Christmas in Jordan dimmed by Jerusalem crisis
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.