Celebrating Christmas in Saudi Arabia

Moving to a foreign country whose culture and traditions are very different from ours can be pretty challenging. And as if the initial cultural shock is not enough, you might face restrictions regarding your native customs and beliefs. Until recently, this was the case with relocation to Saudi Arabia. It was forbidden to display non-Muslim religious items or conduct them publicly. Namely, Saudis authorities issued an act 30 years ago, which was forbidding other religious celebrations than Islamic ones. The same fate befell Christmas and all its features. However, things changed after 2017 when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salem ascended the throne. He relaxed strict prohibitions and led to a kind of cultural revolution. So today, celebrating Christmas in Saudi Arabia is slowly becoming accepted. This pleases the tourists as well as the growing expat community. And also moving companies in Saudi Arabia due to increased workload. 

Christianity in Saudi Arabia then and now

If you start googling about it, you will come across data that between 1.5 and 1.8 million Christians are living in Saudi Arabia. All of those are foreign workers, mostly Filipinos, and a smaller percentage of others, Egyptians, Americans, Europeans, Pakistanis, etc. However, there are no Christian citizens in Saudi Arabia. The life of this minority has changed notably for the better in recent years. A turn in state policy towards global integrations in the fields of tourism, international trade, and economy, also improved the position and life of all expats. The Kingdom rejected its closed policy and began to open up to the world in terms of trade, innovation, and even toward other cultures. The law no longer forbids Christians from practicing their own religious customs and rites. 

You need a Santa decoration in red suit when celebrating Christmas in Saudi Arabia
Christmas decorations timidly appear in shop windows in major cities in KSA.

Expats of different religious beliefs had to hide their religious features and even they had to adhere to strict Sharia laws. For instance, you were not allowed to wear a cross in public. Christian men were hiding from notorious religious police during prayer time, and women had to cover their hair and faces. Celebrating Christmas in Saudi Arabia was hard to imagine until now. Today, Saudi Arabia is a country that respects diversity and promotes tolerance and mutual respect. This practice takes root primarily in cosmopolitan cities like Riyadh and Jeddah but is slowly spreading all over the Kingdom. Now is the best moment if you’re considering moving to Jeddah, as the festive spirit spreads across the city. 

Celebrating Christmas was illegal in KSA in the past

Saudi Arabia used to be among the few countries in the world, where celebrating Christmas was against the law. And not only Christmas but all religious festivities and rites except for Islamic ones. Members of other religions could only practice their faith in the privacy of their homes. Even then they were facing discrimination for their religious beliefs, as well as raids and brutality by the religious police. The law treated all citizens as Muslims and any deviation from the rules of behavior according to Sharia law was severely punished. They were facing deportation as well as long prison sentences. Freedom of religion did not exist, and the strict Sharia law applied to everyone.

red banned sign on white surface
Celebrating Christmas in Saudi Arabia was not allowed until recently.

Cultural revolution in Saudi Arabia

In the last decade, institutional reforms and cultural revolution took place in Saudi Arabia. Among other things, religious reforms began to be gradually implemented. And when the Crowned Prince Muhammad bin Salem came to the throne in 2017, these changes accelerated even more. The prince had great support from the young and educated part of the population. This part of the public accepted the new changes with approval. Thanks to him, fashion shows, movies, races, and other cultural and entertainment activities are now allowed in the Kingdom. He also approved Christmas and other religious celebrations. Today, Saudi Arabia has become a hospitable country, where foreigners are accepted and respected. If you want to see for yourself the far-famed hospitality of the Saudis, find a reliable company. The moving company Jubail has a long-years experience with international relocations.

Can one celebrate Christmas today in Saudi Arabia?

The answer is yes, you can celebrate it freely as anywhere else. You’re free to organize a dinner party for your friends. Unlike before, today you can even buy Christmas decorations in local malls and gift shops. It has become normal and generally accepted for foreign workers to celebrate their holidays. Of course, have in mind that Christmas is not a national holiday in KSA, so you have to show up at your work on Christmas morning. Before last year, Christians had a hard time even getting a Christmas tree. Now that the tide changed, it’s hard to find the tree because it’s out of stock due to increased demand. However, it’s easy to order it from abroad, thanks to many moving companies Riyadh. Saudi Arabia became a member of the World Trade Organization in 2005, and since then there have been no setbacks in trade with foreign countries. 

Lighted Christmas sprinklers
Today it is allowed to throw a Christmas party.

Naturally, there are certain limitations and differences compared to celebrations back home.

  • The main difference is that you can’t go to church since there are none in Saudi Arabia.
  • Instead of snowfall, you can expect hot weather in December, with temperatures from the lowest 20°C to the highest 32°C.
  • There are no public parties in the squares and streets, and the decorations are more modest than what you are used to at home.
  • You can throw a Christmas party or invite friends over for dinner, but without alcohol. 
  • There are no shopping stalls or Christmas markets on the streets.

What do you need for a Christmas party in Saudi Arabia?

