Lebanese Muslims celebrate Christmas in act of national solidarity

Lebanese Muslims celebrate Christmas in act of national solidarity
Christmas trees have been lit across Lebanon as Muslims join Christians in celebrating the festive season.
3 min read
26 Dec, 2014
Muslim Christmas decorations in Tripoli [Getty]

Christmas celebrations in Lebanon, which used to mark the religious divisions at the heart of the Lebanese body politic, have become a sign of national unity.

Over the past decade Tripoli, the biggest city in the north of Lebanon, has been portrayed as the Kandahar of Lebanon. This Sunni-dominated city has suffered from prolonged armed conflict, but has recast its image over the past week.

Christmas celebrations from Tripoli to Sidon

     It seems that Muslims and Christians in Lebanon have belatedly discovered their differences are based in politics.

Huge Christmas trees were lit on Tripoli's main streets and smaller trees were lit on side streets to send a message that the Lebanese love "the other" and all of them are willing to embrace the Christian celebration of Christmas.

The same thing happened in Sidon, the biggest city in south Lebanon. Huge Christmas trees were erected in its main squares. Two days ago, Sidon's MPs and leading figures attended a ceremony to light a Christmas tree in Abra, where armed clashes had previously erupted between the Lebanese Army and Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir's group.

In Beirut's predominantly Shia southern suburb, a Hezbollah stronghold, locals and merchants erected Christmas trees in various squares and markets. Its streets were lit up like the streets in Christian-dominated eastern Beirut. The past year has been tough for Beirut's southern suburb, as carbombs and suicide bombers have made it the bloodiest area in Lebanon.

Christmas trees were also lit in Nabatiya, in southern Lebanon, and a huge Christmas tree was lit at the entrance of Tyre.

More than just Christmas trees, young men wore Santa suits and stood at the entrances of shops and stores to welcome children and invite them in to buy gifts and toys.

Everyone, including veiled and unveiled women, girls and young men, seemed to enjoy the Christmas spirit, whether they bought gifts or not. Many of them took the opportunity to enjoy the seasonal festivities.

The Lebanese have agreed that this holiday brings them together. It has become difficult to distinguish Muslims from Christians in Beirut's markets, especially those buying Christmas gifts for their friends, Christian and Muslim.

Reconciliation in a sea of sectarian rage

As bloody sectarian wars rage across the region, this apparent reconciliation is all the more remarkable, especially given the history of tension and violence between Muslims and Christians that has marked modern Lebanese history.

It seems that Muslims and Christians in Lebanon have belatedly discovered their differences are based in politics, not religion.

This is a lesson the region as a whole would do well to learn, as Christians and Sunni and Shia Muslims are targeted by sectarian violence. Hope springs eternal. Perhaps one day the men of violence across the region will discover that religious diversity is not a reason for conflict.

Even though Lebanon has no president and a parliament that has decided to extend its mandate, and even though the Syrian war has aggravated Sunni-Shia tension, this Christmas has become a rehearsal for a different Lebanon, in which religious differences are sidelined in favour of a common national identity.

This year, Lebanon has suggested to all Lebanese, to all Arabs, Muslims and Christians in the region that there is still room for joy, and that it is possible to turn the page on the violence and bitterness of the past.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic website.