Arab Christians Wish 'for' Merry Christmas, Happy New Year

Published December 25th, 2011 - 04:01 GMT

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Dubai does it biggest and brightest! While not yet a public holiday in the UAE, you'd be forgiven for thinking you were in a festive Christmas conforming country if the malls were anything to go by. Here a tree placed to stand proud near the soaring Burj al Arab.
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Image 1 of 13: Dubai does it biggest and brightest! While not yet a public holiday in the UAE, you'd be forgiven for thinking you were in a festive Christmas conforming country if the malls were anything to go by. Here a tree placed to stand proud near the soaring Burj al Arab.

Lebanon's Christians, not such a minority as in other Middle Eastern countries, were once dominant and retain much political power. Maronite Catholics form manger scenes called nativity cribs. These cribs are based around caves, rather than stables elsewhere, and are decorated with chick peas, grains, oats, lentils and broadbeans.
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Image 1 of 13: Lebanon's Christians, not such a minority as in other Middle Eastern countries, were once dominant and retain much political power. Maronite Catholics form manger scenes called nativity cribs. These cribs are based around caves, rather than stables elsewhere, and are decorated with chick peas, grains, oats, lentils and broadbeans.

Syria's Christmas spirit may be deflated after a cruel blast left 40 dead in Damascus. Christmas is marked on January 6, by a significant Christian10% of the population. Mass is held in honor of St. Nicholas Thaumaturgus - a Santa model. Xmas lunch is chicken, oranges, nuts & pastries. Presents are delivered by 'baby camel' rather than reindeer.
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Image 1 of 13: Syria's Christmas spirit may be deflated after a cruel blast left 40 dead in Damascus. Christmas is marked on January 6, by a significant Christian10% of the population. Mass is held in honor of St. Nicholas Thaumaturgus - a Santa model. Xmas lunch is chicken, oranges, nuts & pastries. Presents are delivered by 'baby camel' rather than reindeer.

Bethlehem, West Bank of Palestine, 2011: The traditional birthplace of Christ the Savior attracts pilgrims and indigenous Arab Christians alike for public Christmas celebrations. In private, the whole family gathers in the house of the eldest male member, be it grandfather or the eldest son, and enjoys a meal rich in meat, fruits and vegetables.
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Image 1 of 13: Bethlehem, West Bank of Palestine, 2011: The traditional birthplace of Christ the Savior attracts pilgrims and indigenous Arab Christians alike for public Christmas celebrations. In private, the whole family gathers in the house of the eldest male member, be it grandfather or the eldest son, and enjoys a meal rich in meat, fruits and vegetables.

Jordan: Home of the Baptism site. The Muslim majority is happy to let the Christian community who comprise perhaps 5% of the population have their celebration, and offers the country a public holiday 25 December. Christians hang lights on trees and put on nativities, especially in the Christian-heavily populated villages as Fuheis and Madaba.
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Image 1 of 13: Jordan: Home of the Baptism site. The Muslim majority is happy to let the Christian community who comprise perhaps 5% of the population have their celebration, and offers the country a public holiday 25 December. Christians hang lights on trees and put on nativities, especially in the Christian-heavily populated villages as Fuheis and Madaba.

Dubai certainly indulges in the commercial side of this holiday, displaying shiny, decorated trees. This year is rumored to have fully 'lit' trees made up of more light than tree! A star or an angel all the same makes it to the dizzy heights atop the tree, with the 'cave' at the bottom, in more traditional households in the Middle East.
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Image 1 of 13: Dubai certainly indulges in the commercial side of this holiday, displaying shiny, decorated trees. This year is rumored to have fully 'lit' trees made up of more light than tree! A star or an angel all the same makes it to the dizzy heights atop the tree, with the 'cave' at the bottom, in more traditional households in the Middle East.

