Expats celebrate Christmas: Big change in Saudi Arabia
Those wishing to celebrate Christmas in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia no longer have to buy decorations for this occasion in a secret way, as they are available to everyone and openly displayed in stores.
Celebrating Christmas is no longer taboo in the formerly conservative Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Nowadays, Christmas trees and decorative lights of various colours can be found easily in many of the Kingdom’s markets and malls, in a scene that was difficult even to imagine years ago in the Kingdom.
It was almost impossible to sell these goods openly in Saudi Arabia about three years ago, but the Kingdom has finally witnessed an end.
For decades, expats have been buying Christmas items almost in secret, while Christians from the Philippines, Lebanon and other countries have been celebrating Christmas behind closed doors or in areas where foreigners reside.
These sales have begun to appear gradually in the Kingdom in recent years, in a gesture to ease social restrictions after Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman pledged to lead a “moderate and liberated” Kingdom from extremist ideas.
French artisan bakery Paul Cafe has been selling cute Christmas-themed log-shaped cakes and patisseries.
For expatriates living in Saudi Arabia, finding Christmas decorations in the Kingdom’s stores is much easier than it had been in previous years.
“Decorations were previously available in Saudi Arabia in specific hidden locations because it was not permitted, but they are now available in malls or nearby shops,” Lebanese expat Alain Karam told Arab News. “I used to go to Christmas markets in embassies where people used to buy Christmas decorations.”
Saudi supermarkets also sell Christmas trees and other decorations. But the word “Christmas” rarely appears in shops and cafes. Instead, “festive flavours” and “holiday-themed” tags appear.
On the other hand, British daily newspaper The Guardian quoted merchant as saying that they do not fear the Saudi authorities, but they are concerned about the reaction of some who do not like the idea of celebrating the rituals of different religions.
“The place is still very conservative. Even in Riyadh, some Santa Claus hats can be displayed, but I don’t think everyone is ready to see the rest of the decorations,” says the owner of a home appliances store.
For the first time this Christmas, Arab News, the Riyadh-based regional leading English-language daily, has put out a Christmas edition.
In 2016, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman unveiled Saudi Vision 2030. Along with this came a set of reforms that would unleash the kingdom’s potential and create an ambitious, strong and vibrant society with a diversified economy, putting quality of life first.
Over the past six years, Vision 2030 has created a culture of tolerance and openness. The Kingdom’s religious institutions are being restructured and its system of government, based on the teachings of the holy Quran, is being carefully re-examined.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman carried out major reforms in Saudi Arabia, allowing concerts to be held, cinemas reopened and women allowed to drive as part of his project to modernize the kingdom.