NRI Christian community in Gulf celebrates Christmas
The Indian Christian community that lives in the Gulf region is excited as Christmas is being celebrated with festive spirit across the region including in Saudi Arabia.
The festival was celebrated openly in some countries and privately in some other countries in the past.
However, with vision 2030 is attracting more foreign expatriates hailing from different faiths and traditions choosing Saudi Arabia as their home where this year Christmas is different as local leading English daily Arab News has published the first ever Christmas edition exclusively.
Christmas shopping in Saudi Arabia is unrecognizable compared to just a few short years ago, reflecting both the growing culture of religious tolerance and the speed and scope of the social transformation underway in the Kingdom, reported Arab News.
Christmas items are selling well this year and are in high demand in Saudi Arabia, Wejdan Al-Khatabi, a Saudi marketing professional who works at Napco National in Jeddah, was quoted as saying by Arab News.
“I work in an environment where 70 percent of the employees are Christian,” Al-Khatabi said according to the report.
Midnight masses and carols marked Christmas on Friday in some places and Saturday in other places as the community plunged into a festive mood in the Gulf region.
Christmas was celebrated with full fervour in Dubai as thousands gathered in churches and decked-up cathedrals. Global Village, making the region’s leading destination for multicultural entertainment, tourism center remains a Christmas festive spot this year. Global Village’s famous 21-metre-high festive tree has been adorned with glistening lights.
As the bells tolled, the faithful gathered at churches – including the Holy Trinity Church that offers Telugu services. In Abdu Dhabi, Sharjah and Ras Al Khaima churches also witnessed crowds from Telugu states, according to the organisers.
Several pastors from Hyderabad and Andhra Pradesh exclusively flew to the region to deliver speeches to their faithful on eve of Christmas.
For the first time, all Telugu churches and chapels in Dubai celebrated Christmas under the banner of United Telugu Pastors Association with the support of Dubai’s Telugu Association, said Stephen Daniele, a leading Telugu church service activist in Dubai.
In Saudi Arabia, a tiny yet powerful Telugu Christian community celebrated the festival with overwhelming enthusiasm. All Telugu church and fellowship services in the Saudi capital celebrated the festival combinedly on Friday evening where Simon Sudarshan, who exclusively flew from Andhra Pradesh explained the importance of the occasion. Indian Christian Community (ICC) leader D. Yeranna, Wilson also spoke.
In Jeddah, two Telugu churches celebrated the function and a number of families participated with zeal. A grand scale function of Christmas is scheduled to be held next week with the support of the Indian Consulate in Jeddah.
“I am excited to celebrate Christmas far away from home in Saudi” said V.John, native of Panjesha Wali, old city of Hyderabad.
The Christian community celebrated festival in Yanbu, Jubail, and Dammam also according to community members.
In a historic visit to the Coptic Orthodox Church in Cairo in 2018, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met with Pope Tawadros II, the leader of Coptic Christians. He was welcomed to Saudi Arabia at that time. He also welcomed and met some Christian leaders late in Riyadh.
For the last three years, some shops in major cities have been selling Christmas trees and other decorative items.
The radical shift brought overwhelming joy among the estimated 18 lakh Christians living in the Kingdom, majority of them from India’s Kerala and the Philippines. The Christian expatriates who have always had the freedom to practice their faith and rituals were privately hoping for large scale celebrations like others.
The western Christian expatriates living in compounds in Saudi Arabia celebrate Christmas and New Year events more openly than their counterparts from India.
The Indian Christian expatriates are significantly a dominant section in the healthcare field and known for their quality care towards patients and hailed for their commendable services.
The majority of Indian Christians in Saudi Arabia hail from Kerala’s Kottayam and Alappuzha districts where the history of Christianity goes back nearly to the time of Christ. St. Thomas, the apostle of Jesus, arrived in 52 AD in Kerala and baptized locals.