Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, be plenteous in mercy is to have the real spirit of Christmas. Calvin Coolidge.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Christmas in Syria

Christmas in Syria

Syria, where only about 10% of the entire population follows Christianity, celebrates Christmas with the same enthusiasm as anywhere in the west. Here, since a majority of people are Arabs, The standard greeting of Christmas is 'Milad Majid', which is Arabic for Merry Christmas. Christmas in Syria is celebrated on December 6th and the churches of Syria hold special masses in honor of Saint Nicholas Thaumaturgus whose legend is similar to those of St. Nicholas and Santa Claus. As is the case with most countries in the world, the tradition of exchanging gifts also exists in Syria. Here, of course, in line with the local traditions and the importance that camels hold in them, it is the Smallest Camel of the Wise Men who brings gifts for the kids on the Eve of Christmas. The smallest camel is a seasonal character of the Nativity story and it is said that he had an extreme rough time to make it to the journey but did reach in spite of his enervation. For his loyalty and will to see the Christ Child, he got the blessing of immortality and hence, on every January 5th night, the little camel brings gifts.

Syrian Christmas Customs
  • Syria mostly has Eastern Christians whose traditions are molded in the Middle East, North Africa and Eastern Europe. Their way of celebrating Christmas is slightly different from the other Christian communities.
  • The various denominations in Syria include the Syrian, Greek and Armenian Orthodox church, the Maronite Church, the Syrian Catholic Church and the Greek Catholic Church.
  • The Eastern Christians observe a fast as a part of spiritual preparation for the birth of Christ at Christmas time. During this fast, they avoid meat, dairy products, fish and eggs.
  • Other than this custom, on the Christmas Eve, families and relatives also gather together around an unlit bonfire and carry a lit candle with them. The youngest kid in the family reads out the Nativity story and the bonfire is lit after the story finishes. Similar to Iraqis, Syrians also believe that the flames of the bonfire bring good luck and prosperity to the house.
  • Many hymns are sung while the bonfire burns and once it gets burnt completely, everyone jumps over the ashes and makes a wish.
  • On the Christmas morning, every family goes to church to attend the mass. Here, another bonfire is lit and, while it burns, hymns are sung by the congregation members of the church.
  • A celebrant holds the figure of the Christ Child and walks around the building. At the end, he touches the hand of the person next to him who, in turn, passes this touch further, to every person who is a part of the procession. This touch is the blessing called the ‘Touch of Peace’.
  • Gifts are a major attraction of Christmas in Syria also. Children leave their shoes outside on the Christmas Eve with some hay and water beside them. The hay and water are for the camel to feed upon before he fills the shoes with gifts and goodies.
Christmas Dinner
Christmas dinner is one such regular tradition followed by every Christian in every part of the world. In Syria, the dinner includes chicken, pastries, nuts, oranges and soft drinks.

Posted by Irina Demidova


  1. Christmas Celebrations In Syria
    In Syria, on the day of Christmas Eve, all family members gather around an unlit bonfire, along with a lighted candle in hand. The youngest child, usually the son, reads out the Christmas story aloud. On the completion of the story, the bonfire is lit. The flames of the fire are believed to indicate the fate and fortune in the coming year. Psalms are sung, while the fire is still burning. After the fire sinks, all the members jump over the embers and ashes thrice, to make their wishes.

    In Syria, people attend the Mass on Christmas mornings, where another bonfire is lit in the center of the floor. Ancient hymns are sung and the figure of the Christ Child is carried by the chief church official. He then touches the nearest person as a 'Touch of Peace'. This touch is then carried forward to every person present in the Mass. Just like other countries of the world, feasting is an important part of Syrian Christmas traditions as well. Traditional Christmas dinner generally includes chicken, nuts, pastries and oranges.

    In Syria, children receive gifts and presents only on the New Year's Day. The gifts are brought in by the youngest of the camels that moved the Three Wise Men to Bethlehem. Water and hay is left outside the camel's home by the children in the night. They find that their presents have replaced the water and hay in the morning. A special Mass is also conducted on December 6, to honor St. Nicholas Thaumaturgus, a kind-hearted and generous legend.