Iraqi Christmas is blessed for its inter-communal celebrations. Muslims light candles at Church, wishing their Christian neighbors 'Kul Aam Wa Inta Bikheir' (wellness all year) - the greeting adopted for Muslim & Christian holiday alike. This year, church services are cancelled, including Eve midnight Masses, amid fears of more violence.
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Image 1 of 13: Iraqi Christmas is blessed for its inter-communal celebrations. Muslims light candles at Church, wishing their Christian neighbors 'Kul Aam Wa Inta Bikheir' (wellness all year) - the greeting adopted for Muslim & Christian holiday alike. This year, church services are cancelled, including Eve midnight Masses, amid fears of more violence.

Bethlehem remains the Christmas hot-spot, followed closely by Nazareth another Christian pilgrim favorite.
'Milad Majid' Or 'Eid Milad Sa'eed' is Arab for Merry Christmas. As well as the grand tree, other not dissimilar to
Western traditions include ginger cookies, shaped as bells, stars, trees. Xmas fruit cake is also served across the region.
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Image 1 of 13: Bethlehem remains the Christmas hot-spot, followed closely by Nazareth another Christian pilgrim favorite. 'Milad Majid' Or 'Eid Milad Sa'eed' is Arab for Merry Christmas. As well as the grand tree, other not dissimilar to Western traditions include ginger cookies, shaped as bells, stars, trees. Xmas fruit cake is also served across the region.

The nativity tradition is imbued with heightened spiritual significance when practiced in its original Palestine setting.
The West Bank town of Bethlehem held its Christmas Eve celebrations Saturday, delivering  warm blessings to the traditional birthplace of Jesus on a wintery, wet night.
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Image 1 of 13: The nativity tradition is imbued with heightened spiritual significance when practiced in its original Palestine setting. The West Bank town of Bethlehem held its Christmas Eve celebrations Saturday, delivering warm blessings to the traditional birthplace of Jesus on a wintery, wet night.

The UAE offers expatriate Christian workers a festive setting to mark their holiday away from home. In the Mideast, lamb is the traditional main dish, substituting the popular turkey tradition of the West. Commonly, regional turkeys are smaller in size, and many would be required to serve at family feasts, so lamb is the choice offering.
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Image 1 of 13: The UAE offers expatriate Christian workers a festive setting to mark their holiday away from home. In the Mideast, lamb is the traditional main dish, substituting the popular turkey tradition of the West. Commonly, regional turkeys are smaller in size, and many would be required to serve at family feasts, so lamb is the choice offering.

Egypt's Coptic Christmas is not until January 7 in keeping with the Eastern Church calendar, but the festivities are already underway. It's a distinctly subdued period of Christian celebrations due to the renewed political unrest, not least the charged volatile climate the Coptic community has faced in recent months.
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Image 1 of 13: Egypt's Coptic Christmas is not until January 7 in keeping with the Eastern Church calendar, but the festivities are already underway. It's a distinctly subdued period of Christian celebrations due to the renewed political unrest, not least the charged volatile climate the Coptic community has faced in recent months.

Israel: The Christian Arabs living in the Israeli state are a minority within a minority. They belong mainly to Catholic denominations and the Greek Orthodox Church. There are also Messianic Jews who consider themselves Jewish but view Christ as the Messiah, and in turn Christian Zionists who adhere support for the Jewish people.
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Image 1 of 13: Israel: The Christian Arabs living in the Israeli state are a minority within a minority. They belong mainly to Catholic denominations and the Greek Orthodox Church. There are also Messianic Jews who consider themselves Jewish but view Christ as the Messiah, and in turn Christian Zionists who adhere support for the Jewish people.

Kuwait's dying breed? While the Gulf states have very few, if any, indigenous Christians, Kuwait harbors a scarcely heard of Christian Arab enclave which constitutes over 300 members. These are reported to enjoy full citizenship rights. A Kuwaiti priest, shown, sports his traditional dress or dish-dasha complete with cloaked Christian collar.
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Image 1 of 13: Kuwait's dying breed? While the Gulf states have very few, if any, indigenous Christians, Kuwait harbors a scarcely heard of Christian Arab enclave which constitutes over 300 members. These are reported to enjoy full citizenship rights. A Kuwaiti priest, shown, sports his traditional dress or dish-dasha complete with cloaked Christian collar.

