Christmas Day celebrations in the Middle East are a reminder that the region is home to some of Christianity’s oldest denominations , including speakers of the language of Jesus, Aramaic. A time to feast with family and loved ones, it is also a time of reflection during political crises and turmoil. Millions of Arab Christians have been displaced or fled the region because of wars and internal strife.It has not been an easy year for many Christians in the region, and a muted Yuletide was often the order of the year. The ongoing conflict in Syria  has led to tensions between the country’s many sects. For all intents and purposes, Christmas for Syria's faithful was either skipped, or subdued to a barely audible level of seasonal cheer. While other Arab nations went about business as usual managing to jingle through another Xmas, there was a sense that there had been better festivities in years past. From neighboring Lebanon to an Egypt striving to discover what democracy really meant for the marginalized Copts, Christians carried on cautiously with curtailed Christmas ceremonies and curbed church choirs.
Christians more widely have come under fire in recent years, leading one research group to report the ongoing exodus could mean the end of Christian communities in the Abrahamic Holy Lands. Christmas is observed by an estimated 21 million Arab Christians in the Middle East and North Africa . Increasingly, non-Christians are joining in the festivities and many Muslims now mark the day in some fashion. While Western Christianity celebrates on December 25 - exactly nine months after the Easter holiday marking Christ’s birth - about 200 million Orthodox Christians, including in Egypt, hold festivities on January 7. The Orthodox Church still uses the Julian Calendar, which is 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar used by most other churches.While many of the ancient traditions surrounding Christmas have disappeared over the years, some still remain. But increasingly Western habits such as the decoration of trees are combined with local twists , as elves eat falafel or Santa Claus dons a fez.
A seaonal flavor of Christmas, Arab and Middle East-style follows. Share your thoughts! Did you celebrate Christmas this year? Does 2013 hold much hope for Christians across the region? How do you feel about the sometimes tacky malls and their giant festive decorations? Do let us know!