Jingle all the way: How Christmas is becoming more accepted in Saudi Arabia

A woman goes Christmas shopping in the Kingdom, with every kind of decoration now freely available. AFP
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A woman goes Christmas shopping in the Kingdom, with every kind of decoration now freely available. AFP
Expats and citizens alike are able to share in the festivities, a testament to the work that has gone into the opening up of Saudi Arabia to people and businesses around the world. (Supplied)
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Expats and citizens alike are able to share in the festivities, a testament to the work that has gone into the opening up of Saudi Arabia to people and businesses around the world. (Supplied)
Expats and citizens alike are able to share in the festivities, a testament to the work that has gone into the opening up of Saudi Arabia to people and businesses around the world. (Supplied)
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Expats and citizens alike are able to share in the festivities, a testament to the work that has gone into the opening up of Saudi Arabia to people and businesses around the world. (Supplied)
Expats and citizens alike are able to share in the festivities, a testament to the work that has gone into the opening up of Saudi Arabia to people and businesses around the world. (Supplied)
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Expats and citizens alike are able to share in the festivities, a testament to the work that has gone into the opening up of Saudi Arabia to people and businesses around the world. (Supplied)
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Updated 28 December 2021

Jingle all the way: How Christmas is becoming more accepted in Saudi Arabia

Jingle all the way: How Christmas is becoming more accepted in Saudi Arabia
  • Expats and locals in the Kingdom celebrate the holidays more openly as reforms usher in greater tolerance 
  • Christmas decorations and gifts now widely sold across Kingdom amid a growing culture of openness

RIYADH: With the growing number of foreign tourists and expatriates arriving in Saudi Arabia, a trend towards greater openness and tolerance for the festive season has become an essential part of the Kingdom’s reform agenda.

Sydney Turnbull, a US citizen who has lived in Saudi Arabia for seven years, told Arab News that when she first arrived, Christmas was a holiday that was strictly celebrated behind closed doors. 

“You heard stories of people smuggling in Christmas trees and celebrating privately, but you never saw decorations or colorful festive lights outside like you did back home in the United States,” she said 

However, all of that has changed in the past few years, with holiday displays springing up in shop windows and gift products lining the shelves.

 

 

“This year, in particular, is perhaps the most public display of Christmas,” Turnbull said. “From seeing cafes and restaurants transformed into winter wonderlands, bejeweled snowmen, decorations, and ornaments for sale, and Starbucks offering holiday beverages in their holiday-themed cups, which is the same my friends and family have back home.

“My jaw dropped when I saw that Bateel (a local cafe and restaurant) now offers an advent calendar. Yesterday, I received an email from a top restaurant here in Riyadh offering a New Year’s Eve celebration. This would have been unheard of just a few years ago.” 

Enrico Catania, a 35-year-old Italian resident of Jeddah, told Arab News this year’s celebrations will be slightly different due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting travel restrictions. He will be spending it with friends as usual, but will not be seeing family. 




Expats and citizens alike are able to share in the festivities, a testament to the work that has gone into the opening up of Saudi Arabia to people and businesses around the world. (Supplied)

Nevertheless, the growing openness to Christmas celebrations in Saudi Arabia means he will feel more at home.

“We always enjoyed it with nearest and dearest, but there’s been a perceptible easing since 2015 in celebrating a culture that was almost disallowed in the periods leading to 2015,” Catania said. 

“I would say though in general, and in recent times, awareness and acceptance of such cultural customs are increasing despite the cultural differences,” he added.

Turnbull has also noticed many more expats openly celebrating the holiday in Saudi Arabia this time around.

“My Saudi colleagues even gifted me Christmas presents, an incredibly kind and thoughtful gesture, and just another example of how warm and welcoming the people are here.”




Expats and citizens alike are able to share in the festivities, a testament to the work that has gone into the opening up of Saudi Arabia to people and businesses around the world. (Supplied)

She will even sit down to a traditional Christmas lunch with Saudi friends and expats who she considers a second family.

