First Published: 2017-12-17

Christmas in Jordan dimmed by Jerusalem crisis
The Jordan Tourism Board announced the cancellation of Christmas celebrations at Jesus’s baptism site in support of Palestinians in Jerusalem.
Middle East Online

By Roufan Nahhas - AMMAN

Christian children take part in a play as part of Christmas celebrations in Amman

Christmas decorations won’t be illuminated in Jordan and the Palestin­ian territories this year following calls to turn off lights of Christmas trees to protest US President Donald Trump’s deci­sion to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Jordanian and Palestinian Chris­tians were looking forward to the festive season and preparations to celebrate Jesus’s birth were in full swing with Christmas markets, ac­tivities and festive food, until the US move dimmed the spirits.

Fadi Daoud from the Christian town Fuheis in central Jordan said that since Trump’s announcement posts on social media asked that Christmas trees’ lights be turned off as a symbol of solidarity with the Palestinians regarding Jerusalem.

“The decision by Trump evoked a lot of feelings towards Jerusalem and we, as Christians, feel the need to express our disagreement with this decision. That is why many turned to the social networks to ex­press their anger,” Daoud said.

He said the Christian communi­ty, which makes up 6% of Jordan’s population of 9.5 million, had been preparing for a joyful festive season, “which unfortunately was clouded by the development on Jerusalem, sparking anger and igniting emo­tions of both Christians and Mus­lims.”

The Jordan Tourism Board an­nounced the cancellation of Christ­mas celebrations at Jesus’s baptism site in support of Palestinians in Je­rusalem.

East Jerusalem, which Palestin­ians regard as the capital of their future state, is home to several Christian churches and Islam’s third holiest site, Haram al-Sharif.

In the West Bank city of Bethle­hem, the birthplace of Jesus and a major Christian pilgrimage destina­tion south of Jerusalem, Christmas manifestations and displays were dropped and lights of main Christ­mas trees switched off following the announcement of Trump’s decision.

Early celebrations of the holiday season had started in Jordan with bazaars and markets offering hand­made decorations, festive food and activities for families. Visitors, however, were more interested in getting the feel of Christmas than spending money.

“It is a great feeling to be part of any Christmas activities and I am happy to take part in five Christmas bazaars,” said Rowaida Nino, an artisan selling handicrafts. “Some people are here to buy, especially decorations and home-made wine, but many are just window shop­ping. Probably they have other pri­orities.”

“In the past, people were happy to spend more money during the festive season but recently things have changed and most are care­ful about every penny spent,” she added.

Tareq Msalem, head of the Greek Catholic Scout and Guides society, which organises a Christmas ba­zaar, stressed the growing popular­ity of the festive event.

“Absolutely, we can feel a huge dif­ference at this year’s bazaar. More people are displaying their products such as home-made wines and sweets that attracted many buyers; moreo­ver families en­joy the activities that come with the bazaar,” Msalem said.

Christmas season is also a time for giving and sharing.

“During this month, many ini­tiatives bring smiles to underprivi­leged children,” Msalem said. “We are happy to be part of the ‘Give’ initiative under which we collect used and new toys to give away. This year about 70 children will re­ceive toys, compared to 30 children last year.

“Many families cannot buy toys to their kids. Times have definitely changed to the worse.”

Greek Orthodox pastor George Sharayha said an increasing num­ber of families are impoverished because of the bad economy and inflation.

“Our role is to make them feel the spirit of Christmas in any way we can. Every year we see more fami­lies struggling to meet simple daily life demands,” he said.

A recent World Bank study stated that one-third of Jordan’s popula­tion lives below the poverty line.

The festive season is a time of the year when travel agents offer spe­cial packages to attract foreign and local tourists by promoting biblical sites and the rose-red city of Petra.

“This year we are hoping for the best and so far we have received requests from many tourists who want to celebrate the holidays here in Jordan, which some con­sider part of their pilgrimage to the baptism site,” said Murad Ghsoon, owner of a travel agency in Amman.

“Last year, we did not have much luck due to the events in Karak but this year we hope things will get better and so far it is.”

The Islamic State claimed re­sponsibility for an attack in the southern Jordanian city of Karak that killed ten people in December 2016. Seven Jordanian security of­ficers, a Canadian tourist and two Jordanian civilians were among the dead. Four attackers were also killed.

Roufan Nahhas, based in Jordan, has been covering cultural issues in Jordan for more than two decades.

This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.

 

Sudan clamps down on journalists covering bread protests

Egypt's Sisi says will stand for re-election

Turkey launches new strikes on Kurdish targets in Syria

Pence heads to Mideast despite Muslim, Christian anger

US to overtake Saudi as world’s second crude oil producer

Deserted streets, terrified civilians after Turkey attacks Afrin

Iraqi, Kurdish leaders hold talks on bitter regional dispute

Russia-led Syria peace congress to be held January 30

Assad regime says Syria a 'tourist' destination

Journalists arrested while reporting Sudan protests

Aid for millions of Palestinians hostage to politics

Lebanon thwarts holiday attacks using IS informant

Mortar fire wounds 14 in Syria mental hospital

Turkish military fires on Kurdish forces in Syria's Afrin

More than 32,000 Yemenis displaced in intensified fighting

UN warns of "lost generation" in South Sudan's grinding conflict

Saudi's refined oil exports offset crude curbs

Turkey's EU minister rejects any option other than full membership

Tribal feuds spread fear in Iraq's Basra

Turkey says not reassured by US comments on border force

UN chief wants to revive Syria gas attack probe

US has no intention to build border force in Syria

Lebanese intelligence service may be spying using smartphones worldwide

Egypt's Sisi sacks intelligence chief

Trump dashes Netanyahu’s hope to move US embassy to Jerusalem

Cyprus denies bail for Israeli organ trafficker

Rising Yemen currency sparks hopes of relief

Turkish ministries to investigate underage pregnancy cover-up

Iraq PM launches online appeal for election allies

Iran central bank sees claim for billions from German stock market blocked

Iraq signs deal with BP to develop Kirkuk oil fields

Israeli occupation forces raid Jenin, kill Palestinian

HRW chief says 'Nobody should be forcibly returned to Libya'

IS poses threat to Iraq one month after 'liberation'

Seven years since ousting dictator, Tunisians still protest

Iran says Trump jeopardising Airbus deals

China says Iranian oil tanker wreck located

Sudan arrests communist leader after protests

Syrian opposition joins condemnation of US 'border force'

Israeli judge detains teen until trial for viral ‘slap video’

Arab league slams US freeze of Palestinian funding

Dubai billionaire to sell 15 percent Damac stake

Britain to put women at heart of peace work in Iraq, Nigeria, South Sudan

Saudi to give Yemen government $2bn bailout

US withholds $65 million from UN agency for Palestinians