by Carol Fleming - 12/06/2010
"This article describes celebrating Christmas in a country where the only religion recognized or practiced is Islam. So how do Christians celebrate Christmas in Saudi Arabia? What can they do?"
Demographics are difficult to find in Saudi Arabia and especially when it comes to Christianity in a country where no other religion is recognized or tolerated other than Islam. Yet it is estimated that there are at least 1.2 million Christian expatriates who live, work and make Saudi Arabia their home.
Although Christians are legally prohibited from openly practicing their faith in Saudi Arabia, they are allowed to come into the Kingdom carrying one Bible within their personal effects. They are also allowed to practice and worship their faith privately behind the closed doors of their home.
Yet now that this is the month of December and Christians around the world are having Christmas activities and festivities the same as Muslims had a series of activities during Ramadan, can the Christians in Saudi Arabia celebrate? Can a Christian have a small tree in his or her office? Can a Christian have a gift or cookie exchange with colleagues?
Christmas in Saudi Arabia is best described as “low keyed.” If one lives on a western compound, the joy and festivity of Christmas is everywhere with trees twinkling behind windows and colored lights and other decorations hung up around a villa. Yet at compounds provided by a Saudi employer the decorative touch of Christmas may be more subdued. Similar with prayer, nothing may seen on the exterior to indicate Christmas but once the doors are open to the privacy inside, the senses may be assailed with Christmas decorations and the joyous smell of Christmas.
There will be few signs of Christmas at places of work unless one happens to have a very private office and a very accommodating supervisor. Most Saudis, while not believing in the celebration of Christmas, are tolerant and want expatriates to have an enjoyable holiday. Some Saudis, although they will not partake themselves, may present an expat with a Christmas gift or cake. Some employers may allow Christian expatriates to have a private Christmas party at work but in a private and enclosed area which does not disturb others.
A Saudi may give an expatriate a Christmas gift. The expatriate should express sincere thanks but do not reciprocate with a gift in turn. Instead, it is better to give the Saudi a gift during Ramadan. This is part of the true spirit of recognizing each others holidays.