Wishing for a Merry Christmas period and a safe, if not Happy, New Year, the Arab world celebrates Christmas 2011-2012, in its own distinct way.

On Christmas Day, we remind ourselves that the Arab Middle East is the birthplace of Christianity and home to the world's most ancient Christian denominations. Here's a scan of Christmas around the Middle East, as marked by the minority Christian Arab communities distributed around the region to varying degrees of concentration, from Lebanon to Egypt and even some of the Gulf states. Christmas in 2011 is widely celebrated or at least commemorated by many of the region's Muslims too, reflecting the global trend by an increasing number of non-Christians to partake in the holidays.

Christmas is observed in some Middle Eastern countries, by local peoples as well as by expatriates. How do these some 10 million Christian 'Arabs' living in the Middle East mark Christmas, with most living in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Palestine? Christmas visits smaller Arab Christian populations in Jordan, Iraq, and even some of the Gulf states. 

A Middle East Holiday

Jesus Christ was born in the modern day Middle East within historical Palestine, or the Holy Land. The precise day of Jesus's birth, is unknown. Early in the 4th century, the Western Christian Church first placed Christmas on December 25, a date later adopted also in the East. Theories behind this selection include that it falls exactly nine months after the Christian celebration of the conception of Jesus.

The original date of the celebration in Eastern Christianity was January 6, in connection with Epiphany (baptism at the River Jordan), and that is still the date of the celebration for the Armenian Christians. Coptic Christians mark Christmas at the later time of January 7 in line with the new date of Eastern Christianity. Ethiopia and Russia, to name a few, celebrate Christmas, both as a Christian feast and as a public holiday, according to the Julian calendar (now 13 days behind the Gregorian version) on what in the Gregorian calendar is Jan.7.

Christmas is widely celebrated December 25 in the Middle East as a religious and cultural holiday. This feast closes the Advent season and initiates the twelve days of Christmastide. 

The trappings of West and East: Western crosses local Middle Eastern fare

Christmas in the Middle East is increasingly commemorated according to the Western habits, so not altogether unlike Christmas of America or Europe. People decorate trees, though they retain idiosyncratic tastes in decorating their Christmas tree. Some fix it up in exclusively gold, some in red, and some have it multi-colored. 

On the eve of Christmas, Turkey is taken, while on the day itself, usually rice with lamb is the feast food. Again, even with food, many Arab families have adopted traditional western holiday customs in combination with Middle Eastern traditions. A curious combination of indigenous habit with Western practice preside.

The Christmas feast can consist of chicken, rice and Kubbeh- made of crushed and cooked wheat - or burghul mixed with onion, meat, salt and pepper. Mughly, a pudding topped with crushed almonds and walnuts, is prepared whenever a child is born in the family during the Christmas season. It is offered to the family members and also to the people who visit the newborn. 

Lebanon's Caves (Not Jeita Grotto)

Lebanon is home to the most sizable proportion of Christian indigenous peoples in respect of the whole population.

The largest Church is the Maronite Church, which traces its origins to a 4th Century Syrian hermit, St Maron. The Church united with the Catholic Church in 1736, rendering Maronites, Maronite Catholics, although it retains its own practices.

The baby Jesus cribs crafted in a 'cave' rather than stable become the focus of prayer and visitations for the people in the house and their guests. These cribs are used to harvest crops grown on cotton wools leading up to Christmas. Early December, Lebanese Christians spend the Advent period setting up cribs in the sitting room of their houses where they entertain seasonal guests.

A typical Christmas dinner on the Eve includes turkey, roasted duck, Lebanese salad (Tabouleh), and sweets such as honey cake and Buche De Noel, or a Christmas log. While the family attends midnight mass, Papa Noel, or Santa Claus, enters the house bearing gifts. The morning of Christmas is an occasion for visiting friends and neighbors. Offerings for the guests include sugared almonds, liqueur and coffee.



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