“After that, I’ll likely spend the night watching classic Christmas movies with a mug of hot chocolate and FaceTiming family and friends to wish them a merry Christmas.” 

Meanwhile, Ashwag Bamhafooz, a Saudi housewife from Jeddah, said she has been invited to spend Christmas with her husband’s friends from the Philippines. 

“My mother’s family, even though they are Sunni Lebanese, celebrate Christmas and give each other gifts,” Bamahfooz said. 

“I feel like it’s ok to celebrate Christmas and New Year like we celebrate the Hijri year,” she said, adding that she is excited about the Kingdom’s move towards greater tolerance and acceptance of others. 




Expats and citizens alike are able to share in the festivities, a testament to the work that has gone into the opening up of Saudi Arabia to people and businesses around the world. (Supplied)

Indeed, the Kingdom is eager to encourage a culture of tolerance for different ideas and ways of doing things, not merely to create a welcoming atmosphere but to celebrate the value of difference and diversity. 

Muneerah Al-Nujaiman, an English teacher at Princess Nourah University, told Arab News that many Saudi people seem to have misunderstood the idea of tolerance. 

“I strongly believe in cultural tolerance, which means to allow Christian people to celebrate their own religious beliefs in Saudi Arabia. However, I don’t celebrate them myself as they do not reflect my religious or cultural identity,” Al-Nujaiman said.

“Acceptance of religions means we do not fight them or prevent them from celebrating their holidays, because when I was in their country, they used to give us the freedom to pray and worship, but acceptance does not mean celebration.

“Unfortunately, now those who do not celebrate Halloween and Christmas are not accepted, and this concept is wrong. Western people have not accepted nor included our festivals in their culture, and they see freedom as a strong symbol. It is nice for one to separate their cultural identity and religion from the rest of the people because this reflects the strength of a particular society,” Al-Nujaiman added. 

With the religious police out of the picture, the Kingdom has paid great attention to encouraging coexistence, acceptance, and assimilation of foreign cultures in society, so that visitors and expats are not excluded or forced to take on customs which are not their own. 

Mawia Al-Hazim, a Saudi dentist, used to study in New York and says she has missed the Christmas atmosphere since returning to the Kingdom.

“I don’t celebrate it religiously because I am Muslim, but being part of other people’s happiness and joy is always a nice thing. I’ve been invited here to many Christmas events.” 

Al-Hazim says she is tempted to host a holiday event herself and even put up a Christmas tree, but has struggled to find decorations in local stores. 

Turnbull had to go online to find her decorations. “Thanks to online retailers, it’s incredibly easy to find decorations here in Saudi,” she said. “The once rare Christmas tree, ornaments, lights, and stockings are just a click away. I think I purchased just about every holiday candle I could find. My apartment currently smells like a Christmas tree farm of freshly cut balsam firs.” 

Rodolfo Negro, 26, an Italian resident of Jeddah, said he is planning a small family gathering this year.

“Christmas celebrations haven’t changed as we celebrate it at home as we always do,” Negro said. 

“However, I must say that there are many more Christmas decorations around the city, and they are selling the decorations more openly than before. Unfortunately, the stock ran out, meaning many people purchased the decorations. So, I believe more non-Christians started celebrating.” 

Seeing the transformation taking place in the Kingdom has encouraged Turnbull to invite her parents to visit for the first time. 

“Now feels like the perfect time to show them the country I’ve called home for so long and all the treasures it has to offer,” Turnbull said. 

“My dad is most looking forward to golfing at the Royal Greens Golf and Country Club, and my mom can’t wait to explore the souks.”


Saudis are natural-born storytellers, says Saudi Film Commission CEO

Saudi Film Commission CEO Abdullah Al-Eyaf held several discussions with international industry professionals. (Supplied)
Saudi Film Commission CEO Abdullah Al-Eyaf held several discussions with international industry professionals. (Supplied)
Updated 22 May 2022

Saudis are natural-born storytellers, says Saudi Film Commission CEO

Saudi Film Commission CEO Abdullah Al-Eyaf held several discussions with international industry professionals. (Supplied)
  • Abdullah Al-Eyaf discusses the importance of Saudi talent during the 75th Cannes Film Festival

CANNES: Abdullah Al-Eyaf, the CEO of the Saudi Film Commission, aims to drive the Saudi film industry by fostering an environment for young Saudi filmmakers to develop their passions and talents.

