Friday, December 04, 2015

Moroccans Celebrating Christmas? - Opinion

In the West the  celebration of Christmas has become mired in confusion and commercialism and that "spirit of Christmas" has reached Morocco. While many are embracing some aspects, for other Moroccans the festival is an anathema  

Christmas time for a young Moroccan in Fez

"We don't need Christmas in Morocco," one Moroccan Riad owner told The View from Fez, 'In fact a lot of my guests say they are coming to Morocco to escape what they call the "Christmas madness". One European woman said that there were Christmas commercials on TV way back in the beginning of November!"

Ask many tourists arriving in Morocco at the moment and they will tell you that they wanted to get away from the commercial hype and secular "celebrations" of Christmas. In England, USA, Australia and in many European countries, the Christmas season gets under way weeks before the actual date and its biggest impact is on the national economies and personal credit cards.

For devout Christians, Christmas can be observed in simple ways, but each year it becomes more and more secular and divorced from its roots. Sadly, it is this style of Christmas that has arrived in Morocco. And, it will be no surprise that Christmas is embraced far more strongly by the younger generations. At the same time many young Moroccans are forgetting elements of their own culture.

At Christmas, Americans and British people express their love to their soul-mates, while we Moroccans underestimate the value of love in our human relations - Omar Bihmidine
In many respects Morocco is following the same path as the early Americans version of the festival  F.W. Woolworth the supermarket king quickly saw the commercial possibilities in importing Christmas ornaments from Germany where, he reported, they were “made by the very poorest class.”

Tinsel, toys, candleholders, candles, candies, garlands and wooden ornaments found ready markets. Louis Prang, a German immigrant and the inventor of a chromolithography process, presided over a workforce of hundreds of young women in Massachusetts who hand-coloured Christmas cards - elegant new greetings intended to be sent cheaply to family and friends everywhere. Department stores, novel emporia that tantalised Americans with goods in every size and quality, became cathedrals of commerce, important suppliers of the gifts necessary to take home for family and friends.

Tinsel, toys, candleholders, candles, candies, garlands on sale in Morocco

By the late 19th century, Christmas ruled over two intertwined domains: the private and public. The lights, sounds and sentiment that symbolised and celebrated home and family had moved outward into public streets and stores. There are now street decorations in some parts of Morocco.

A Marrakech mall
The media has always loved Christmas with its countless business opportunities. When Godey’s Lady’s Book, the most widely read magazine in the nation at the time, published an image of a family gathered around a small tree set atop a table, the idea of a Christmas tree soared in popularity. Woodsmen started heading into the forests each December to cut evergreens to sell on street corners.

Since the celebration focuses on the secular aspects of Jesus (PBUH), some conservative Muslims frown upon the act of celebrating Christmas, arguing that is a sort of “bid3a”, a fad that has not been taught by Prophet Mohamed (PBUH).

Most modern Moroccans do not have this attitude. Yet opinions vary widely. Some say that Christmas is an occasion for them to greet their Christian friends. Others see it as a way of showing tolerance, while others are less than impressed with the commercialisation and also reject it on cultural and religious grounds, saying that Christmas does not represent Moroccan Islamic culture and celebrating it is synonymous with blindly adopting others’ lifestyles and cultural aspects.

Writing for Morocco World News a couple of years ago, Omar Bihmidine, an English teacher from Sidi Ifni, made an interesting observation. "Moroccans wonder why they do not celebrate this well-deserved holiday, given that it builds more friendship and consolidates ties. One of the much-cherished characteristics of Christmas is that people celebrating it exchanging wishes, gifts, and keepsakes. In response to conservative Muslims, some Moroccans explain that romance which Moroccan culture nowadays lacks is a seminal feature of Christmas. At Christmas, Americans and British people express their love to their soul-mates, while we Moroccans underestimate the value of love in our human relations." 

A number of Muslim scholars decree that Muslims must not go astray by imitating Christians with regard to their celebrations. Hence, many Moroccans do not celebrate it, particularly because of the secular nature of the celebration and its allusion to the Nativity of Jesus. Some other Moroccans, the intelligentsia in particular, believe that as long as Americans wish Moroccans Happy Eid or Ramadan, it is incumbent to give our own sincere greetings and wish them “Merry Christmas” in return.

In Islam, Muslims are supposedly not allowed to wish “Merry Christmas.” But, some Moroccan Muslims believe that as a way of evincing our understanding of others’ cultures, there is no harm in sharing with Americans or the British their happiness. What is totally disapproved among Moroccans is blind emulation by today’s Moroccan youth who celebrate Christmas without having the slightest idea of what it is about. It is also a pity that some Moroccan youth are more enthusiastic about Western celebrations than about their own.

In fact, Moroccans are still divided over celebrating Christmas. Frowning upon the adoption of others’ lifestyles while forgetting one’s own is their common denominator. At this point, I believe that Moroccans have properly extended their arms to others’ culture, especially as most Christians will not say no to uttering and reciprocating with a “Merry Christmas”. Moroccan Muslims, instead of offering you a gift, think it would simply suffice to wish you all a “Happy Christmas.”

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