Whatever you have in store for your Christmas holiday this year, consider yourself fortunate to be celebrating the beloved day. It’s surprising how many places in the world deny people this privilege.
Last year, the Somali Government banned celebration of Christian festivities in the country. The Ministry of Justice and Religious Affairs held a press conference in the capital city of Mogadishu just hours before Christmas Day to announce that no Christian festivities could be held in Somalia. All security and law enforcement agencies were instructed to counter any such celebrations.
In 2012, religious police in northwestern Saudi Arabia raided a house and detained 41 guests for “plotting to celebrate Christmas.” A Beirut newspaper reported this as “the latest in a string of crackdowns on residents perceived to be threatening Saudi Arabia’s strict religious code.” Moreover, the paper noted, Saudi Arabia, which only recognizes Islamic faith and practice, has in the past banned public Christmas celebrations, and the country’s head, Mufti Sheikh Abdel Aziz bin Abdullah, condemned “invitations to Christmas or wedding celebrations.”
While Christmas in China is now officially allowed, the government continues to impose tight regulations on religious practice making acts like caroling and public worship difficult for millions of Christians there. Ironically, since restrictions on Christmas have been lifted, the holiday, for many, has become a secular commercial affair nearly devoid of its authentic meaning. Cuba is another country with an historically acrimonious outlook on Christmas. Fidel Castro banned the holiday in 1959 when he seized power in a coup d’etat. The ban remained in place until 1999 when Pope John Paul II persuaded him to lift it.
Christians in countries where Christmas has only recently become permissible report their gratitude for new found freedoms. A Butan native who grew up in the Hindu nation of Napal recalls celebrating in secret in a refugee camp, but plans to go caroling with friends and to hang up lights this year. Tunisia, despite its overwhelmingly Muslim population, will hold Christmas Eve services in most of its churches. Shop owners around the country are advertising Christmas specials and decorating their stores with trees, mistletoe garlands, and artificial snow.
Even North Korea, which has long banned Christmas, is making concessions. Sort of. Last year Taedon Teavel, a Chinese tourist agency released the following ad: “What is your most cherished Christmas memory? Novelty knitted jumpers, overcooked Brussels sprouts and family arguments? Time to try Christmas in North Korea!” The tiny dictatorship allowed tourists who paid $1,000 to visit the totalitarian capital city, Pyongyang. That said, North Korea is still ranked among the most hostile countries in the world for Christians, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Christians are routinely arrested, tortured, and even killed. At least one has been publicly executed, and thousands are believed to be imprisoned in the country’s labor camps.
Many countries do not recognize Christmas, and some even ban it outright. Celebrating your faith publicly is one of the greatest gifts you will get this year.
by Tonya Stoneman