Christmas, like all other non-Muslim holidays, is banned in Saudi Arabia. It is illegal to celebrate the holiday.
So what will I do today? Having returned from a regular day of teaching at the office, a day unmarked by any event, any well-wishes, or any holiday office celebrations, I will sit down with a traditional Chinese Christmas dinner of fried chicken because it’s the only traditional Christmas meal I can find here. I will find the Grinch on Hulu or Youtube. I will light the beautifully scented candles that my lovely friend sent me as the only Christmas themed item deemed safe to pass through customs. I will look at my paper decorations of red and green and long for a real tree. I will eat dates and dream of my family’s traditional date-ball Christmas cookie, which I cannot make because there are no rice-krispies in the stores here. And I will talk to my friends and family on Skype.
It’s all I can do.
I’ve celebrated Christmas every year of my life. My mother has given me an angel ornament every Christmas since I was born. We have traditional family Christmas cookie recipes that I had to re-invent when I went gluten-free and took me forever to remaster, but I did. We used to bake fruit bread and take it around to the neighbors while singing carols. I was in choir and band, so probably know every carol by heart. And it’s not even a religious holiday for me. I just love it.
I love the decorations, the tree, the food, the music, the lights, the parties, the special clothes. I loved waking up early as a kid to open my stocking, and I love staying up late as a grown-up to fill someone else’s stocking. I love wrapping presents. I love seeing everyone smile and forget that the world sucks for a while.
The only reason we had a nativity when I was a kid was that my grandmother was Catholic. Which is cool.
I have friends who have returned the traditions to their Northern European pre-Christian roots, celebrating Solstice or Yule with a neo-pagan religious flair. And that’s cool too.
The year I lived in China, it was like the perfect Christmas ideology. All the decorations, music, parties and food, with none of the controversy about how to “properly” celebrate a once pagan winter renewal festival turned Christian.
This year, it’s empty. It’s nothing.
I keep reading stories about people being offended about “Merry Christmas” if they’re not Christian, or by “Happy Holidays” if they are. I’m watching cities fight over holiday displays, a zombie nativity scene ordered removed, a Satanist display at the Florida capital vandalized, and Christians all over declaring that there is a “War on Christmas” in America. And I just can’t believe how each and every angry offended person has completely lost sight of what they have.
It is illegal to celebrate Christmas in any form in Saudi. If one chooses to try to celebrate one does so at the risk of being arrested and even deported.
That is a war on Christmas folks.
Someone else celebrating an alternative form of Mid-Winter festivities is not.
So stop being angry that someone else wants to celebrate, and be joyful that you can. Be joyful that you can find a fresh scented evergreen tree at a lot near your home. Be grateful that you can see beautiful decorations in shops and on homes all around you. Be ebullient that radio stations pipe free carols to you whenever you wish. Be in awe if you are lucky enough to be surrounded by friends or family. And when someone wishes you joy, wish it back.