Mirna is a an English teacher who lives in the town of Safita in Syria, close to the Mediterranean coast and about 240km north west of Damascus. She is Catholic, so Frank asked her about celebrating Christmas in Safita. She describes this from her own personal perspective.
Frank. What does Christmas mean to you?
Mirna. Very interesting question. Joy, happiness, family reunion and of course on the spiritual level, time to rethink again, forgiveness, love and meditate.
Frank. You send me some pictures of shop windows with decorations. How does a Muslim, living in Safita to, react to that?
Mirna. Muslims in Syria usually decorate Christmas trees and celebrate it with us.
Frank. I suppose the fundamental question is, what is it like to live as a Christian in an Arabic:/ Muslim country?
Mirna. Syria is not an extremist place. We celebrate Christmas in public and decorate a huge Christmas tree in the centre of the town and this tradition is not only in Safita. Muslims are aware of that. The Christians form an important layer in Syria. And Christians are not guests or a minority. We are builders of the Syrian civilization here. Faris al Khoury was a statesman in Syria. He was a Prime Minister and he gained Syrian independence. He was a very respected person by Muslims, because he announced Allah Akbar from the well-known Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, to prove to the French government that Muslims and Christians are in Syria are brothers. At least this is my understanding.
Frank. Which day is more important? Christmas Eve or Christmas Day?
Mirna. We don’t have Christmas Eve. It’s just the Christmas Day.
Frank. Do Muslims recognise the birth of Jesus in any fashion of their own?
Mirna. Yes. We have another important thing related to Christmas and Jesus baptism called Al Khatas. But the story is different.
Mirna. It’s on 6th January.
Frank. So closer to the Orthodox Christmas.
Mirna. The same day when the Coptic church celebrates Christmas according to the Oriental calendar. I think that Muslims follow the story of Al Quran. They don’t believe that Jesus is God and they don’t recognise between the two Marys in their culture. One of them is the Virgin Mary and the other called Maryam Bint Al Omran and this is one of the weaknesses in Al Quran. But, anyway, they consider him a great character and a prophet. And I think Muslims don’t mention that Jesus was born in a stable, but under a palm tree.
Frank. Back to the actual celebration on the 25th. What do you usually do on that day?
Mirna: On the 25th of December, bells ring in Safita, calling people to celebrate Christmas communion in church early in the morning. People light candles and pray to baby Jesus for peace and love all around the world. After that, people visit each other in their homes and families gathered at lunchtime. Santa Claus usually visits kids the previous night. Kids swear their best clothes and visit their grandparents, who hide very tasty chocolates and sweets for their grandchildren. Beautiful moment, Santa Claus, bells, lights are hung on the everlasting green tree and baby Jesus is in his cradle surrounded by Mary and Joseph, the “Majis” and their presents, lambs, shepherds and little children.
Frank: Is Christmas as commercialised as in Europe, despite the war?
Mirna: You’re right. Christmas in Europe is commercialised, and in Syria, despite the war, or in the Arab world in general, also to some degree.