LifestyleVideo December, 17th 2011 by

Christmas in the Middle East

Christmas in the Middle East

This is the season of love and peace to be celebrated all over the world in memory of the birth of our lord Jesus Christ. How much do you know about the Christians and Christmas in the Middle East?

Unfortunately most of what we see in the media, concerning the Middle East, represents aggression and tragedies related to political feuds and the oil?

I was born a Melkite Greek Catholic Christian, in Amman – Jordan. I come from a Bedouin tribe that lived in the desert for thousands of years, called AlUzaizat. My family were Christians when the Muslims arrived in Jordan in 629 AD. The Melkite is an Eastern Catholic Church in full communion with the Holy See in Rome, but at the same time, they have kept all the ethnic traditions of the area, in the style of their churches, as those of the Greek Orthodox Church. The Melkite traces their origin back to the Christians of Antioch, old Syria, to the 1st century AD.

Christianity has existed continuously throughout this region of the world since its conception. The famous Christians of Iraq and Great Syria (which included Jordan and Palestine named the Fertile Crescent) were the original inhabitants of this area for thousands of years. They are the Assyrians, Kaldinians, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholics, Roman Catholics and the Latinos naming just a few.

The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate is the spiritual leader of the Eastern Orthodox Christians.  Aya Yorgi (being the church of St George), is the main Greek Orthodox Cathedral, located in Istanbul, Turkey. Istanbul was Constantinople, which was the capital of the Byzantine Empire, up to 1453 AD. All the different sects of the Catholics in all the Middle East are in communion with Rome.

In Egypt about 12% of the population are Christian Copts being the native Egyptians. Christianity was the main religion in Egypt in the 4th century. The Pope of the Coptic Oriental Orthodox Church resides in Alexandria, Egypt.  There are about 16 million members worldwide, including more than 12 million in Egypt. This church split from the main stream of the Christian church after the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD.

In Lebanon there is the Maronite sect of the Eastern Catholic Church that makes about 50% of the population. The President of Lebanon, in accordance to their constitution, must be an elected Christian. The Maronite Patriarchs of Antioch (which is part of modern Turkey, was once part of Syria, located close to Antakya today). The Patriarch is always named Peter after the first Bishop of Antioch, Saint Peter, who was the leader of the apostles. The original Christians in the Middle East are not converts but were Christians before the Crusades and even before Christianity became popular in Europe.

Christmas in Baghdad, Iraq

Christmas is publically celebrated all over the Middle East and not only in Bethlehem and Jerusalem. The celebrations can be seen in the form of Christmas trees, Santas, Carols and of course a lot of shopping. You would enjoy listening to Christmas Carols while strolling in the shopping centres if in Amman, Beirut, Baghdad, Damascus, Cairo, Dubai, Bahrain and Oman.

Muslims do not celebrate Christmas, although, the Immaculate Conception is a dogma in Islam. They believe that Jesus is a Messenger of God and had risen soul and body to heaven. A very large section of the Quran tells the full life of Jesus, believing in all his miracles, including the story of the Virgin Mary. The name Jesus is mentioned in the Quran 25 times and that is more than the name of Mohamed. The Muslims do believe that Jesus would return back to earth, on the Day of Judgment, to restore justice in defeating the Anti Christ.

The Muslims, Jews and Christians lived in these countries for thousands of years in harmony and as one people, shared the culture, history, food, and all aspects of their daily social lives.

Christmas is fun on a camel as shown in the photos below. Representing the three wise men on their camels en route to visit baby Jesus in the crib.

The wisemen from the East

Regretfully, at the moment, the Political instability in the Middle East is causing a lot of Christians to suffer and be ill treated in many parts of the area. This has been happening in Palestine, Egypt and in Iraq, since 2003 influenced by the new Islamic movements sweeping the area which are getting out of control. Many of the Christians have immigrated to the West and their percentage of the population in the Middle East has been diminished.

I wish you a joyful Christmas and a Happy New Year

Nael Marar. 

