Christians in Saudi Arabia get their Christmas fix in era of religious tolerance

JEDDAH/RIYADH: Christmas shopping in Saudi Arabia is unremarkable compared to just a few years ago, reflecting both the growing culture of religious tolerance and the pace and extent of social transformation taking place in the kingdom.

Nowadays, festive gifts and decorations can easily be found in many of the kingdom’s markets and malls, with Christmas trees in the capital Riyadh, snowmen in Jeddah and even Santa Claus in Al-Khobar.

As more foreign expatriates choose Saudi Arabia as their home, the government’s efforts to move the country towards “open and moderate Islam” have created a welcoming environment for other faiths and traditions.

This transition allowed local retailers and e-commerce platforms to sell a wide range of products to those interested in joining the festivities.

Saudi marketing professional Wejdan Al-Khatabi, who works at Napco National in Jeddah, told Arab News that Christmas items are selling well this year and there is high demand in Saudi Arabia.

“I work in an environment where 70 percent of the employees are Christians,” Al-Khatabi said.

“Some of them celebrate in their home countries and some celebrate here. They lamented that they could not celebrate Christmas here due to lack of products. However, today they can celebrate with a full winter set.

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Al-Khatabi said she and her daughter enjoyed decorating the Christmas tree at her Christian friend’s home in Jeddah.

“We ordered the tree from Amazon and the rest of the decorations from Noon and Mumzworld and it took a week to arrive, these days related items are more affordable and shipped smoothly without any restrictions compared to how it used to be.”

The rise of e-commerce has made it much easier for Christian households in the kingdom to access gifts and decorations and share their traditions openly with Muslim friends and neighbors.

“We brought everything online and we enjoyed the manufacturing vibe,” Al-Khatabi said. “I love it. And for me, it’s the epitome of a cozy winter, and being surrounded by people with different perspectives is really enlightening.

Alain Karam, a Lebanese expatriate living in Saudi Arabia, confirmed that finding Christmas decorations in the Kingdom’s stores is much easier than in previous years.

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“Decorations used to be available in certain hidden places in Saudi Arabia because it was not allowed, but now they are available in malls or nearby shops,” Karam told Arab News. “I used to go to Christmas markets in embassies, where people would buy Christmas decorations.”

These days, some cafes and restaurants in Saudi towns and cities are transformed into winter wonderlands, decorated with decorations and imported ornaments and serving holiday drinks in Christmas-themed cups and glasses.

At Kingdom Mall, one of Riyadh’s most popular shopping centers, many stores are now selling Christmas decorations and gifts, including French beauty retailer L’Occitane.

“We have a variety of Christmas packages at L’Occitane, including skin care, fragrances and small gift packages,” sales representative Vedad Al-Malki told Arab News.

“Businesses celebrating Christmas often give us special orders in advance. Christmas packages are in high demand, especially from businesses that celebrate Christmas with their employees.

Bateel, a cafe and store selling organic Saudi dates and luxury gifts, has launched a new collection of elegant tree and star-shaped gift boxes with chocolates or stuffed dates decorated in red, green, white and gold.

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Lilly’s Bakery and Coffee Shop in Jeddah also offers Christmas products and a wintry atmosphere, with rich hot chocolate cups decorated with gingerbread men.

Advertising agencies have also seized on the Christmas theme, releasing new commercials filled with festive scenes and cozy winter iconography.

Niamah Al-Sabia, a Jordanian based in Jeddah, told Arab News that she welcomes Christmas this year with a complete winter-themed set-up, including an electric chimney, snowmen, a traditional tree and glittering ornaments.

“Specially relevant items can be found through Instagram accounts, especially those based in Riyadh,” Al-Sabia said.

“This year I have a collection from seven different places, including red winter candles, wooden deer and small snowmen, and I also added artificial berry tree branches from Sheen next to pine cones, which is one of the key elements of winter.”

“One of the things dearest to my heart is a handmade wooden rocking chair that I put next to the chimney with a throw blanket.”

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