During a panel discussion hosted on Sunday in the March du Film pavilion in Cannes, Al-Eyaf expressed his vision for Saudi youth filmmakers and the important role they play in the industry.

“We in the commission strongly believe in the filmmakers in Saudi, actually they are the reason behind all that we do,” Al-Eyaf said.

The Kingdom’s film industry is bursting with talent and passion from Saudi filmmakers, writers, and artisans. What is needed now is the strong support from an entity to facilitate that growth. This is where the Saudi Film Commission plans to come into play.

The Saudi Film Commission, under the Ministry of Culture, has conducted numerous outreach and education programs to help Saudi filmmakers in the industry through masterclasses, workshops and training.

According to the CEO, Saudis play a pivotal role in the industry’s growth on a global and local level.

“These young filmmakers started before the commission was established and they will continue with or without the film commission that’s why we think the industry will not be built in Saudi without these filmmakers,” Al-Eyaf said.

HIGHLIGHT

With many blockbusters films showing an interest in shooting in the Kingdom, doors are opening for Saudi production teams, special effects artists, actors and many more talents to contribute to the industry.

Therefore the commission is striving to establish a wider creative opportunity for Saudi talent through partnerships and representation in global film festivals such as the Cannes festival.

Through the organizations and initiatives of the Saudi Film Commission, the Saudi presence during the Cannes Film Festival has only grown stronger since the 74th Cannes film festival held in 2021.

It is known that Saudi Arabia has a wealth of locations through its 13 diverse provinces. During the initial days of the festival, this is what attracted many producers and filmmakers to the Saudi pavilion to learn more.

With many blockbusters films showing an interest in shooting in the Kingdom, doors are opening for Saudi production teams, special effects artists, actors and many more talents to contribute to the industry.

Al-Eyaf said that Saudis are natural-born storytellers; what is needed now is to support and empower them throughout the film sector.

“We really appreciate what they are doing and our only role is to support them and to have Saudi Arabia as a friendly environment for filmmakers to create their films and tell their stories to the world and to Saudi,” Al-Eyaf said.

The Saudi Film Commission aims to expand and strengthen the Saudi film industry on a local and global level through partnerships, investment and educational empowerment.

During the 75th Cannes Film Festival, the Saudi pavilion welcomed some of the biggest global names in the film industry — producers, directors and actors — to partner on Saudi film projects.

The commission’s role isn’t only to support Saudi talents but it’s also to foster a community where directors explore collaborative initiatives from filming in Saudi to creating films with some of the many Saudi talents in the sector.

In January the commission launched the third phase of the “Film Makers” program that took students through sets of comprehensive training workshops that were spread throughout the Kingdom.

“We have already contacted hundreds (of Saudi filmmakers) via either training programs, grants or the fund that we launched a couple of years ago,” the CEO said.

The commission has developed an incentive package for local and international filmmakers to establish the Kingdom as a global hub for film, creative production and industry talent.


People vaccinated against smallpox likely safe from monkeypox, says specialist‏‏

People vaccinated against smallpox likely safe from monkeypox, says specialist‏‏
Updated 23 May 2022

People vaccinated against smallpox likely safe from monkeypox, says specialist‏‏

People vaccinated against smallpox likely safe from monkeypox, says specialist‏‏
  • Saudi Ministry of Health has also confirmed that no cases of monkeypox have been detected in the Kingdom

JEDDAH: People who have received a vaccination against smallpox are “highly likely” to be safe from getting infected with monkeypox, a Saudi health specialist has said.

Dr. Nizar Bahabri, an infectious disease consultant, said in a video on his Twitter account, that the disease has been a well-known virus since 1950 and added the first case outside Africa was registered in 1970.

The Saudi Ministry of Health has also confirmed that no cases of monkeypox have been detected in the Kingdom, following reports that it has recently begun to appear in some European and North American countries.

