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How Christians in the Arab world celebrate Christmas

We tend to forget it, but Christmas is also celebrated in the Arab world where the Nativity rhymes with family and feasts for the Christian communities of the Middle East. KAWA offers you a dive into the Christian festivities of the region.

In Egypt, 43 days of vegan diet

Egypt is home to the largest Christian community in the Arab world with some 10 million followers. Most of them are of Coptic Orthodox faith and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on January 7.

During the 43 days before this date, the Copts observe a strict vegan diet. On Coptic Christmas Eve, it is customary to feast around a fattah, a thousand-year-old speciality of rice, bread, boiled lamb meat, all with a garlic and vinegar vinaigrette. Molokhiyah – a soup made from cornet leaves – and traditional pastries are also served. For dessert, maamoul is a must as in other Arab countries.

Palestine, cradle of Christianity

The birthplace of Jesus Christ, Bethlehem, is home to four major Christian communities: Protestants, Catholics, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox. The first two celebrate Christmas on December 24th with family dinners, including a typical dish – qedreh – of lamb meat, chickpeas and rice cooked in a wood-fired oven.

Greek Orthodox communities celebrate the birth of Christ on January 6, while Armenian Orthodox celebrate the nativity on January 17.

 

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 In Lebanon, garlands and turkey with spices

About 45% of the Lebanese population is Christian. In the land of the cedar, Christmas is obviously a holiday and it is not uncommon to see Christians and Muslims celebrating the nativity together. In the capital, Beirut, the streets are adorned with fir trees and garlands of light, and the shops are also decorated for the occasion.

Christmas is also present in the plates. On December 25, at family lunches, it is common to find the famous Christmas turkey accompanied by spicy rice and fried nuts.

 

A Christmas carnival in Damascus (Syria)

The bloody conflict that has been shaking Syria for 8 years now has not stopped the Christmas festivities. The country has no less than 10% Christians among its population.

Every year, Damascus hosts a big Christmas carnival bringing together the different communities of the country. Songs, dances and artistic performances enliven the capital, where the largest Christmas tree in the country is illuminated.

In Iraq, a unique tradition

Since 2008, Christmas is officially considered a holiday in Iraq, where some 250,000 Christians reside. On the evening of December 24, a unique ceremony is held in the courtyards of Christian homes.

Children read the story of the nativity as told in the Bible by candlelight held by other family members. When the reading is over, a fire is lit in a pile of dried thorns and a psalm is recited. In the Iraqi Christian tradition, the fire foretells the future. When the fire is extinguished and the thorns are reduced to ashes, family members jump three times on the pile of ashes while making a wish for the coming year.