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Christmas Traditions From The Arab World

Fr. Yohanna Meshreki
Coptic Christian Nativity Scene

Christmas is just around the corner, and it seems only fitting that an article be written for The Bark about Christmas traditions from around the world! However, instead of going all over the place, I will stick to one particular part of the world: The Arab World! While most assume all Arabs are praying 5 times a day at certain times and fasting in the morning hours of a particular month of the year that is important to them, that idea is not true. It is not true in the slightest. There are in fact people who practice different religions in the Arab World.


Examples include the Druze in Syria and Lebanon, which are a syncretic ethnoreligious group who follow a sort of mixed religion that includes Christianity and Islam, the Mandaeans, another ethnoreligious group that worships Adam, Abel, Seth, Enos, Noah, Shem, Aram, and John the Baptist, who they see as the final prophet. However, the largest minority is the Arab Christians, which are considered the oldest Christian communities in the world, with these communities being the closest connections humans have with the very beginning of the Christian religion, which started back in the first century CE. The Arab Christians are diverse, with groups like the Coptic Orthodox Christians, the Coptic Catholic Christians, the Assyrian Church of the East, and the Syrian Catholic Church, among many other groups. The Arab Christians are quite a distinct group of people, as they are not like the majority of Arabs, who are Muslim, but they are also not like the majority of Christians, who are not Arab. They are a mixture of East and West, and so have their own “flare”. This gave rise to their special traditions. There are many traditions, but the traditions I will focus on today are the Christmas Bonfire in Iraq, the Sprouting Pulses in Lebanon, and the Christmas Parade in Palestine.


The Christmas Bonfire is a special event held on Christmas Eve in Iraq and Syria where a group of families gather and have one of their children read the Nativity story from the Bible while everyone holds lit candles. When the child is done reading a bonfire made of dried thorns is built and then lit on fire. The bonfire is believed to bring good luck and prosperity to the house. As the fire burns many religious hymns are sung. Once the fire burns out completely everyone jumps over the ashes and makes wishes. Then on Christmas morning, everyone goes to church and attends mass where another bonfire is lit, and while that bonfire burns more religious hymns are sung by the congregation members. A celebrant also holds the figure of the Christ Child and then circles the church and then touches the hand of the person next to them, and that person then passes the touch further to everyone who is part of the procession. This touch is a blessing known as the “Touch of Peace”.


In Lebanon, you will find in Nativity scenes these lovely little sprouts adorning them. These are called “Sprouting Pulses”. They are meant to celebrate the story of Saint Barbara on Eid il-Burbara, which is a holiday that takes place on December 4. Seeds are sown around the scenes and sprouted beans, chickpea seeds, broad beans, lentils, oats, and wheat are grown on damp cotton wool. These then sprout and make the Nativity scenes look beautiful.


Lastly, there are the Christmas Parades. They are held in Bethlehem, which is held by the Palestinian government, who see the idea that Jesus Christ was born in Palestinian territory as a source of pride and importance. As such, every year they hold a parade in the town on Christmas. Men march through the streets while playing bagpipes, which is a relic of the days when Palestine was controlled by the British Empire from 1920 to 1948. There are also people dressed as Santa Claus who give out candy. The streets and the main square are decorated with Christmas lights as well. So, it is a very big affair.

Arab Christian Christmas Bonfire

So that is just three of the Christmas traditions that Arabs have. It really goes to show how even the most unsuspecting people could also be celebrating the holidays you celebrate. While you eat your ham at a family dinner on Christmas, someone over in Arabia may be reciting Bible verses and lighting bonfires or watching people march in Bethlehem playing bagpipes. You’d never suspect it, but that is the reality. Perhaps you could even give those traditions a try for yourself and start your own special family tradition. Quite frankly, I think some of these traditions are quite interesting myself, though I’m not sure if I know anyone who would try it out with me. Perhaps one day that will happen.



JPC-DESIGN, whychristmas?com /. “Christmas in the State of Palestine / Palestinian Territories on Whychristmas?Com.”,

“Christmas in Syria – Syrian Christmas Customs – Christmas Traditions in Syria.”,

“How We Celebrate Christmas in Lebanon.” Kitchn,

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