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Christmas Spirit In The Middle East

Are you excited for Christmas? We know we are! And that’s not because we’ve converted or anything; no, like pretty much all Brits regardless of their religion, we’re getting into the spirit of not having to go to work / school / university / jury duty for a few days. But let’s forget this for a moment.

While we obviously don’t celebrate Christmas as Muslims, Jesus is still considered a prophet and messenger of God in Islam. And of course—despite the aggressive banter of our opening paragraph—the religious aspect of Christmas is still extremely important to Christians the world over, including in the Middle East.

With this in mind, we wanted to showcase the religious diversity of the globe by looking at the festive season in a few majority Muslim countries.

Lebanon

 

Lebanon is the most religiously diverse country in the Middle East, with over 40% of the population identifying as Christian. As such, many Lebanese celebrate Christmas. The largest Christian denomination in the country is Maronite Catholic, who observe the occasion with nativity scenes (preferred over the tree) and church services.

In the cosmopolitan city of Beirut, western influences like Christmas trees, Santa Claus and office parties mark the festive season, with Christians and non-Christians alike celebrating in the capital’s array of fancy hotels and bars.

The mostly Arabic speaking population say “Eid Milad Majid” as the season’s greeting, which translates to “Glorious Birth Feast”. Faith aside, much of Lebanon considers Christmas a time for peace, reflection and family.

United Arab Emirates

The international airport in Dubai, covered in Christmas decorations. Credit: Martin Diepeveen via Flickr.

While the UAE has a small Christian population (around 13%), the religion is relatively visible in the country, with roughly 34 churches in operation today.

Come Christmas, however, and cities like Dubai are dotted with Christmas trees, lights and other festive ephemera.

The country’s willingness to embrace the holiday may stem from a pair of contrasting reasons: on the one hand, it reflects a culture of religious tolerance and cooperation. On the other, it’s a symptom of the nation’s desire to attract tourists, expats and foreign currency to its burgeoning hospitality and leisure industry.

Ever the optimists, we like to think it’s a bit of both. And even if a Dubai Christmas is motivated by cold, hard cash, one could argue that achieving interfaith cooperation through commercialism is better than not achieving it at all.

Egypt

A Coptic Christian church in Egypt.

Christians make up around 10-15% of the population in Egypt. The majority of these Christians belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church, a denomination that observes Christmas in a unique manner.

The actual day is celebrated on the 7th of January, not the 25th of December; and is preceded by 43 days of selective fasting, whereby all animal products are excluded from the diet.

The event shares many similarities with Ramadan and, like the Holy Month, concludes with a service of worship and a large meal.

Like many countries, much of Egypt views Christmas as something of a secular, commercialised occasion, meaning Christmas trees and fairy lights can be seen around the more metropolitan areas. Oh, and the odd camel in a Santa hat tends to make an appearance, too.

Seriously, google it.

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