Nael George Marar

A cultured and a popular personality around Marbella and environs. He is a lover of the arts, and has had a distinguished professional career as an Electrical Engineer B.Sc, and Chartered Electrical Engineer M.I.E.E.

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What did you think of this article?

  • Nael, this is absolutely brilliant and I am forwarding it to my whole list, bar none.

  • John Bonnici

    Thank you Nael for your illuminating article. Apart from the Copts, I simply had no idea of the other Arab branches of Christianity.

  • Dear John Bonnici,
    I am glad to know that you have found the article interesting. The space is limted to tell a very long and interesting story. The Christians in syria for example are 10% of the population, just about as much as there are Copts in Egypt percentage wise.
    Merry Christmas

  • Dear Sylvia,
    I wish to thank you for your comments.
    It is a great message to be shared by every body in the world.
    The message of Christ, is a message of love and peace for all.

  • Munther Kubba


    Thank you for a very informative and interesting article. Reminds me of my younger days growing up in Bghdad. Although brought up as a Muslim, I, along with my family, celebrated X-Mass with our chritian friends and naighbors. Those were wonderful days when peace and civility were the norm.

  • Issam Sayegh

    Dear Nael,
    Thank you for this interesting article which I forwarded to all my friends. Adding little more about Greek Orthodox in Syria; They are more than 500,000 and divided into six Dioceses. Their leader is the "Patriarchel of Antioch and all the East", and their liturgy is in Arabic. Damascus has been the Patriarchal See since 1342. I believe that the Greek Patriachate was "Ignatius ll" when transferred to Damascus?
    Merry Christmas to all
    Issam Sayegh

  • Duraid Yawer

    Brilliant and specially important nowadays because of the sad situation in the Middle East and the injustice inflicted on the Christians, the original people of Iraq , Syria and Egypt.

    • Issam Sayegh

      Dear Duraid,
      Oh yes, it is a very sad situation for the Arab Christians. On 1995,there were between six and seven million Arab Christians in the Middle East. They represent 6.3% of the whole population of the countries among which they are spread; Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Palestine and Israel. God knows how many left by now?
      Issam Sayegh
      Toronto, Canada

  • merry Christmas Nael
    Visit Nael Legacy Page!enter link


  • How very illuminating and entertaining; enjoyed it very much Nael. It's always good to learn new things and Joan and I look forward to more of your fascinating narratives when we meet soon. May you have continued health and happiness in the coming year.

  • John Martin Nichols

    Thank you, Nael, for this interesting exposé. There were many things I did not know like that the main seat of the Greek Orthodox Church is situated in Istanbul. I think if I am honest not many Europeans who are Christians imagine that there is a sizeable minority of Arabs who are Christian and who, for the most part, take their religion more seriously than they do themselves.

  • Mike Al-Amiry

    Thank you Nael… An illuminating story, eloquently told. Christ was risen to spread the message of hope and good will against enmity and despair, perhaps one day the land of his birth shall rise again, bearing that same eternal message.

  • ISSAM loutfi

    TKS NAEL for this article,I will forward it to my children in the US.
    With the encouragement of the Muslim extremist ,and the result of the election of what is called Arab spring in several countries,the number of Christians is quickly deminishing in the Middle East.
    With the result of the election in Egypt and what is happening and happened in Iraq and Syria,we see new coalitions being formed in Lebanon where minorities are sticking together for survival,this is not the Middle East I knew and certainly not the environment I grew up with.
    The first printing press in the Middle East was in a small village in the Christian Lebanese mountain ,you could visit it and see prints in the Aramic language,the Christians Arabs contributed to the advancement of the literature, the art and the sciences in the Arab world and they certainly are encouraged by most of the Muslim non extremist to stop from fleeing.
    NAEL your article was illuminating TKS

  • Freda Gilbert

    Dear Nael,
    What a real pleasure it was for me to read your article…it was very informative and written in a delightful style. I learned a lot as my knowledge of Christians in the Middle East is very limited. But what really fascinates me the most is your enthusiasm about all subjects, your zest for life and your kindness…it is infectious! I am honoured to call you my friend. Wishing you and your family a healthy and Happy New Year.

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