Dubai: Why some Christians are cancelling Christmas celebrations this year

December 21, 2023

By Angel L. Tesorero / Khaleej Times

United Arab Emirates–There are no halls decked with boughs of holly; Christmas trees with lights, garland, and tinsel ornaments; or Yuletide stockings and other decors on the wall in some houses of UAE residents this Christmas. Some Christians are not keen on celebrating Christmas or will have a muted celebration because of what’s happening in Gaza.

But churches will be full and homes filled with prayers. There will still be gatherings with friends and family as they ponder on the “meaning and celebration of Christmas.”

Khaleej Times spoke to some Christians living in Dubai and they said: “There’s no denying that this year has been harder than usual on many people – especially the Palestinians in Gaza.”

“In lieu of the usual festive celebrations, we decided to mainly focus on contemplation and prayers to convey our message of solidarity with the victims of this atrocious war,” they added.

Lebanese expat Suzan Kazzi said: “Christians’ true celebration of Christmas is very spiritual and modest. At church, we will be praying for Gaza and all people in war zones.”

Suzan Kazzi. Photo: Supplied

Suzan Kazzi. Photo: Supplied

Evgheni Pogonii, from Moldova, added: “This year, Christmas for me is not just a time for joy and celebration, but also for contemplation and compassion. The situation in Gaza is tragic, and I cannot remain indifferent.”

Evgheni Pogonii. Photo: Supplied

Evgheni Pogonii. Photo: Supplied

“My prayers encompass a wish for peace and well-being for all those suffering from conflicts and disasters worldwide, especially the residents of Gaza. During this special time of Christmas celebration, I focus on hope for peace and assistance for those in need,” he added.

The pain is very evident among Palestinians, bordering on despair. A Palestinian mother who asked not to be named said: “Christmas is my kid’s favourite holiday, and our family – that is considered a bit on the religious side – would go to mass and have a typical Christmas day. But this year we aren’t excited or even merry.

“Christmas doesn’t feel like a holiday but it’s forced. It’s kind of like no one deserves to celebrate because of the martyrs in Gaza. Bethlehem cancelled Christmas celebrations and Ramallah will most likely too.

“So, we decided not put up a Christmas tree to at least show respect and love to Gazans. To be honest we’re still thinking whether or not we want to get the kids gifts or not this year. Obviously we don’t want to upset them but we need to teach them to respect their families in Gaza. Some families also decided not to put their Christmas trees but instead focus on praying for the martyrs and suffering Palestinians,” she added.

Another Palestinian expat living in Dubai added: “There are no Christmas tree or decorations or celebrations this year. I will be with my mom, brothers and sister-in-law at home, praying for the rest of our family in Gaza who are seeking shelter in Latin and Orthodox churches.”

Born on a pile of rubble

The scene of baby Jesus not in swaddling clothes but wrapped in Palestinian keffiyeh and born not in the manger – as traditionally depicted in the Nativity scene – but on a pile of rubble, is a stark symbol of destruction in Gaza for Filipino expat Michelle Oribello. She said she had seen so many pictures on social media of young children being pulled out the rubble, lifeless.

The photo was tweeted by Rev. Munther Isaac, Evangelical Lutheran Pastor in Bethlehem, who said: “We did this to emphasise that Jesus is in solidarity with those who suffered… This is our message to the world that this is what Christmas looks like in Bethlehem. This is what Christmas looks like in Palestine, with occupation, with destruction, with the bombardment of children. While the world is celebrating, our children are under the rubble. While the world is celebrating, our families are displaced and their homes are destroyed. So this is Christmas to us in Palestine.”

“This year, Christmas celebrations are cancelled in Bethlehem, and for obvious reasons. It’s impossible to celebrate while our people in Gaza are going through a genocide, when children are being massacred in such a brutal manner. All the heads of churches in Jerusalem decided that Christmas celebrations will be mainly prayers with no festive celebrations,” he added.

Prayers and solidarity

A Nigerian expat is deeply affected by the war. Kenneth Chinonye Chukwuleta said: “There seems to be nothing to celebrate because of the crisis and bloodshed this year. I pray not only for people in Gaza but also in Nigeria.”

Kenneth Chinonye Chukwuleta. Photo: Supplied

Kenneth Chinonye Chukwuleta. Photo: Supplied

Sudanese expat Sarah A. Latif added: I prefer to have a muted Christmas celebration in solidarity with the difficult situation in Gaza. I find it hard to rejoice while people, especially kids, are being killed. I will always keep the people in Gaza in my prayers and instead of spending money on Christmas parties, I will send them for donation to the Gaza people.

Sarah A. Latif. Photo: Supplied

Sarah A. Latif. Photo: Supplied

Estheisy Peña, from Dominican Republic, is also offering her solidarity and prayers for people in Gaza. “My heart aches,” she said, adding: “I include them (Palestinians) in my prayers. My wish this Christmas is for ceasefire in Gaza and freedom of its people. Above all, I wish for peace worldwide, hoping for an end to conflicts ravaging countries globally.”

Estheisy Peña. Photo: Supplied

Estheisy Peña. Photo: Supplied

Indian couple Jennifer and Clifford Mendonsa noted: “Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in Palestine. Christmas is the feast of peace. We will be including both Palestine and Israel in our prayers for peace to reign on their land.”

Jennifer and Clifford Mendonsa. Photo: Supplied

Jennifer and Clifford Mendonsa. Photo: Supplied

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This article is original to The Khaleej Times where the author is senior deputy editor.

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Kodao Productions is an award-winning multi-media production outfit. It produces videos on burning social issues in the Philippines, such as environmental destruction, human rights, and other civil liberties. Aside from videos, Kodao also produces radio programs for national radio networks and community radio stations throughout the country. Both its video and radio productions have been awarded and cited by private and government institutions.

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