Every Christmas we remember how Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem as part of a census, and that in that small, obscure town, Jesus was born.
But, 2,000 years later, what is Christmas like for Christians in the Middle East?
Nadia* lives in Israel, not far from Bethlehem itself. “Christmas is a very confrontational time for me,” she says – and for good reason. Coming from a Muslim background, her community expelled her when they found out she had chosen to follow Jesus.
As the only believer in her family, Christmas can be a really lonely time. And yet every year, she opens up her house for secret believers nearby to celebrate Christmas in safety. “Last year, there were 14 people in my apartment celebrating Christmas and they stayed overnight. They brought their own decorations, and even a tree, and they brought all the food they liked. We had a great time together!”
Image: Christians celebrating Christmas in secret in the Middle East…
Things are different in Libya, however. “Christmas is not a special day in Libya,” says Charley*, an Open Doors fieldworker who is in regular contact with isolated believers there. “You won’t see any Christmas trees there; life just continues as usual. In day-to-day life, believers are already very alone with few Christian connections. At Christmas, this is even more apparent. Individual believers here don’t even dare to dream about celebrating Christmas.”
For Christians in Libya who do have connections with other believers – for example, other family members – then discreet Christmas celebrations might occur. “Don’t expect Christmas trees, angels and fake snow,” Charley says, “but secret believers do have a nice meal on Christmas Day, just as you would with a birthday.”
Christmas celebrations may be more low-key in the Middle East than here in the UK and Ireland, but the faith of believers there is not diminished because of it. If anything, their desire to see others around them come to know Jesus increases. “I have a vision that, before I die, I will witness at least one million Palestinian Muslims coming to the Lord,” says Nadia. “I do believe in that and I wish to see it soon.”
1. Download our free ‘God with us’ youth/small group session and work through material like this with your youth or small group…
2. Send a Christmas message of hope to young Christians in Algeria whose churches have been forcibly closed…
We support people who are beaten, tortured,
imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.