March 25, 2019

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Christmas in Lebanon: ‘Jesus Isn’t Only for the Christians’

Christmas in Lebanon: ‘Jesus Isn’t Only for the Christians’
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“We need a real Santa Claus to come and take all the Lebanese away,” said Mohamed Ibrahim, a young electrician who was taking a selfie with his new wife, Taghrid Ibrahim, in front of the mall’s nativity scene.

“Wherever he wants — anything’s better than here,” joked Ms. Ibrahim, a teacher.

Ms. Ibrahim grew up celebrating Christmas at school and in her home village, where every year a local man dressed up as Santa, and said they had put up a tree at home. “Christmas is the only time you see everyone together with their family,” she said.

“Everyone is celebrating,” Mr. Ibrahim said. “You feel like everyone is alike.”

Christmas is by no means a universal part of the holiday calendar of observant Muslims, especially conservative ones, some of whom consider Christmas decorations and other rituals forbidden.

In previous years, Lebanese Muslims have occasionally received mass text messages or pamphlets urging them not to participate in Christmas. In 2015, according to one television news report, some Christmas trees in Tripoli, in the conservative, Sunni-majority north, were burned down.

But such instances have never happened in the Shiite south, even during Lebanon’s civil war, which lasted from 1975 to 1990.

“We follow Imam Ali, who told us to respect other cultures,” said Ahmad Tarjoman, 48, a Beirut-based correspondent for Iranian state television who attended Saturday’s Christmas concert with his wife and his daughter, Tasnim, 5, who wore a pair of small reindeer antlers.

The family has a small Christmas tree at home, and Tasnim’s parents have brought her to see Santa — often called Papa Noël in Lebanon — at one of the local malls every year. Tasnim’s investment in Christmas, as a result, was somewhat less philosophical than her father’s.

“She adores Santa,” Mr. Tarjoman said. “This year she wants a Barbie. Even though she already has 50 Barbies.”



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