• Visitors walk past an illuminated festive installation of Christmas trees and reindeer, at a shopping market in downtown Amman, Jordan Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2016. (AAP)Source: AAP
Christmas is recognised throughout the world as both a religious and secular event. In Jordan, a Middle Eastern country where 92 per cent of the population practices Islam, Christmas Day is a public holiday. So how does a typical Jordanian Christian family celebrate the event?
By
Yasmin Noone

23 Dec 2016 - 2:43 PM  UPDATED 23 Dec 2016 - 6:45 PM

A few hours drive away from Bethlehem, in the Jordanian capital of Amman, a Christian family prepares to celebrate Christmas Day.

“The one thing that makes us feel more special is that here in Jordan at this time of year is the fact that we are so close to the area where Jesus was born,” Serene Qushair tells SBS.

“On Christmas Eve, [we usually] turn on the television and watch the celebration in Bethlehem.

“[Although we are close in geography], it’s difficult to go to Bethlehem these days because of the occupation. So watching the service on television is very touching. It brings back the special meaning of the occasion.”

"...Since Christians are a very small part of society, the churches have agreed that we will all celebrate Christmas together, according to the western calendar date of 25 December."

The mother of three, Qushair, explains that she spends her time in the lead up to Christmas day decorating the Christmas tree, preparing food, wrapping gifts and helping to organise festive family gatherings, just like most people do in the West.

The only difference is that, here in Jordan, Christianity is a minority religion.

Around 92 per cent of the population practices Islam and four-to-six per cent are Christian.

“Christmas is celebrated here on 25 December but according to the Greek Orthodox Church, Christmas day is on 7 January.

“However, what’s happened in Jordan since Christians are a very small part of society, the churches have agreed that we will all celebrate Christmas together, according to the western calendar date of 25 December. And Easter is celebrated according to the Orthodox, eastern calendar.

“The leaders of the churches here decided that because we are so few and they wanted to make these dates, Christmas and Easter, feel like a celebration.

“So we celebrate it all together, all Christians – eastern and western.”

Qushair explains that she grew up in the Anglican-Protestant faith before marrying into a Greek Orthodox family.

“The denominations here in Jordan aren’t as rigid or constricting as they are traditionally.

“We are not a very religious family but we celebrate Christmas from a secular perspective.”

She also tells SBS that relations between Muslims and Christians are positive. And these days, much of the country taps into the secular ‘spirit’ and commercialism of the season.

“Christmas has become a bit commercial, so in many places you can rent a Santa to deliver presents to your kids.

“Lots of play centres will hold Christmas parties, book shops do signings of Christmas books and many of the shops in Amman are decorated.

“Throughout the season, you have lots of Christmas cocktails and parties. Parents will also get invited to celebrations from the some of the [private] schools.”

Interfaith holidays

Jordan's public holiday calendar is interfaith. Christmas day is a national public holiday in Jordan. Just under a fortnight prior is the Birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, also a public holiday, celebrated in Jordan on 12 December. 

Qushair says her door is open through the entire holiday period, welcoming friends and family into her household for food and drink. Her Muslim friends do the same during their special events also. 

Her open door policy has nothing to do with religion, she says, it's all about warmth, friendship and genuine Middle Eastern hospitality.

“I have lots of Muslim friends who visit me at Christmas. Why? Because ‘it’s Christmas!’ 

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