TRAVEL NEWS: In Jordan, The Middle East’s Tallest Christmas Tree Celebrates Religious Tolerance

Jordan might not be the first place you’d expect to find the Christmas spirit, but the holiday spirit is alive and well among Christians and Muslims alike.

Jordan does have an indigenous Christian population. According to the official statistics 92% of the country is Muslim with the remaining 8% being Christian. There are some towns in the North of Jordan where there is a Christian majority and other towns and villages where there are mixed populations.

Christmas in Amman, Jordan

Christmas in Amman, Jordan

The State religion is Islam, but the Constitution provides for the freedom to practice one’s religion in accordance with the customs that are observed in the Kingdom. Muslims and Christians live side by side with no major problems. Religious tolerance is very much the order. The Jordanians that I have talked to about religion and  about their views on being Muslim or Christian very much have the view that at the end of the day it’s the same God that we are worshiping.  When it’s the same God and overall the same message it’s great to see people are able to focus on things that being peace, love and understanding between them.

The Christian community in Jordan may not be big, but its contribution to the development of the country is undeniable. His Majesty King Abdullah met with leaders of the Christian community on the festive occasion of Christmas and new year; it was an occasion to wish them happy holidays, but also to pay tribute to their valuable role in promoting the interests of the country. The King told this audience at the Husn College, where the meeting took place, that he was proud of the values of love, compassion and brotherhood that unite all faiths in the country In tolerant Jordan, people of all faiths have always lived harmoniously.

Expressing the gratitude and appreciation of the Christians in Jordan to the Monarch, Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem said: “We are honoured to stand before Your Majesty to convey our blessings to you,” adding that “you are working diligently to maintain what is true, which is what your ancestors sought before you, the descendants of the holy prophet.” The patriarch also expressed pride in the fact that His Majesty is the guardian of the Christian and Muslim sites in the country that “the entire world considers as a model for interfaith dialogue”.

The appreciation of the King’s role in promoting interfaith and coexistence among all Jordanians is well-placed.The Christian community in the Kingdom is not only well-protected, it is also well integrated in all spheres of life. Discrimination on the basis of religion is prohibited by the Constitution and practically non-existent on the ground.

Jordanian Christians occupy important positions, in both private and public sectors, and their belonging to the country is unquestionable. Fuhais, a city to the northwest of Amman with a large Christian population, boasts the tallest Christmas tree in the Middle East. According to an Associated Press report, the artificial tree stands 85-feet tall and members of the royal family and a number of local Muslims attended the lighting ceremony last week.

The tallest Xmas tree in the Middle East is in Jordan.

The tallest Xmas tree in the Middle East is in Jordan.

Throughout Amman, it’s actually not uncommon to happen upon the occasional Christmas tree, albeit much smaller than the one in Fuhais. Though they’re usually in more upscale locations that cater to upper class Jordanians and foreigners, many, if not a majority, of Muslims attend these places as well.

Just as in the West, Christmas here has taken on more of a commercial, festive appeal to those who don’t have a religious connection with the holiday. One Iraqi girl living in Jordan had sighted the “real” Santa Claus at a Christmas party near her house. She didn’t expect him to come down her chimney with a sack full of gifts, but she told me that she thought it was pretty cool to see him all the same.

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Editor’s note: Original World Travel offers cultural immersion tours to Jordan, including “Ancient Civilizations of the Middle East,” which includes Egypt. The 21-day trip begins in Cairo and ends in Amman. Some tours include only Jordan.

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