mom forcefully moving around and collecting the last remnants of torn wrapping paper. Her eyes are puffy and as pink as the blush colored bathrobe she’s wearing. I notice pieces of the old wooden nativity scene had been knocked onto the floor so I get down on my hands and knees to collect the scattered figurines.

As though nothing had just transpired, my dad enters the living room to announce that Sarah and Laila are coming over. My mom is baffled and my parents start fighting again. I ignore it and run to my sister Katherine’s room, eager to share the news.

Sarah and Laila are the new kids in the building who’d moved from New Jersey to lower Manhattan at the beginning of the school year. Two years before, they’d lived in Egypt, where they were born and raised, until now. They’re the first Muslim kids I’ve ever met and I felt a sense of pride in being the friend who gets to show them what Christmas morning looks like.

Sarah (left) and Laila (right) in their home in Egypt.


When the doorbell rings, I hear my dad greet Sarah and Laila at the door. I watch them as they stare at the mountain of gifts sitting under the tree. My sister and take turns showing off our new toys. Sarah interrupts to tell Katherine and I how lucky we are.

I ask her what she thinks she’ll get for Ramadan and Sarah and Laila burst out in laughter. Sarah explains to me that they don’t get presents for Ramadan. We fast all day and eat a lot at night, adds Laila. Holding my brand new Barbie Styling Head, a feeling of embarrassment consumes me. Are they sad? Are they jealous? Ramadan sounds horrible.

My sister butts in to ask Sarah and Laila what they like about Ramadan. The girls can’t help but talk over one another describing “Eid El-Fitr,” which means “the festival of breaking the fast.” Sarah gushes about the cookies their mom makes. They are filled with nuts and covered with powdered sugar and everyone in the family fights over who gets to keep the leftovers. Laila reminisces about how in Egypt their entire extended family would get together and watch movies for three days straight!

Hanging onto each word, I begin to envy what I had pitied just moments before. I only get distracted when I spot one of the nativity figures on the floor. It’s one of the three wise men. I tune back in to hear Katherine, Sarah and Laila quibbling about whether Christmas or Ramadan is better. I turn to look out the window and admire the unfamiliarly quiet city.