“Since the disease is caused by a virus, no antibiotic can be used to cure the disease, some viruses and bacteria can be transmitted through air,” Bahabri said.

He also said that monkeypox is like smallpox in that it can be transmitted via droplets.

“It is difficult that one can get infected if they are two meters away from an infected person. Monkeypox can even only be transmitted from a shorter distance,” he said.

Cases being recorded in Europe are due to parties where people gather close to other infected people, he added.

“Those who have been vaccinated against smallpox are not likely to get infected by monkeypox, and here lies the importance of taking the vaccine,” Bahabri said.

The consultant pointed out that some people in Europe refused in the past to give anti-smallpox vaccines to their children, which has caused the virus to attack again.

Bahabri said that symptoms of monkeypox normally appear 12 days after coming into contact with an infected person. He added that an infected person normally recovers without any medication.

“Five percent of infected people get complications, while less than three percent die of the disease,” he said. “However, no deaths were reported in the countries with advanced health systems, with most of the deaths in Africa.”

The health ministry added in a post on Twitter that the disease can be transmitted by direct contact with blood or mucous of an infected animal.

It added that it can also be transmitted in humans through droplets, touching the blisters on an infected person’s skin or a hand touching contaminated surfaces.

The health ministry noted that the virus has an incubation period of 7-14 days, and that cannot extend to 21 days.

As for the symptoms, the ministry included high temperature, backache, skin rashes, lymphadenopathy, fatigue and muscle pain.

The ministry recommended people to avoid getting in contact with infected people, wearing gloves and face masks when close to patients, washing hands regularly and avoiding touching infected animals.


Saudi Arabia re-elected president of ALECSO’s executive council

Saudi Arabia re-elected president of ALECSO’s executive council. (SPA)
Saudi Arabia re-elected president of ALECSO’s executive council. (SPA)
Updated 23 May 2022

Saudi Arabia re-elected president of ALECSO’s executive council

Saudi Arabia re-elected president of ALECSO’s executive council. (SPA)
  • Members agreed on importance of maintaining council’s new and advanced vision

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has been unanimously re-elected to chair the executive council of the Tunis-based Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization until 2024.

The decision was made by members of ALECSO’s executive council after the 26th session of the general conference, which concluded its activities on Saturday.

Council members expressed their appreciation for the positive results achieved and the complementary work of the executive council during the past 10 months.

They unanimously agreed on the importance of maintaining the council’s new and advanced vision and reiterated that the accomplishments represented an important shift in the council's history toward strengthening its role in supporting the organization and its programs to serve its orientation in the Arab world, as it had worked on several initiatives that strengthened joint Arab action.

The decision to re-elect the Kingdom came after the appreciation of the general conference for the efforts made by the executive council under the Kingdom’s stewardship, which executed its tasks according to a clear methodology and spirit based on integrated work between the executive board and administration of ALECSO.

The Arab ministers praised the initiative of the Saudi representative and chairman of ALECSO's executive council, Hani Al-Moqbil, to develop the council’s road map, which was put together with a transparent methodology based on the involvement of countries in building a common Arab vision to support and enable the organization to achieve its goals.

Al-Moqbil extended his appreciation to King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for their constant support, empowerment, and care, which was reflected in the Saudi role and its presidency of the executive council to contribute to a beneficial impact and supportive action for the development of ALECSO.

He also thanked Culture Minister Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan, who is also the chairman of the National Committee for Education, Culture, and Science, for his support, guidance, supervision, and harnessing of capabilities which gave direct and significant support throughout the Saudi presidency which helped it in serving its goals with all Arab countries.

Al-Moqbil also thanked the Arab countries and members of the ALECSO executive council for their re-election of the Kingdom and for renewing their confidence in the results that had been achieved during the past 10 months.

He added that this could only have been achieved through the spirit of teamwork and keenness to develop the organization's activities and constructive participation in adopting decisions and organizing tracks of action to reach the best possible results to contribute to achieving the goals of the organization, and to promote building dialogue and cooperation thus serving the organization’s joint work among the countries.

