Merry Christmas! Or as they say here in Jordan:
كل عام و انت بالخير
Kul 3aam uw inta bilxayr!
An exact translation is a bit tricky (like most sociolinquistically significant phrases), but the the basic gist is: goodness/wellness to you all year. This is a standard greeting for almost any holiday – Muslim or Christian. It is used at Christmas and New Years and for the Muslim Eids. A Muslim friend of mine actually called me today, just to greet me b/c he knew I was celebrating Christmas. This is the phrase he used. There doesn’t seem to be a direct equivalent of Merry/Happy Christmas in Arabic. Actually, many Arabs just say Merry Christmas in English, especially if they know you are a foreigner.
(In case you are wondering Christmas in Arabis is “Eid Al-Miilaad” which not surprisingly means “festival/feast of the birth.” The use of the definite article differentiates this from Eid Miilaad which means birthday. Basically, Jesus’ birthday is THE birthday, and rightfully so.)
Many westerners would be surprised by the outward signs of Christmas that can be glimpsed here in Amman. Christians hang Christmas lights and put up trees. There are Christmas stores where you can buy decorations. The stationary guy down the street from us who mostly sells dafaatir (Notebooks) and pens totally transforms his shop into Christmas central for 2 months out of the year. He happens to be Christian, but Muslim run shops and businesses get into the Christmas spirit as well. It is not unusual to see many stationary and book stores selling Christmas decorations. Others decorate their stores with a tree or ornaments or lights. Even the mall has some trees and some stores play Christmas music.
From an outsiders perspective it seems like the Muslim majority here is more than happy to let the Christian minority (maybe 5% of the population) have their celebration. And as in America – the commercial aspect of Christmas is very appealing to retailers – even Muslim ones. I think the government schools get one day off for Christmas – which isn’t much, but at least it’s something. Private schools can have a more generous holiday and those of more Christian or at least Westen persuasion seem to have a few days t a week off. (Side question: I wonder if Muslims enjoy the same cultural leeway in America? I mean what if retailers started hanging up Eid decorations and playing Islamic music? Or if the American gov’t decided to give all schools a day off for Eid al-Fitr? Freedom is a funny thing. . . especially when it comes to the practice of religion – isn’t it?)
But I digress . . .
A couple of days ago we had the pleasure of looking at Christmas lights in a little town called Fuheis (pronounced Foo-highs <but with an s sound, not z>). It’s located just north of Amman and it’s claim to fame is having the largest Christmas tree and Nativity scene in the Middle East. It is one of two predominately Christian towns in Jordan (the other being Madaba). According to Wikipedia the population of Fuheis is 60% Greek Orthodox and the remainder is divided between Muslim and Catholic.
Every year the residents of Fuheis put on a Christmas festival featuring a variety of activities, but everyone knows the main attractions are the lights, tree, and nativity. It was nice to drive through the town the other day and look at houses and streets decked out in Christmas lights. It almost, almost, felt a bit like home. I must add that it was a comparatively modest and perhaps reasonable amount of Christmas lights compared to what Americans would typically be accustomed too. I doubt you could spot Fuheis’ lights from orbit like you could some American subdivision’s.
One interesting side-note: The nativity scene was sponsored in part by USAID. Yup – that’s right US gov’t $$ being spent on a Nativity Scene at Christmastime! I laughed out loud and took a picture of the sign. Could you imagine the uproar if federal money was used to sponsor a Nativity Scene on American soil?
Actually that’s one of the refreshing things I noticed about Christmas here in Jordan. It’s actually Christmas. You don’t have to wish people a Happy Holiday. Christmas is what it is here – the Christian celebration of Jesus’ birth. Maybe it’s because Christianity is in the majority back home so everyone has to walk on eggshells and make sure no one is offended. Here it seems much more pragmatic. If you’re Christian you celebrate Christmas and that’s what everyone calls it because that’s what it is
There’s probably a lot more I could write about this – but it’s Christmas Eve, and even though I have all my shopping and wrapping done, there’s still a couple of things that need to get done before I go to sleep. So without further ado – here’s a gallery of our pics of the Christmas Lights and Nativity Scene in Fuheis.