Sunday, December 22, 2002

Christmas in Saudi Arabia

In Lebanon and Syria, with substantial Christian populations, Christmas is celebrated openly in all its religious and commercial glory - and even some Muslims go Christian shopping just to see the holiday fanfare.But in Riyadh, the mere mention of Christmas leads many expatriates to lower their voices and fidget, fearful of unwanted attention or risking their jobs. Just buying a Christmas card requires a whispered journey into a greeting card underworld.At the Riyadh gift shop where a few festive decorations were tucked in among other goods, a Filipino employee shakes his head when asked about Christmas cards. But he gives directions to another shop, advising an inquirer to look for the Filipino manager."He'll give you one in secret ... secret because it's 'haram' here, you know," he says, using the Arabic word for "forbidden" known to anyone who has run afoul of conservative Islamic social norms.





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