If you want to host a dinner party for your friends and family, the first thing you’ll need is a Christmas tree. In previous years, officials confiscated Christmas trees at customs. Today you can easily buy them in markets all over Saudi Arabia, as well as other decorations. Maybe the offer is not very diverse, but you can always order Christmas decorations online from sites such as Amazon.com. International trade has also seen a boom in recent years, due to the simplified and harmonized rules. So, importing Christmas decor wouldn’t be a problem.

You can also buy Christmas cakes in bakeries in major cities in KSA. As for the food, markets and malls are well stocked, and you can find almost any ingredient you can think of. We have already said that you cannot buy alcohol anywhere. However, expats expect this restriction will also be relaxed in the future. Prepare presents for your friends and family. And now you may also give presents to your Saudi friends and coworkers. Don’t forget, now it’s the perfect moment to invite your family back home to visit you in your new Saudi home. It might not be a bad idea to rent a warehouse in Saudi Arabia. You’ll need a place to store and keep all Christmas lights, doubles, and garlands until the next year. 

A little girl decorating tree and celebrating Christmas in Saudi Arabia
You can easily buy a Christmas tree and decor in local malls.

The Christmas spirit timidly appears on the streets of the cities of Saudi Arabia

If you expect an abundance of Christmas lights and decorations on the streets and squares, similar to ones in America and Europe, you will be disappointed. Although authorities permitted festivities, common people have a hard time accepting them. Many referred to it as a way for westerners to spread their beliefs and a sort of cultural colonialism. However, the authorities strive to present Saudi Arabia as an attractive tourist destination. And as such must treat foreigners with equal respect for their religions and customs. Of course, it goes without saying that respect must be mutual. The bottom line is that Saudi Arabia has become more open and encourages foreigners with such gestures to visit the Kingdom. And not only to visit but also to come to live and work here, with the help of moving companies in Yanbu and their services.

So today you can easily come across decorated bars and restaurants with garlands and lights. Occasionally you can even hear Christmas carols. These are still sporadic cases, but it’s certainly obvious that the Christmas spirit has shyly reached the KSA. According to shop owners in Jeddah, the locals didn’t protest when they displayed mugs and ornaments with Christmas motifs. You can even buy sweaters and a Santa costume, and pretty much everything else you need for celebrating Christmas in Saudi Arabia. Afterward, store all the decorations in a warehouse for rent in Jeddah when the Christmas holidays are over. 

A woman sitting in a restaurant decorated with garlands.
If you’re lucky, you could come across decorated bars and restaurants in KSA.

How do expats celebrate Christmas in Saudi Arabia?

So far, expats had to organize underground Christmas parties, since the law prohibited any customs and rituals other than Islamic ones. These secret gatherings had become a sort of a tradition in Saudi Arabia. A number of expats could afford the trip back home for Christmas, but others had to stay and celebrate it secretly. Despite almost 2 million Christian workers, there are no churches in the Kingdom and they couldn’t pray or carry crucifixes in public. Today, the situation is more relaxed, and the Saudis try to respect the religions and customs of the expats. They no longer have to hide, but can freely decorate the tree, invite friends, and exchange gifts.

Since there are no public events and parties in the squares, they usually opt for celebrations within their compounds. They celebrate it just like at home with lots of food, music, and decorations. Also, they visit each other and organize movie nights when they watch Christmas classics. The only thing missing is snow, but instead, they can organize barbeque at the beach with their friends. Celebrating Christmas in Saudi Arabia can’t go without gifts either. Even Saudis started to accept them from their Christian friends and workers as a sign of goodwill. We should highlight the fact that Saudi law still forbids alcohol, regardless of your beliefs or religion. If this doesn’t ruin your idea of life in KSA, you can always arrange your move with our relocation services Saudi Arabia. We can move your items at decent prices, and still very professional.

The new face of Saudi Arabia and Vision 2030

Saudi government developed a strategic project under the supervision of Crowned Prince Mohammad bin Salman. This project is named Vision 2030, and its goal is to transform the Saudi economy, culture, tourism, and other sectors. It’s an attempt to decrease the country’s dependence on the oil industry and boost diversity in the economy. The authorities have realized the importance of global integration and foreign investments. And in order to attract foreign capital they had to change their outdated ways of doing business. Also, they had to create a more welcoming climate for foreign partners and workers. All over the country expat compounds are growing, and their position is so much better than in the past. There were 13,49 million expats in 2021, which is almost a third of the total population. This number confirms that their position notably improved in recent years.

Celebrating Christmas in Saudi Arabia with exchanging gifts
It’s time for exchanging gifts and celebrating Christmas in Saudi Arabia.

The government is trying to work on human rights issues, so they allowed expats greater personal freedom. That’s how celebrating Christmas in Saudi Arabia got the green light. Other religions have always been viewed with disapproval, while now the emphasis is on mutual appreciation and respect. Today the government is trying to create a society without discrimination, which has greater respect for women’s and children’s rights, as well as the rights of minorities and disabled persons. If you ever dreamed of moving to Saudi Arabia, now is the time. Movers and packers Dammam can notably ease your relocation with our high-quality services. Our company has experience in domestic and international relocations for 40 years. If this does not convince you of our quality, perhaps our various offers and satisfied customers will. 

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