The Christmas spirit is alive in the Arab world, and we have made a number of Arabic craft tutorials to teach about it. Christmas is even an official national holiday in a few of the 22 countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
Contrary to what is being shown in the media, there are multiple locations in the Middle East where nativity scenes are even seen in public places. There are also many visual Santa Claus imagery, who is known as his more universal name Papa or Baba Noël.
While it is common to think of the Arab world as only being Islamic, there are many Christians that live in the area. This is John of Damascus an Arab monk and presbyter from the 7th-century.
In Morocco, if you walk into a regular big city bakery, you may find buche de Nôel, a French Christmas cake. Rabat, due to it’s large population of foreign workers there, is often seen decorated with glitter, lights, Santas and other Christmas decor this time of year.
Egypt makes a big deal about Christmas since 10% of it’s population is Christian. People conduct a Nativity Fast for 43 days before Christmas, which occurs on January 6th within the Armenian community and January 7th for the Orthodox Copts. Families gather for celebrations at home and in midnight mass at church. Kahk el Eid is a common treat to share with loved ones.
Many would be surprised to learn that in Comoros, which typically celebrates Islamic celebrations that follow the lunar calendar, Christmas Day is observed by the Roman Catholic minority, with festive gatherings of friends and families.
Christmas in the Arabian Peninsula, consisting of the countries Bahrain, Yemen, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, is possible to find, if you know where to look. It’s true that in more conservative Islamic countries, it is not as visual, however, Christmas time in the UAE makes it’s residents feel like they are in a Christian country. While in Bahrain, many hotels offer Christmas brunch.
The Iraqi Cabinet added Christmas as a national holiday in 2018. However, the Syriac community has been in the Iraq since the Middle Ages. Here, Christians from the Syriac Orthodox Christian hold a celebration in Mosul, Iraq.
The Levant region of the Arab world has more Christmas activity, due to it’s location to the birthplace of Christianity, Bethlehem in Palestine. A parade is held through town on Christmas Eve, leading to the Church of the Nativity, an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Christians traditionally believe the church is built over the place that Jesus (Peace Be Upon Him) was born.
Very similar to their Christian brothers and sisters in the south, the Orthodox and Armenian Churches don’t celebrate Christmas on December 25th, but rather January 6th & 7th, respectfully. This leaves more time to see Christmas specials on TV or in the theaters that are in Arabic.
In Lebanon, Maronite Catholic are 35% of the population. Seen in more homes than a Christmas tree are Nativity Crib scenes. They consists of a landscape of a cave, rather than a barn or stable. There will also be spouts of chickpeas, broad-beans, lentils, oats and wheat that were grown from seeds placed on wet cotton/wool two weeks before Christmas.
Syria is slowly building itself back from the war. The Christians there that make up about 10% of the population are rebuilding their community’s Christmas spirit, celebrated on January 6th. Instead of Santa Claus, the Smallest Camel of the Wise Men is who brings gifts for the kids on the Eve of Christmas. Legend says that the Wise Men traveled in a caravan with many camels to Bethlehem. The smallest camel was exhausted, but determined. For his loyalty and will, he got the blessing of immortality and hence, on every January 5th night, the little camel brings gifts.
The country of Jordan also has a number of churches, most of whom use the liturgical year calendar, also known as the church year. This consists of the cycle of liturgical seasons in Christian churches that determine when feast days, including celebrations of saints, are to be observed. Most hotels, shops and businesses in Jordan, especially the larger cities, will have some form of decorations and brunch specials.
Check out these A Crafty Arab Christmas s tutorial
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