Christmas in the Middle East

Figure 1.--.

Celebrating Christ's birth for Christians presented a problem in that no one knows when Jesus was born. It almost certainly was not December. Christmas is celebrated on December 25 throughout Christendom, as the birth of Christ primarily because of the importance of Saturnalia, the ancient Roman festival in honor of Saturn the god of Agriculture, in Roman culture. Besides adopting some of the feartures of Saturnalia, there are many non-religious customs and practices which have developed over the years. These customs are in many cases peculiar to different countries. Germany has played an especially important role, in part because of the Christams traditions Prince Albert brought from Germany when he married Queen Victoria, many of which have since been past on to America. Many modern Christmas traditions are based on these English Victorian traditions. This is no true in the Middle East where Christian communities often pre-date European Christianity. Christians became a minority after the Islamic conquests, but enjoyed a degree of toleation and survived into the 20th century. These communities today, however, are under pressure from Islamic fanaticism. The public celebration of Christmas has often been discouraged and is declining as Christian communities in the Middle East decline. Here are the Christmas traditions we know of from the Middle East. We hope that HBC readers will tell us something about Christmas traditions in their countries.







Qatar was for many years a backwater pf the Middle East and a very conservative society. Islam is of course the dominant religion. Chritians were tolerated, althouh this varied over time. And the celebration of Christmas if not outright banned, was at times actively discouraged. Chritians learned as with other demobstrations of Chritian faith to be discrete. Images of Christmas in foreign newspapers were actually blacked out. Christmas songs were discouraged, both secular ad rekligious songs. One reports suggests that the erm "Merry Christmas" was banned on QBS after Muslims were killed in Lebanon by Christians which caused an anti-Christian backlash (1983). Qatar has gradually become more modern and some Qataris more tolerant. A Muslim scholar concluded that it was acceptable for Muslims to celebrate Christmas in a non-religious sense (2007). This is by no means a universally accepoted opinion. Christmas in not a major celebration in Qatar, but there are celebrations. A few Qataris decorate their houses and give presents. Qatari authorities now allow Christmas to be celebrated quietly. There are also Hindus and Christians, mostly foreigners working in the Kingdom. With modernization and migration of people from abroad into the Kihgdom, Christmas has grown in acceptance. The small number of Qatari Christians celebrate the Christmas, but without much public display. Tourists can see Christmas celebrations in areas where Christians are congregated. There, houses, roads and hotels may be decorated and illuminated in a variety of ways, including Christmas trees and colored lights. Christmas dinner parties are popular. Gifts are exchanged. Some malls now put up Christmas trees and oher decorations.



In Turkey there is quite a thing made about St. Nicholas.


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Created: December 27, 1998
Last updated: 12:38 AM 12/28/2009