Al-Moqbil said: “Saudi Arabia, in its presidency of the executive council, worked to oversee the interests of the countries by listening to their proposals, observations, and visions to ensure that they are reflected on the ground and implemented in stages. The countries will work with greater effort and higher interest in taking care of the organization's interests."


New Saudi academy to train nationals in military sector

New Saudi academy to train nationals in military sector. (SPA)
New Saudi academy to train nationals in military sector. (SPA)
Updated 23 May 2022

New Saudi academy to train nationals in military sector

New Saudi academy to train nationals in military sector. (SPA)
  • Al-Ohali said the authority was committed to supporting national personnel and that the Kingdom’s military industries sector had witnessed qualitative leaps during the past five years

RIYADH: Saudi nationals are to be trained to work in the military and defense industries sector following an announcement from the General Authority for Military Industries to establish a new academy.

GAMI Gov. Ahmed Al-Ohali said it was an extension of the military industry sector’s strategy that was approved by the Cabinet in April last year.

The National Academy of Military Industries would be the largest supporter of the sector’s strategy of backing the country’s human resources, he added.

The launch ceremony was held at the academy’s headquarters in Riyadh and attended by more than 35 local and international companies and government institutions. The academy's board of directors was formed at the event and the establishment license was handed over to the academy's chairman Walid Abu Khalid and other founding partners.

Al-Ohali said the authority was committed to supporting national personnel and that the Kingdom's military industries sector had witnessed qualitative leaps during the past five years.

He praised the special care, interest, and support that the military and defense industries sector received from the government of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to embody the ambitious vision toward enhancing the strategic independence of Saudi Arabia and building a local and sustainable military industries sector.

The Saudi Arabian Military Industries CEO and academy chairman Abu Khalid said the new institution was considered a strategic tool to ensure the success of the supply chain project in the military industries sector through developing and refining people's knowledge and capabilities in specialist technological, engineering, and scientific fields and specialists concerned with the military, defense, and security industries.

He stressed that developing, rehabilitating, and enabling national personnel, creating innovative and new industries and technologies, enhancing the strategic independence of Saudi Arabia, and seeking to localize this promising sector were all considered strategic goals that supported realizing the sector’s targets of localizing more than 50 percent of military expenditure by 2030.


Saudi minister hails KSA’s work in field of education 

Saudi minister hails KSA’s work in field of education. (SPA)
Saudi minister hails KSA’s work in field of education. (SPA)
Updated 22 May 2022

Saudi minister hails KSA’s work in field of education 

Saudi minister hails KSA’s work in field of education. (SPA)
  • Speaking at the conference Al-Sudairi praised ALECSO’s remarkable achievements in joint cooperation with member states, as well as the Kingdom’s adoption of many constructive programs

TUNIS: Saudi Deputy Minister of Education for Universities, Research and Innovation Mohammed Al-Sudairi headed the Kingdom’s delegation to the 26th session of the general conference of the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization and the meeting of its executive council at its 117th session in Tunis.

Speaking at the conference Al-Sudairi praised ALECSO’s remarkable achievements in joint cooperation with member states, as well as the Kingdom’s adoption of many constructive programs and initiatives with regional and international organizations that serve its Vision 2030.

He also hailed the Kingdom’s achievements in the field of education, culture, science and intelligence, most notably its first position in the Arab world in patents, with the registration of 1,871 international patents, and its second place in terms of quality of education for 2021.

Al-Sudairi also talked about 22 awards it had won in the International Science and Engineering Fair 2022, as well as the award for the best researcher and project scientist at a global level, noting that the Kingdom supports national, regional and international visions to develop innovative cultural policies.

He said that the Kingdom launched an interactive laboratory for cultural policies, as well as a cultural scholarship program and development fund to enable young people to join the creative field.

The deputy minister said that the Kingdom gave $30 million to the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas, in addition to launching an environment hackathon to support the objectives of the “Saudi Green Initiative” and to enhance the Kingdom’s digital role globally through a set of studies related to artificial intelligence.