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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - RIYADH: The celebration of Christmas in Saudi Arabia, a country known for its rich cultural heritage and Islamic traditions, presents a unique and evolving narrative. While Christmas is a Christian festival, its universal appeal resonates across different cultures and faiths, including in Saudi Arabia, where the expatriate community brings its own traditions to the season.
In Saudi Arabia, Christmas takes on a distinct hue, blending traditional elements with local customs. For many expatriates living in the Kingdom, such as Briton Liam Stump in Riyadh, the opportunity to celebrate Christmas is a cherished one.
The sight of Christmas decorations and festive activities in malls and public spaces is a testament to the country’s evolving cultural landscape, he told Arab News.
• The inclusive nature of Christmas celebrations in Saudi Arabia is reflective of the Kingdom’s historical openness to people of different faiths.
• Over the centuries, the region has been a crossroads of cultures and religions, fostering a diverse and rich tapestry of beliefs and practices.
“Finding Christmas decorations so easily and enjoying festive coffees like gingerbread lattes brings a slice of the holiday spirit,” Stump said. After seven years in Riyadh, Stump has woven his own Christmas rituals with his partner, balancing work with festive celebrations, including enjoying the local attractions such as Riyadh Boulevard World while keeping to tradition and playing “secret Santa” with friends.
US expat Ramona Harmon, an instructor at Princess Nora University, shares a similar experience. This year, she looks forward to celebrating with her Saudi fiance, incorporating traditional Saudi features into her Christmas decorations and embracing the local culture. “I am simply collecting and wrapping gifts for them (her fiance’s family), maybe making some gingerbread cookies, listening to Christmas music and counting my blessings during the peaceful night of Christmas Eve, before Christmas day,” Harmon said.
The inclusive nature of Christmas celebrations in Saudi Arabia is reflective of the Kingdom’s historical openness to people of different faiths. Over the centuries, the region has been a crossroads of cultures and religions, fostering a diverse and rich tapestry of beliefs and practices. This legacy of inclusivity continues today, with Saudi Arabia welcoming millions of expatriates from various cultural and religious backgrounds, further enriching its social fabric.
The festive season in Saudi Arabia is not just limited to Christmas. The country marks various occasions throughout the year, celebrating its own rich heritage and religious events. From the colorful festivities of Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha, rooted in Islamic tradition, to the national pride displayed during Saudi National Day, the Kingdom showcases its ability to blend tradition with modernity.
Colombian expat Juliana Diaz, celebrating her first Christmas in Saudi Arabia, is adding to the multicultural tapestry by preparing traditional Colombian dishes infused with Saudi flavors. Integrating Saudi ingredients into her Colombian recipes for Christmas is Diaz’s way of blending cultures, she tells Arab News.
The hospitality industry in Saudi Arabia has also embraced the spirit of Christmas, with five-star hotels and catering companies offering special holiday menus. Embassies and consulates join in the celebrations, hosting Christmas parties that feature an array of international cuisines.
At its heart, Christmas is about sharing joy, kindness and festivities with people around the world, regardless of their cultural or religious backgrounds. The way Christmas is celebrated in Saudi Arabia exemplifies this spirit of inclusivity and global unity. By welcoming and embracing the traditions of its expatriate communities, Saudi Arabia not only enriches its own cultural landscape, but also fosters a sense of global citizenship and shared humanity.
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