There is no doubt that Saudi Arabia has witnessed revolutionary changes when it comes to social life and personal freedoms over the past few years, but Christmas celebrations in the kingdom are still stirring controversies.
Apart from political freedoms that remain the same, Saudi Arabia has been exploring new territory in terms of social traditions, allowing almost everything that was once restricted in the extremely conservative country.
لأول مرة في #السعودية..— وكالة سند للأنباء - Snd News Agency (@snadps) December 25, 2021
أشجار "أعياد #الميلاد" تنتشر في الأسواق وواجهات المحال التجارية إلى جانب قبعات وملابس "#بابا_نويل". pic.twitter.com/mOKO2tssI5
Translation: "For the first time; Christmas trees and Santa outfits are available in shops."
Christmas is coming out of hiding in Saudi Arabia as its ultra-constrictive religious rules are eased. Christmas is still officially haram but Saudis are increasingly emboldened to try to celebrate. It's not yet fully not haram https://t.co/9TPa3i8s8q pic.twitter.com/1rzaCEndDx— Andreas Harsono (@andreasharsono) December 25, 2021
Women were allowed to drive in 2018. Rules over females' attire across the kingdom have been so relaxed that several beaches in the country have seen bikinis for the very first time. Music, banned in the 1980s and 1990s, has been not only allowed but also encouraged in the country that now hosts months-long music festivals that draw artists from every corner of the world.
بلومبيرغ: "#السعودية تنفتح على الاحتفال بأعياد الميلاد، والسعوديون أصبح بإمكانهم شراء أشجار عيد الميلاد"— تركي الشلهوب (@TurkiShalhoub) December 24, 2021
أين العلماء الذين صرعونا بحرمة الاحتفال بمولد النبيﷺ؟
ما هو رأيهم الآن؟ هل يستطيعون انتقاد هذه الظاهرة الجديدة؟ pic.twitter.com/jWErPCdIge
Translation: "Bloomberg reports Saudi's openness to celebrating Christmas and that Saudis can finally buy Christmas trees. Where are all the religious scholars who had repeatedly banned celebrating the birthday of Prophet Mohammad? What do they think now? Can they criticize this new phenomenon?"
Yet, exploring Christmas celebrations in the country is still quite controversial, as authorities have been reluctant to promote the Christian religious holiday in the country that only grants citizenship to Muslims.
In recent days, social media has been flooded with photos showing the few Christmas trees allowed around Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, Saudi's state-promoted Al Riyadh newspaper still stressed the Saudi customs "full ban on importing Christmas trees or any other signs that promote religions other than Islam".
"الجمارك": يُمنع استيراد شجرة "الكريسماس" وأي شعارات تحمل علامات ديانات غير الإسلام إلى #المملكةhttps://t.co/CZwebWQF4P pic.twitter.com/xSoA1wEn3f— جريدة الرياض (@AlRiyadh) December 25, 2021
Translation: "Customs: Importing Christmas trees or any other symbols for a religion other than Islam is banned."
This latest report has been perceived as a sign of division amongst Saudis, where many conservative voices still seem to oppose an open approach to celebrating the holidays season.
For many decades, Saudi Arabia allowed its expat communities to celebrate non-Muslim religious holidays but with the condition that they do so in private only. But for two years now, a few Christmas trees have been allowed in several places in Saudi's big cities, suggesting a more open approach to the holiday celebrated everywhere else.
Before the current trend of openness to other cultures, Saudi's clerics used to warn Muslims of celebrating Christmas or even congratulating those who are celebrating the holiday. But now, Saudi Arabia is allowing several Christmas scenes across the kingdom, in a sign that it allows public celebrations now, and could potentially recognize the holiday officially in the coming years.
While such changes have been welcomed by many Saudis on social media, many are still critical of the rapid transformation the kingdom is undergoing, particularly the most conservative voices that regard such gestures as "threatening to the Islamic identity of Saudi Arabia".
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